Differences between British and American English

Whilst the grammar of the English language remains the same on both sides of the pond, as an English learner you are probably aware that there are plenty of vocabulary words which vary between the USA and UK.

In this blog post, we take a look at some frequently used vocabulary words which change shape when you cross the Atlantic.


Let’s begin on the theme of food. Whilst there are many popular American-style foods which make an appearance in British cuisine and vice versa, the names we have for them vary.

In the UK, we eat biscuits with our tea, whereas in the US they eat cookies (and tend to drink iced tea rather than hot tea!)

In the UK, we eat sweets, but in the US these are known as candy (singular mass noun) or candies (plural). The big pink fluffy thing you can buy at the fair is called candy floss in the UK, but is known as cotton candy in the US.

When talking about potatoes, in the US you may eat a burger with fries for take out. In the UK, enjoy some fish and chips to take away. Potato chips in the US are the ones that come in packets, but in the UK we call these crisps.

Some other useful vocabulary differences include:

Aubergine – eggplant

Courgette – zucchini

Coriander – cilantro

Jelly – jam

Prawn – shrimp

Sprinkles – hundred and thousands 

Have you read our other blog posts on Modern British Food and Traditional British Food?


In the UK, you may live in a block of flats, in the US this would be an apartment block. In the UK, we use a lift to go to a higher floor. In the US, this is an elevator

Travelling around the city? Use the underground in London, or the subway in New York.

If you’re walking, you’ll use the pavement in the UK, or the sidewalk in the US.

Perhaps you are going to the corner store (US) or village shop (UK), or to post a letter in the mailbox (US) or postbox (UK).

Do you need some caffeine? Stop at the cafe (UK) or coffee shop (US). Pick up medication from the pharmacy (UK) or drugstore (US).


Some other useful miscellaneous vocabulary word differences are listed below.

Sweater – jumper

Pants – trousers 

Underwear – pants

Trash – rubbish

Stroller – pram

Pushchair – buggy

Diaper – nappy

Bonnet – hood

Boot – trunk

Film – movie


Read the sentences below using the vocabulary we have just seen. Without looking back at the blog post, decide if they are American or British English and then write the other one. For example: Could you please open the boot so I can put my suitcase in? Answer: British English. American English = trunk.

  1.  Yum! These cookies are delicious.
  2. Don’t forget to bring a sweater. It’s forecast to snow.
  3. He lives in a flat in the east part of the city.
  4. Can we stop at the pharmacy? I need to pick up my prescription.
  5. The children begged their dad to buy them some candy floss.
  6. The baby was sleeping so we left her in the buggy.
  7. Could you take this postcard to the mailbox for me please?
  8. Many Mexican dishes use coriander as a garnish.

Post your answers in the comments below.

There are plenty more words which vary between the UK and US. This blog post provides just a taster. And of course there are also vocabulary differences with other English-speaking countries such as Australia and New Zealand. Can you think of any? Let us know in the comments.

Additional reading and watching

Video: US vs. UK! Intrepid English teachers Tom and Maddox challenge each other with some lesser-known words and phrases.

Video: Ask Us Anything – Kate R answers your questions live. What are the main differences between US and UK English?

Video: Are these British stereotypes true?

Blog post: Handy phrasal verbs in the US and UK


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