The ground floor and first floor in British and American English

Let’s take a look at a small but important difference in British and American English: the naming of floors in a building.

In British English the floor of a building at street level is called the ground floor. The floor above it is the first floor and the floor below is called the basement.

In American English, however, the floor at street level is usually called the first floor. Go up one floor and you are on the second floor (which, of course, is the first floor for the British). The floor below street level is called the basement, the same as in British English.

One or two of my American friends tell me that in public buildings in the US it’s also possible to call the street-level floor the ground floor, like in Britain.

Storey, storeys / story, stories

Another important word to consider here is storey. This word describes the level (height) of a building and the total number of its floors. Thus we say that a building has eight storeys, or is an eight-storey building (don’t forget the hyphen there, please!)

From the word ‘storey’ we get single-storey and multi-storey buildings. Just to make it more confusing, storey is often spelled story (plural ‘stories’) in American English.

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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.


  1. Ankit Shah - April 13, 2012, 8:15 am Reply

    This is informative article.

    • molly - March 25, 2015, 12:59 am Reply

      it really helped explain all about the different LEVELS on homes compared to Great Britain.

  2. Dan Dumitrache - May 11, 2012, 8:02 am Reply

    So, let’s say … a building has basement, ground floor, first floor and second floor. How many floors does the building have?

    • Stuart Cook - May 11, 2012, 11:17 am Reply

      I’d say it has three floors, as they’re the ones visible from outside the building. And in any case, the basement isn’t a ‘floor’. I’m not sure if there’s a difference in the US, though.
      What would you say, Dan?

      • Dan Dumitrache - May 11, 2012, 11:48 pm Reply

        Well, first of all I have to say that I am not an English native speaker (I am from Romania). Secondly, why the ground floor is a floor but the basement is not a floor? Is it correct to say “the building has 3 floors but 4 levels”? (this is how I will say in Romanian language).

        • Stuart Cook - May 13, 2012, 3:37 pm Reply

          Yes, three floors and four levels is probably the best way of describing it.

          • elayne - May 30, 2012, 2:15 am Reply

            yes, three floors and four levels is probably the best….

          • Anonymous - April 16, 2016, 9:18 pm Reply

            BUT!!! “Inside” whether it is ground floor 3rd floor “is” still called A FLOOR…. While outside is “The Ground”

      • Anonymous - December 25, 2015, 1:02 pm Reply

        This is helpful. In Australia we follow the British in this, as we do in most of our English (though we use many American-English terms also). It is often confusing to distinguish in literature- especially American authors writing English historical novels! We would call a single storey dwelling a house though rather than a bungalow- that meaning a particular architectural style. The term ‘terrace house’ however can mean single level or two or three.

        • Anonymous - October 4, 2017, 7:43 pm Reply

          That’s because the term ‘terrace’ has nothing to do with the height of the dwelling but the way that buildings are partitioned into units, you have detached houses which are single dwelling single building, semi-detached which is where each building consists of a pair of self contained homes. A terrace is where an entire row of self contained homes is constructed as one long building with each home sharing it’s two side walls with the neighbouring property (except the end terraces than share only one wall).

          At a guess probably a style you will see a lot more in Europe than places like Australia though inner cities even in places like Australia or the US do have them as the inner city land values can be utterly insane and they are very good at maximising the number of saleable subdivisions per unit of land.

  3. Neal - January 21, 2013, 3:15 pm Reply

    This is simple vocab that can easily cause confusion for learners of English.

    The history of why the word ‘storey’ is used to refer to levels within buildings is also fascinating.

  4. How many of u know this, the difference between floor and storey? - - October 19, 2013, 11:35 am Reply

    […] nowadays most people do not differentiate them liao… ie "x floor = x storey". Quote: The ground floor, first floor (and storeys) in British and American English The ground floor and first floor in British and American English April 9, 2012 By Stuart Cook 7 […]

  5. Anu Priya - May 28, 2014, 10:04 pm Reply

    So if a building has one ground floor and a 1st floor and 2nd floor (British). How many storeys does it have?
    Do we count the ground floor too while we speak about the storeys and what about basements?

    • Stuart Cook - June 2, 2014, 12:46 pm Reply

      Yes, we count the ground floor, but not the basement. (There’s a mention of basements higher up in the comments.)

      • Jimi Eke - September 15, 2014, 8:57 am Reply

        How then do you describe a bungalow in terms of storeys? Will you call it a one-storey building? How also will you describe a building with a ground floor and 1 upper floor in the same way?

        • Stuart Cook - September 15, 2014, 7:53 pm Reply

          I’d simply call it a bungalow. By definition it’s a building with just one floor, i.e. no upstairs.

          >> a building with a ground floor and 1 upper floor
          In the UK that’s the majority of houses, so if you say ‘house’, people will automatically understand that it has a ground floor and an upstairs level. If you wanted to be more specific, you’d say it’s a two-storey building.

        • Daim - November 16, 2014, 4:10 pm Reply

          I found this both usefull and confusing at the same time. Do appartments work in the same way?

          • Stuart Cook - November 24, 2014, 12:14 pm Reply

            Hi, Daim

            In an an apartment block it’s the same: the ground floor is where you enter, then up to the first floor, etc.
            As I mention above, in British English the floor of a building at street level is called the ground floor.

