This lesson is intended to help you learn and understand the difference between British versus American vocabulary. Please keep a dictionary handy while you are studying this lesson. There are going to be words that you do not know. If you have a British dictionary, you may want to look up the British words. If you have an American dictionary, you may want to look up the American words. Challenge yourself. Good luck!

British Versus American Vocabulary
British Versus American Vocabulary

British Versus American Vocabulary

Here is an overview of the main differences between British and American spellings:

1. our endings change to or

colour                           >                 color

British                                        American

  • armour                                                 armory
  • armoury                                               armory
  • behaviour                                            behavior
  • candour                                               candor
  • clamour                                               clamor
  • colour                                                  color
  • demeanour                                          demeanor
  • endeavour                                           endeavor
  • favourite                                              favorite
  • flavour                                                 flavor
  • glamour                                               glamor
  • harbour                                                harbor
  • honour                                                 honor
  • humour                                                humor
  • labour                                                  labor
  • neighbour                                            neighbor
  • odour                                                   odor
  • rancour                                                rancor
  • rigour                                                  rigor
  • rumour                                                rumor
  • saviour                                                savior
  • savour                                                 savor
  • savoury                                               savory
  • splendour                                            splendor
  • valour                                                  valor   

2. re endings change to er 

theatre > theater

  • amphitheatre                                       amphitheater
  • calibre                                                 caliber
  • centimetre                                           centimeter
  • centre                                                  center
  • fibre                                                     fiber
  • kilometre                                             kilometer
  • litre                                                      liter
  • louvre                                                  louver
  • lustre                                                   luster
  • manoeuvre                                          maneuver
  • meagre                                                meager
  • metre                                                   meter
  • millimetre                                           millimeter
  • sabre                                                    saber
  • sceptre                                                 scepter
  • sombre                                                somber           
  • spectre                                                 specter
  • theatre                                                 theater

Note: These words are spelled with -re in both Britain and the USA:

  • acre
  • massacre
  • mediocre
  • ogre

3. ogue endings change to og

catalogue > catalog

  • analogue                                             analog
  • dialogue                                             dialog
  • catalogue                                            catalog
  • epilogue                                             epilog
  • monologue                                         monolog
  • prologue                                             prolog
  • travelogue                                          travelog

Note: -ogue can also be used in the USA

4. l endings do not double in US spellings

traveller > traveler

  • cancelled                                             canceled
  • counsellor                                           counselor
  • equalled                                               equaled
  • fuelling                                                fueling
  • fuelled                                                 fueled
  • grovelling                                            groveling
  • jeweller                                               jeweler
  • jewellery                                             jewelry
  • levelled                                               leveled
  • libelled                                                libeled
  • marvellous                                          marvelous
  • modelling                                            modeling
  • panelled                                               paneled
  • quarrelling                                           quarreling
  • revelled                                               reveled
  • woollen                                               woolen                       

Note: Some British English words ending in one l may have double ll in the USA spelling:                    

  • appal                                                    appall                                                   
  • distil                                                    distill
  • enrol                                                    enroll
  • enthral                                                 enthrall
  • fulfil                                                    fulfill
  • instil                                                    instill
  • skilful                                                  skillful
  • wilful                                                   willful

5. ae and oe words change to e

 encyclopaedia > encyclopedia

  • diarrhoea                                             diarrhea
  • oestrogen                                            estrogen
  • foetus                                                  fetus
  • manoeuvre                                          maneuver
  • mementoes                                         mementos
  • anaemia                                               anemia
  • caesarean                                             cesarean
  • gynaecology                                        gynecology
  • haemorrhage                                       hemorrhage
  • leukaemia                                            leukemia
  • palaeontology                                     paleontology
  • paediatric                                            pediatric

6. ise endings change to ize

apologise > apologize

  • appetiser                                              appetizer                                
  • authorise                                             authorize
  • capitalise                                             capitalize
  • characterise                                         characterize
  • civilise                                                 civilize
  • colonise                                               colonize
  • criticise                                               criticize
  • dramatise                                             dramatize
  • emphasise                                           emphasize
  • equalise                                               equalize  
  • mobilise                                              mobilize
  • naturalise                                             naturalize
  • organise                                               organize
  • popularize                                            popularize
  • realise                                                  realize
  • recognise                                             recognize
  • satirise                                                 satirize
  • standardise                                          standardize
  • symbolise                                            symbolize
  • vaporise                                               vaporize
  • analyse                                                analyze
  • paralyse                                               paralyze

Note: Some words are the same in both countries:

  • size
  • capsize
  • prize
  • seize
  • advise
  • surprise
  • advertise

Note: Some British spellers do use the –ize ending – either is correct – but the American spelling is almost always –ize.

