British English versus American English: It’s all the same, right?

By Monika Salita

British English versus American English: It’s all the same, right?

By M0tty (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

When you’re thinking that the inclusion (or lack thereof) of the letter U in words such as colour, flavour, neighbour is totally normal, depending on which side of The Pond (aka the Atlantic Ocean) you’re on, you know you’re debating over a British English spelling versus American English spelling. English is English, after all. Is it not? Even the quickest of online searches will yield thorough results detailing the history of French-derived versus Latin-derived spellings of British English and American English words and their ties to world history. Who would have guessed? Upon reading this history, it’s easy to see why so many European populations, such as the French, favor UK English over US English. Geographic proximity, business ties and history win out.

We know the differences will always be there, so now let’s get down to business and learn how to not make a grave faux pas.

British English vs. American English

  • sweets/candy: Both serve as one reason you go to the dentist to get cavities filled.
  • trousers/pants: Both are a piece of clothing you wear to cover your legs.
  • lift/elevator: Why take the stairs when a machine can move you up and down all those stories in tall buildings?
  • truck/lorry: Both are a type of large vehicle, often used to transport goods; not a standard car.
  • holiday/vacation: Both express the idea of getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to enjoy some rest and relaxation.

A special word with a different sentiment: Quite. A recent PR Daily article discussed the different sentiments associated with the word quite when used in British English and in American English. Stateside, quite generally has a strong, positive connotation, used similarly to modify, like the word very. While in the UK, quite has a tendency to only mean “fairly good” or “pretty good.” You’re in luck if you’ve received a ‘quite’ compliment from an American; although apparently the same comment from a British English speaker means s/he isn’t overly impressed.

Discussing the differences between and history of British English and American English can serve as a great history lesson, spelling lesson and any number of associated games that you can think of.


I adored teaching English in beautiful Montpellier, France during the 2008-09 academic year. I am an avid learner and have finished two professional certificates in public relations and social media technologies.