British vs. American English: 10 different words you might not know the meaning of

On the whole, British and American speakers of English have very few problems understanding one another. Over the last half a century or so television and film have done much to familiarise Americans with British English (BrE) and Britons with American English (AmE).

There are actually thousands of vocabulary differences between British and American English. While many of these words can be instantly understood by speakers from the other country, other words might easily baffle someone who hasn’t spent a long period of time in both countries.

First let’s look at some of the well-known vocabulary differences between Britain and the United States. Native speakers from either country should know all of these:

10 well-known vocabulary differences

petrol (BrE),  gas (AmE)

pavement (BrE), sidewalk (AmE)

lift (BrE), elevator (AmE)

boot (BrE), trunk (AmE)

lorry (BrE), truck (AmE)

sweets (BrE), candy (AmE)

car park (BrE), parking lot (AmE)

motorway (BrE), highway (AmE)

biscuit (BrE), cookie (AmE)

rubbish (BrE), garbage (AmE)

OK, they were the easy ones. Now try 10 more difficult ones, some of which may be completely unknown or are liable to cause some confusion between an American and British speaker.

10 lesser-known vocabulary differences

How many do you know? (The correct answers are at the bottom of the page.)

  1. _______ (BrE) / barf (AmE)
  2. pedestrain crossing (BrE) / _______ (AmE)
  3. _______ (BrE) / downspout (AmE)
  4. drawing pin (BrE) / _______ (AmE)
  5. flyover (BrE) / _______(AmE)
  6. _______ (BrE) / teeter-totter (AmE)
  7. _______ (BrE) / rutabaga (AmE)
  8. _______ (BrE) / eggplant (AmE)
  9. _______ (BrE) / antsy (AmE)
  10. braces (BrE) / _______ (AmE)

(Scroll down to see the answers.)

 

 

Here are the answers:

  1. vomit (BrE) / barf (AmE)
  2. pedestrian crossing (BrE) / crosswalk (AmE)
  3. drainpipe (BrE) / downspout (AmE)
  4. drawing pin (BrE) / thumbtack (AmE)
  5. flyover (BrE) / overpass (AmE)
  6. see-saw (BrE) / teeter-totter (AmE)
  7. swede (BrE) / rutabaga (AmE)
  8. aubergine (BrE) / eggplant (AmE)
  9. fidgety (BrE) / antsy (AmE)
  10. braces (BrE) / suspenders (AmE)

How did you do? Can you add to the list? Please leave a comment below and let me know.

In a future post I’ll look at grammar points which differ between British and American English.

If you enjoyed this article and found it helpful, please click the ‘Like’ and ‘G+’ buttons and share it with friends. Thanks!

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. Follow Stuart and contact him by subscribing to his monthly newsletter.

14 Comments

  1. Rasul Alizada Bahrioglu - October 10, 2012, 6:01 am Reply

    That is very interesting and helpful

    Thank you!

    I will regularly visit this page and hope that you will help us on other topics..

    Rasul
    Baku, Azerbaijan

  2. Rakel - February 7, 2013, 5:53 pm Reply

    Oh my, I didn’t know a single one, and my English is supposed to be advanced…

    • Stuart Cook - February 7, 2013, 8:29 pm Reply

      I presume you knew most of the well-known differences, Rakel. As I mentioned, the second list may confuse even native speakers of British and American English.

      • Hutch - June 17, 2013, 10:39 pm Reply

        Excellent! I am a Canadian whose father was born of Mancunians, so I get the best (or worst, as the case may be) of both British and (North) American English. These are fun and educational. My Dad lived in England for less than a year whilst a teenager…after the War. He lived to age 82 and always ordered proper chips; it annoyed him that he would forget to order “fries” when in the U.S.! Another to add to your list is tarmac (BrE) vs asphalt (AmE). I’ll be watching this site now, thanks to an Italian friend who is a teacher of English!

        • Stuart Cook - June 18, 2013, 6:54 am Reply

          Thanks for the input, Hutch.
          You’re right – tarmac / asphalt is another difference between British and American English. I wonder how many North Americans understand ‘tarmac’ when it’s not used in a very obvious context.

  3. Chips vs. fries: the top 5 differences between American and British food vocabulary - May 22, 2013, 8:16 am Reply

    […] Once again, there’s a difference. The British say courgette (from French). The Americans say zucchini (watch out for the spelling!), which you’ll also hear in Australia and New Zealand. Want to test yourself on some other differences between British and American English? Try this quiz: British vs. American English: different words quiz […]

  4. Brandon Weaver - May 19, 2014, 3:34 am Reply

    Actually both vomit and barf are used in American English. I’ve also heard drainpipe in American English. I should know because I live in Missouri.

  5. Padma - April 27, 2015, 6:15 am Reply

    I enjoyed this article very much. Is the word ‘puke’ BrE or AmE?

  6. Padma - April 27, 2015, 6:20 am Reply

    Thank you for this most enlightening article. However you must forgive me if I express a doubt about the spelling of the word ‘pedestrain’. Is it not ‘pedestrian’?

    • Stuart Cook - April 27, 2015, 9:27 pm Reply

      Yes, it is. We’ve now corrected the typo. Thanks.

  7. shahy - January 15, 2016, 7:32 pm Reply

    I do love it!!! just need more help with some other regional words like the use of the word MEAN and the likes in both AmE and BrE…

    with thanks!!!

  8. Rajendra - March 2, 2016, 6:12 am Reply

    Thanks make by different word British and American today me help but ican who was that know thanks

  9. Su.Hirdik - August 4, 2016, 1:14 pm Reply

    I enjoyed this article very much. Is the word ‘Worcestershire’ BrE or AmE?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>