7. –ce words change to –se words. In some of them, the spelling depends on whether the word is a noun or a verb.

  • defence                                                defense
  • offence                                                offense
  • pretence                                               pretense
  • vice                                                     vise
  • (workbench tool)
  • licence (as a noun):                             license (noun and verb)
  • I’ve lost my driving licence.
  • license (as a verb) is the same in both countries:
  • He is licensed to drive large trucks.
  • practise (as a verb):                             practice (noun and verb)
  • I practise the piano every day.           
  • practice (as a noun) is the same in both countries:
  • Get some practice in these words.

Some more examples of spelling differences:

Spelling change
ph > f sulphate sulphide sulphursulfate sulfide sulfur
ugh > f or w draught ploughdraft plow
y > i tyre (on a wheel) gybetire jibe
ou > o mould moult smouldermold molt smolder
mme > m programmeprogram
que > ck cheque (money)

chequer (game)

check

checker

ge > g acknowledgement

ageing

judgement

acknowledgment

aging

judgment

Miscellaneous:

 

aluminium

axe

cosy

kerb (edge of road)

furore

grey

carat

liquorice

moustache

nought

pyjamas

sceptic

phial

whisky

 

aluminum

ax

cozy

curb

furor

gray

(gold) karat

licorice

mustache

naught

pajamas

skeptic

vial

whiskey

 

The lists above show the most common spellings that are different in Britain and the USA. With the growth of the Internet, it is likely that the American spellings will become the most used – despite any British objections!

The following is an alphabetical list of word comparisons. If there are any words that you don’t understand, be sure to use your dictionary. You may ask your teacher for help. (Keep in mind that your teacher is American, therefore they are not familiar with British words.)

