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Chips or Fries? UK vs. US English

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If you are planning to learn English in the UK, you will find this lesson useful! Over the last few years, it has become very clear that English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but did you know that there are many different types of English? British English and American English are two of the most widely recognised varieties, however there are a few important differences between them which you should know.

1. Vocabulary

In many cases, Brits and Americans use completely different words to talk about the exact same thing. What we call a lift in England is an elevator in the US, and if you’re hungry and fancy a plate of these:

Chips or Fries?

Then remember, they’re called chips in the UK, but fries in the US! Ask for chips in New York, and you’ll soon find a plate of what the English call crisps:

Chips or Fries?

Here are a few other common differences in vocabulary which you should know about:

Film Movie
Pavement Sidewalk
Autumn Fall
Dustbin Trash can / Garbage can
Holiday Vacation
Sweets Candy
Trousers Pants
Flat Apartment
Queue Line
Garden Yard
Petrol Gasoline/Gas
Torch Flashlight
Angry Mad
Car park Parking lot
Cinema Movie theatre
Fizzy drink Pop / soda
Football Soccer
Handbag Purse
Shop Store

2. Spelling

Spelling is the next key point of difference between these two types of English. In American English, the way words are spelt is slightly closer to the way they’re pronounced than their British counterparts.

Colour Color
Centre Center
Organise Organize
Travelling Traveling
Lincence Lincense
Programme Program
Kilogramme Kilogram
Aeroplane Airplane
Analyse Analyze
Behaviour Behavior
Neighbour Neighbor
Cancelled Canceled
Cosy Cozy
Grey Gray

The important thing to remember is consistency; if you start writing something using the US system, make sure that you use it throughout. Similarly, if you start your work using the UK system, then make sure your choice of spelling reflects that. In short, try to avoid doing this:

Today was the first day of Autumn. My favourite thing about Fall is that I can take photos of all the beautiful, different-coloured leaves. I love how the red and brown colors mix together.

3. Pronunciation

The difference in pronunciation across US and UK English is subtle, but definitely worth knowing about. The word might be spelt the same, but that doesn’t mean they’re said in the same way. Don’t worry, though – people will understand you even if you don’t adopt their accent! The word tomato for example, is pronounced ‘to-mah-to’ in the UK, but ‘tom-ei-to’ in the US. Another example lies in the word water. The British pronounce ‘water’ with a clear, sharp t sound, while the Americans tend to give it more of a d sound. The next time you listen to a song or watch a film in English, try to pick out the sounds which make the words sound more American or more British! Repeating the words will also help you to practise your pronunciation.

English pronunciation

Remember, both types of English are ‘correct’ – but it’s important to be aware of which one to use when sitting for specific exams. An American exam like TOEFL uses the English (US) system, while a British exam like IELTS or Cambridge ESOL use the English (UK) one.

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