Reading Speaking Writing

British Versus American Vocabulary

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 sulphur sulfate sulfide sulfur
ugh > f or w draught plough draft plow
y > i tyre (on a wheel) gybe tire jibe
ou > o mould moult smoulder mold molt smolder
mme > m programme program
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

chemist drugstore
chips French fries
cinema movie theater; the movies
cling film plastic wrap
common seal harbor seal
consumer durables durable goods
corn flour cornstarch
cos (lettuce) Romaine
cot crib
cot death crib death
cotton bud cotton swab
cotton wool absorbent cotton
council estate (housing) project
courgette zucchini
court card face card
crash barrier guardrail
crisps chips; potato chips
crocodile clip alligator clip
cross-ply bias-ply
crotchet (music) quarter note
current account checking account
danger money hazard pay
demister (in a car) defroster
dialling tone dial tone
diamante rhinestone
double cream heavy cream
draughts (game) checkers
drawing pin thumbtack
dressing gown robe; bathrobe
drink-driving drunk driving
drinks cupboard liquor cabinet
drinks party cocktail party
driving licence driver’s license
dual carriageway divided highway
dummy (for a baby) pacifier
dust sheet drop cloth
dustbin garbage can
earth (electrical) ground
engaged (of a phone) busy
estate agent real estate agent, realtor(trademark)
estate car station wagon
ex-directory unlisted
faith school parochial school
financial year fiscal year
fire brigade/service fire company/department
first floor second floor
fish finger fish stick
fitted carpet wall-to-wall carpeting
flannel washcloth
flat apartment
flexitime flextime
flick knife switchblade
flyover overpass
football soccer
footway sidewalk
fringe (hair) bangs
full board (in hotels) American plan
full stop (punctuation) period
garden yard; lawn
gearing (finance) leverage
gear lever gearshift
goods train freight train
greaseproof paper wax paper/waxed paper
green fingers green thumb
grill (noun) broiler
grill (verb) broil
ground floor first floor
groundsman groundskeeper
hairslide barrette
hat stand hat rack
hen night bachelorette party
hire purchase installment plan
hoarding billboard
hob stovetop
holdall carryall
holiday vacation
holidaymaker vacationer
homely homey
hosepipe (garden) hose
in hospital in the hospital
hot flush hot flash
housing estate housing development
hundreds and thousands sprinkles (for ice cream)
ice lolly Popsicle (trademark)
icing sugar confectioners’ sugar
indicator (on a car) turn signal
inside leg inseam
jelly babies jelly beans
Joe Bloggs Joe Blow
Joe Public John Q. Public
jumble sale rummage sale
jump lead jumper cable
jumper sweater
junior school elementary school
kennel doghouse
ladybird ladybug
a lettuce a head of lettuce
level crossing grade crossing
lift elevator
lolly Popsicle (trademark)
lollipop lady (or man) crossing guard
loo (toilet) john
loose cover slipcover
lorry truck
loudhailer bullhorn
low loader flatbed truck
lucky dip grab bag
luggage van baggage car
maize corn
mangetout snow pea
market garden truck farm
marshalling yard railroad yard
maths math
metalled road paved road
milometer odometer
minim (music) half note
mobile phone cell phone
monkey tricks monkeyshines
motorway expressway; highway
mum/mummy mom/mommy
nappy diaper
needlecord pinwale
newsreader newscaster
noughts and crosses tic-tac-toe
number plate license plate
off-licence liquor store; package store
opencast mining open-pit mining
ordinary share common stock
oven glove oven mitt
paddling pool wading pool
paracetamol acetaminophen
parting (in hair) part
patience solitaire
pavement sidewalk
pay packet pay envelope
pedestrian crossing crosswalk
peg clothespin
pelmet valance
petrol gas; gasoline
physiotherapy physical therapy
pinafore dress jumper
plain chocolate dark chocolate
plain flour all-purpose flour
polo neck turtleneck
positive discrimination reverse discrimination
postal vote absentee ballot
postbox mailbox
postcode zip code
potato crisp potato chip
power point electrical outlet
pram baby carriage; stroller
press stud snap
press-up pushup
private soldier GI
public school private school
public transport public transportation
punchbag punching bag
pushchair stroller
pylon utility pole
quantity surveyor estimator
quaver (music) eighth note
queue line
racing car race car
railway railroad
real tennis court tennis
recorded delivery certified mail
registration plate license plate
remould (tyre) retread
reverse the charges call collect
reversing lights back-up lights
right-angled triangle right triangle
ring road beltway
room only European plan
roundabout (at a fair) carousel
roundabout (in road) traffic circle
rowing boat rowboat
sailing boat sailboat
saloon (car) sedan
sandpit sandbox
sandwich cake layer cake
sanitary towel sanitary napkin
self-raising flour self-rising flour
semibreve (music) whole note
semitone (music) half step
share option stock option
shopping trolley shopping cart
show house/home model home
silencer (on a car) muffler
silverside rump roast
skeleton in the cupboard skeleton in the closet
skimmed milk skim milk
skipping rope jump rope
skirting board baseboard
sledge sled
sleeper railroad tie
sleeping partner silent partner
slowcoach slowpoke
snakes and ladders chutes and ladders
solicitor lawyer
soya/soya bean soy/soybean
splashback backsplash
spring onion green onion
stag night bachelor party
Stanley knife utility knife
starter appetizer
state school public school
storm in a teacup tempest in a teapot
surtitle supertitle
swede rutabaga
sweet(s) candy
takeaway (food) takeout; to go
taxi rank taxi stand
tea towel dish towel
terrace house row house
tick check mark
ticket tout scalper
tights pantyhose
timber lumber
titbit tidbit
toffee apple candy apple
touch wood knock on wood
trade union labor union
trading estate industrial park
trainers sneakers
tram streetcar; cable car
transport cafe truck stop
trolley shopping cart
twelve-bore twelve-gauge
unalike unlike
underground subway
vacuum flask thermos bottle
verge (of a road) shoulder
vest undershirt
veterinary surgeon veterinarian
wagon (on a train) car
waistcoat vest
walking frame walker
wardrobe closet
water ice Italian ice
weatherboard clapboard
white coffee coffee with cream
white spirit mineral spirits
wholemeal bread wholewheat bread
windcheater windbreaker
windscreen windshield
wing (of a car) fender
worktop countertop
Yale lock cylinder lock
zebra crossing crosswalk
zed (letter Z) zee
zip zipper

 

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