  6. Parniyan - December 1, 2014, 9:34 pm Reply

    Is there any other word for “underground floor(s)” except for the following?
    – basement, cellar, lower ground floor, LG (as in elevators)
    My question is, I’ve seen a word in a movie (a documentary at a hospital) next to the entrance of that level – stairs I guess, but can’t remember now; it was sth like “subfloor” (I know that word is used for foundation structure of a building, I don’t mean that was the exact word… but it’s getting on my nerve – not finding it!!)

    • Stuart Cook - December 7, 2014, 10:14 pm Reply

      Perhaps the word you’re looking for is vault, meaning ‘a large room used for storage, especially an underground one’.

      • Parniyan - January 19, 2015, 12:46 pm Reply

        well… it’s not “vault” either. Thanks anyway 🙂

        • K - November 7, 2016, 4:19 pm Reply

          Mezzanine Floor? It’s a type of intermediate floor. Usually a non permanent fixture, such as a large landing, or if you have a double height shell, you can erect a mezzanine floor (similar to which might be the case in super markets, or cafes) or airports, waiting areas, lounges, etc.

    • Jim Neeson - May 30, 2015, 10:14 pm Reply

      My understanding of storey is the one above, the entrance is the ground floor and may well have flats but does not constitute a storey.

      • Bren - June 17, 2016, 8:53 am Reply

        Yes we were taught even in school that a dwelling with a ground level and an upper flat is a one-storey building. A storey cannot be ground level although I’ve watched property shows on tv when misinformed or probably uninformed presenters don’t use the proper terms. General dumbing down through the generations I guess.

        • K - November 7, 2016, 9:24 am Reply

          Sorry but just because you were taught something in school doesn’t mean that is the correct term, and to brand everyone else/presenters of shows as uninformed is rather ignorant. As a professional who works in the commercial property sector in the UK, we classify all floors as storeys but avoid usage of the term as much as possible in marketing materials and refer to floors instead. “comprising office accommodation over 10 floors”. Floors include basement, ground, first… As well as attic space (assuming its full height, measured and able to be occupied).

  7. Kings - January 19, 2015, 10:40 am Reply

    This is informative but what do you call a building without any floor above it? A storey building? My understanding of storey before I read your article was; a two-storey building is on with two floors above the ground floor while a storey building is a building with a floor above the ground floo!.

    • Stuart Cook - January 25, 2015, 11:35 pm Reply

      A residential building with no upper floor is called a bungalow.

  8. Frank_Bouwens - February 3, 2015, 8:43 pm Reply

    I have a question, I’m making an app for a convention. This app will contain a map of the venue.
    Both British people and American people will attend.
    The venue has 3 levels: Ground floor, 1th/2th floor, Attic.
    How can I describe this so that both the British and American people will understand?
    Would it be wrong to call it the ‘middle floor’?

    • Stuart Cook - February 5, 2015, 12:18 am Reply

      Yes, I’d go for ‘middle floor’, I think.

      • Jim Neeson - May 30, 2015, 10:23 pm Reply

        Why don’t you just say the floor be it Ground, 1st . 2nd or Attic. where is it UK or USA ? use the local term.

  9. Leo Nakayama - April 13, 2015, 7:24 am Reply

    In Japan where I live: ground floor=first floor, so the main entrance to the building is on the first floor.
    In Brazil where I was born, the ground floor is the floor where we have the main entrance and the first floor is the one above ground.
    To ilustrate, in Brazil, you jump from the first floor to the ground floor.
    In Japan, we need to go to the second floor to jump. Jumping from the first floor, you don’t go anywhere.

    • Jim Neeson - May 30, 2015, 10:25 pm Reply

      So you float?

      • Dan D - December 18, 2015, 3:14 pm Reply

        The article was interesting, but did not answer my question. At U S Veterans Hospitals, the ground floor is listed at the basement? Do not have a clue, as to why.

  10. Imposing Architecture – Mappy Mole - March 5, 2016, 8:12 am Reply

    […] in the middle that takes one up to the “first floor”. Yes, in Hong Kong – just as in the UK – the floor that is one storey above the street is called the first floor, whereas in Canada […]

  11. Valon - August 24, 2016, 3:52 pm Reply

    what about attic, can i refer to it as third floor (attic)

    • K - November 7, 2016, 4:22 pm Reply

      Yes, only if the floor can be accommodated and is not restricted in height and or access.

      Ie. A commercial property arranged over the ground and first floor (with a second floor level attic) may only be referred to a second floor if it could in theory be converted (or is in actual fact) converted to a useable floor. A small attic of half-height offering space for some storage – would be classed as an attic but not as a floor.

  12. Jennifer - November 14, 2016, 10:23 pm Reply

    What is the principal floor? Would it be the floor above the ground floor?

  13. Muhammad - September 16, 2017, 3:57 am Reply

    This was a informative article, but I have a question too…
    If we have 2 or more that 2 level under ground, how we should call it? 2nd floor underground?
    is it right? if not, so what we should call it?

    • jodi - October 5, 2017, 6:48 am Reply

      In the US, levels underground are often labeled B-1, B-2, etc. “B” meaning “basement”. OR LL-1, LL-2. “LL” meaning “lower level”

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