British

central reservation

American

median strip

chemistdrugstore
chipsFrench fries
cinemamovie theater; the movies
cling filmplastic wrap
common sealharbor seal
consumer durablesdurable goods
corn flourcornstarch
cos (lettuce)Romaine
cotcrib
cot deathcrib death
cotton budcotton swab
cotton woolabsorbent cotton
council estate(housing) project
courgettezucchini
court cardface card
crash barrierguardrail
crispschips; potato chips
crocodile clipalligator clip
cross-plybias-ply
crotchet (music)quarter note
current accountchecking account
danger moneyhazard pay
demister (in a car)defroster
dialling tonedial tone
diamanterhinestone
double creamheavy cream
draughts (game)checkers
drawing pinthumbtack
dressing gownrobe; bathrobe
drink-drivingdrunk driving
drinks cupboardliquor cabinet
drinks partycocktail party
driving licencedriver’s license
dual carriagewaydivided highway
dummy (for a baby)pacifier
dust sheetdrop cloth
dustbingarbage can
earth (electrical)ground
engaged (of a phone)busy
estate agentreal estate agent, realtor(trademark)
estate carstation wagon
ex-directoryunlisted
faith schoolparochial school
financial yearfiscal year
fire brigade/servicefire company/department
first floorsecond floor
fish fingerfish stick
fitted carpetwall-to-wall carpeting
flannelwashcloth
flatapartment
flexitimeflextime
flick knifeswitchblade
flyoveroverpass
footballsoccer
footwaysidewalk
fringe (hair)bangs
full board (in hotels)American plan
full stop (punctuation)period
gardenyard; lawn
gearing (finance)leverage
gear levergearshift
goods trainfreight train
greaseproof paperwax paper/waxed paper
green fingersgreen thumb
grill (noun)broiler
grill (verb)broil
ground floorfirst floor
groundsmangroundskeeper
hairslidebarrette
hat standhat rack
hen nightbachelorette party
hire purchaseinstallment plan
hoardingbillboard
hobstovetop
holdallcarryall
holidayvacation
holidaymakervacationer
homelyhomey
hosepipe(garden) hose
in hospitalin the hospital
hot flushhot flash
housing estatehousing development
hundreds and thousandssprinkles (for ice cream)
ice lollyPopsicle (trademark)
icing sugarconfectioners’ sugar
indicator (on a car)turn signal
inside leginseam
jelly babiesjelly beans
Joe BloggsJoe Blow
Joe PublicJohn Q. Public
jumble salerummage sale
jump leadjumper cable
jumpersweater
junior schoolelementary school
kenneldoghouse
ladybirdladybug
a lettucea head of lettuce
level crossinggrade crossing
liftelevator
lollyPopsicle (trademark)
lollipop lady (or man)crossing guard
loo (toilet)john
loose coverslipcover
lorrytruck
loudhailerbullhorn
low loaderflatbed truck
lucky dipgrab bag
luggage vanbaggage car
maizecorn
mangetoutsnow pea
market gardentruck farm
marshalling yardrailroad yard
mathsmath
metalled roadpaved road
milometerodometer
minim (music)half note
mobile phonecell phone
monkey tricksmonkeyshines
motorwayexpressway; highway
mum/mummymom/mommy
nappydiaper
needlecordpinwale
newsreadernewscaster
noughts and crossestic-tac-toe
number platelicense plate
off-licenceliquor store; package store
opencast miningopen-pit mining
ordinary sharecommon stock
oven gloveoven mitt
paddling poolwading pool
paracetamolacetaminophen
parting (in hair)part
patiencesolitaire
pavementsidewalk
pay packetpay envelope
pedestrian crossingcrosswalk
pegclothespin
pelmetvalance
petrolgas; gasoline
physiotherapyphysical therapy
pinafore dressjumper
plain chocolatedark chocolate
plain flourall-purpose flour
polo neckturtleneck
positive discriminationreverse discrimination
postal voteabsentee ballot
postboxmailbox
postcodezip code
potato crisppotato chip
power pointelectrical outlet
prambaby carriage; stroller
press studsnap
press-uppushup
private soldierGI
public schoolprivate school
public transportpublic transportation
punchbagpunching bag
pushchairstroller
pylonutility pole
quantity surveyorestimator
quaver (music)eighth note
queueline
racing carrace car
railwayrailroad
real tenniscourt tennis
recorded deliverycertified mail
registration platelicense plate
remould (tyre)retread
reverse the chargescall collect
reversing lightsback-up lights
right-angled triangleright triangle
ring roadbeltway
room onlyEuropean plan
roundabout (at a fair)carousel
roundabout (in road)traffic circle
rowing boatrowboat
sailing boatsailboat
saloon (car)sedan
sandpitsandbox
sandwich cakelayer cake
sanitary towelsanitary napkin
self-raising flourself-rising flour
semibreve (music)whole note
semitone (music)half step
share optionstock option
shopping trolleyshopping cart
show house/homemodel home
silencer (on a car)muffler
silversiderump roast
skeleton in the cupboardskeleton in the closet
skimmed milkskim milk
skipping ropejump rope
skirting boardbaseboard
sledgesled
sleeperrailroad tie
sleeping partnersilent partner
slowcoachslowpoke
snakes and ladderschutes and ladders
solicitorlawyer
soya/soya beansoy/soybean
splashbackbacksplash
spring oniongreen onion
stag nightbachelor party
Stanley knifeutility knife
starterappetizer
state schoolpublic school
storm in a teacuptempest in a teapot
surtitlesupertitle
swederutabaga
sweet(s)candy
takeaway (food)takeout; to go
taxi ranktaxi stand
tea toweldish towel
terrace houserow house
tickcheck mark
ticket toutscalper
tightspantyhose
timberlumber
titbittidbit
toffee applecandy apple
touch woodknock on wood
trade unionlabor union
trading estateindustrial park
trainerssneakers
tramstreetcar; cable car
transport cafetruck stop
trolleyshopping cart
twelve-boretwelve-gauge
unalikeunlike
undergroundsubway
vacuum flaskthermos bottle
verge (of a road)shoulder
vestundershirt
veterinary surgeonveterinarian
wagon (on a train)car
waistcoatvest
walking framewalker
wardrobecloset
water iceItalian ice
weatherboardclapboard
white coffeecoffee with cream
white spiritmineral spirits
wholemeal breadwholewheat bread
windcheaterwindbreaker
windscreenwindshield
wing (of a car)fender
worktopcountertop
Yale lockcylinder lock
zebra crossingcrosswalk
zed (letter Z)zee
zipzipper