As a British person who lived in England for most of my life, I grew up surrounded by the culture of the USA. From fast food to Hollywood movies and Friends on the TV, I felt like I learned as much about the culture of our “friends across the pond” as I did about my own country.
I speak British English with an English accent but I am more than familiar with the US way of speaking our shared mother tongue. However, after a recent trip to the USA I have a feeling some of our American friends aren’t so familiar with the “Brit” way of speaking English. Saying things like “You have a nice flat” or “can I put my suitcase in the boot?” will get you a puzzled look.
I’m sure the confusion can go both ways. There are some very important differences between British and American English but you can start with a few basic vocabulary changes to fine tune your communication for either country in no time. Here’s my top ten list (with a few extra in the mix) of the most important vocabulary differences between Britain and the USA:
Top 10 British / American vocabulary differences:
1. Shop / Store
In Britain we shop in a shop and store things in cupboards. In the USA they shop in stores and store things in cabinets.
2. Bill / Check
When you want to pay after you’ve eaten your fish and chips you ask for the bill (tip optional). At the end of your hamburger and fries you get the check (and you better tip, buddy!)
3. Lift / Elevator
In London you’ll take the lift to the top of the building. In New York you’ll take the elevator (and you’ll probably go a lot higher too).
4. Flat / Apartment
We Brits live in flats but Americans live in apartments.
5. Lift / Ride
In Britain we ask our friend with a car to “give us a lift” back to our flat. In the USA you ask your friend to “give you a ride” back to your apartment. In Britain we only ride bikes (and maybe horses).
6. Toilet (Loo) / Bathroom (Restroom)
Sometimes you just have "to go". In those emergency situations you need the right word and fast. In Britain, ask for the nearest toilet (or loo) but in the USA ask for the bathroom (or restroom). In the UK, we generally use bathroom for the place that you wash. I mean, who needs an emergency shower?
7. Trolley / Cart
The things you push around the supermarket in Britain are trolleys (and we fill them with tea and biscuits). In the USA you push the cart around the supermarket (and they fill them with coffee and cookies).
8. Boot / Trunk (of a car)
You put your bags in the boot of the car in Britain. In America you put your bags in the trunk. If you have a pair of boots you can put them in the boot too, but only in Britain.
9. Holiday / Vacation
We Brits go on holiday (or hols) to Spain. The Americans take a vacation in Colorado. In the USA, a holiday is Christmas. They have Happy Holidays and we have a Merry Christmas.
10. Mate / Man (or pal/dude/bro, etc.)
This one will get you a very puzzled look in America. In Britain our friends (often used with men) are our mates. “Hey mate, will you buy me a pint?”. In the USA it's “Hey man, will you get me a beer?” In the USA “mating” is what animals do to make babies!
Knowing these differences will help your English flow whether you’re in the urban canyons of Manhattan or on the foggy banks of the River Thames. Now it’s time to start practicing, mates!
For a great longer list of vocabulary differences, check out this site.
About the Author
Lewis is a post-graduate from England who has been teaching English as a foreign language in Chile for three years and on Verbling since 2015. He's helped hundreds of students of all levels and from all walks of life improve their English skills for business and pleasure. He loves the excitement of meeting new people and learning about their cultures through his teaching.