American vs British Words: Navigating the Differences

Author: Jason Coles

Updated On:

Updated On:

Moving to a new country where the native language is spoken can be an exciting adventure, but it can also come with unexpected challenges.

For British immigrants moving to the US, the differences between British English and American English can prove to be an unforeseen obstacle.

While the prevalence of American media and the social media boom has made exposure to other cultures part of daily life for most younger Brits, some common US words and phrases might seem obscure, confusing, or even outright silly to those of any age who were raised speaking British English.

Food Fumbles with British Words vs American Words

One of the biggest challenges for British people moving to the US is adjusting to unfamiliar words for familiar items.

For example, when shopping for groceries, they might ask for an aubergine, coriander, or a courgette, only to be met with a blank stare.

However, if they point out the items on the shelf, the clerk will immediately recognize them as eggplants, cilantro, and zucchini.

Similarly, searching for biscuits will lead to buttery scones, which aren’t quite as easy to dunk in tea as British biscuits!

Other commonly used words in the UK, such as “prawns,” might turn up more than one kind of crustacean. So, in the US, you must generally ask for shrimp instead.

Cooking and shopping using recipes in American English might also be challenging at first, but with some cross-referencing and a few quick Google searches beforehand or in the store, most Brits won’t have much trouble adjusting their grocery lists to match the labels on US shelves.

Alternatively, if you want a quick reference guide to help you out when doing your grocery shopping in the US, then download and print our graphic below that has all the most common foods, vegetables, and ingredients you are likely to encounter on your next food shop (sorry, grocery shop!).

British Words vs American Words Food List

In addition to the downloadable graphic above, we have created a comprehensive table listing all the British vs American food and food-related item comparisons:

American WordBritish Word
EggplantAubergine
BeetBeetroot
CookieBiscuit
MolassesBlack Treacle
Lima BeanBroad Bean
CandySweets
FriesChips
ZucchiniCourgette
CilantroCoriander
ChipsCrisps
French ToastEggy Bread
Cup CakeFairy Cake
Apple CobblerApple Crumble
HamGammon
PickleGherkin
Confectioner's SugarIcing Sugar
Ground MeatMinced Meat
Smoked HerringKipper
Bell PepperPepper
OatmealPorridge
DessertPudding
Trash/Garbage BagsRubbish Bags/Bin Bags
BiscuitScone
Green OnionsSpring Onions
Grilled CheeseCheese Toastie
ShrimpPrawn
SodaFizzy Drink
CanTin
Plastic WrapCling Film
StoveCooker
SilverwareCutlery
PitcherJug
TrashcanBin
Grocery StoreSupermarket
GroceriesShopping
TakeoutTakeaway
JelloJelly
DishesCrockery

British vs American Clothing Confusion

Shopping for clothes, especially online, can also be a headache for those choosing between British and American words.

Searching for a sleeveless “vest” online is likely to pull up pages and pages of waistcoats, while a search for a “house coat” or “dressing gown” will almost exclusively result in listings for bathrobes.

For a British fitness enthusiast or those that want to wear casual footwear, it might make very little sense that their multi-purpose “trainers” are narrowed down to being called just “sneakers” in the US.

“Trousers” sound old-fashioned to an American English speaker, but telling a British English speaker you forgot to pack “pants” for your trip will have them wondering how you could forget to bring your underwear!

Below is a graphical summary of the differences between British vs American clothing, as well as some other similarly related things that have different words in both language variations:

British vs American Words Clothing List

The table below lists all of the common clothing differences between British vs American words, with the addition of some other similar items often confused:

American WordBritish Word
ShoestringShoelace
ClothespinClothes Peg
BathrobeDressing Gown
OverallsDungarees
DiaperNappy
PacifierDummy
UnderwearUnderpants
PantiesKnickers
Gym ShoesPlimsolls
PajamasPyjamas
Bathing SuitSwimming Costume
SneakersTrainers
PantsTrousers
VestWaistcoat
WellingtonsWellies
SweaterJumper
UndershirtVest
SuspendersBraces

UK vs US Words: Driving Differences

British drivers in the US must also acquaint themselves with the unfamiliar car and driving terms.

In the US, what they call a “boot” is a “trunk,” a “bonnet” is a “hood,” and “lorries” are “semis” or just “trucks.” Drivers in the US use their “blinkers,” not their “indicators,” before turning and fuel up their vehicles at stations pumping “gas,” not “petrol.”

Remember, you are not looking for a petrol station, you are looking for a gas station when you next need to fill up in the US, and while you are at it, make sure you are driving on the right side (literally) of the road, not the left!

Although context makes the meanings of these words relatively clear, British drivers might find they take some getting used to. For example, a Yield sign in the U.S. is equivalent to a Give Way sign in the UK.

As you can see from the graphic below, there are quite a few differences in driving terms with US vs UK words. Fortunately, we have provided you with all the tools to become an expert at deciphering the differences:

US vs UK Words Driving List

The table we have created below displays all of the driving and driving-related differences in words between the US vs the UK, as well as some other related differences in words:

American WordBritish Word
Parking LotCar park
Road TripCar Journey
Cross WalkZebra Crossing
Crossing GuardLollipop Man or Lady
Freeway/HighwayMotorway
Divided HighwayDual Carriageway
WagonEstate
GasPetrol
SidewalkPavement
Gas StationPetrol Station
DumpsterSkip
DetourDiversion
Pull-OffLay-By
Traffic CircleRoundabout
Fire TruckFire Engine
Phone BoothPhone Box
PassOvertake
RVMotorhome or Campervan
TrunkBoot
HoodBonnet
Semi/TruckLorry
BlinkersIndicators
WindshieldWindscreen
Stick Shift CarManual Car
YieldGive Way

British Spelling of American Words

The spelling differences between US and UK English can also be a challenge for British immigrants settling into their new home.

US English is more phonetic than British English, and Noah Webster’s language reform simplified many English words in the US.

Words like “centre” and “theatre” were changed to “center” and “theater,” and words like “colour,” “favour,” “neighbour,” and “endeavour” lost the letter “u.”, becoming “color”, “favor”, “neighbor”, and “endeavor”.

Webster’s simplified version of English was the standard for teaching Americans to write for over a century and permanently changed how the US spells English words.

American vs British Words Spelling List

Below is a list of several differences in spelling between British English vs American English:

American WordBritish Word
colorcolour
centercentre
flavorflavour
humorhumour
laborlabour
neighborneighbour
apologizeapologise
organizeorganise
recognizerecognise
traveledtravelled
travelingtravelling
travelertraveller
leukemialeukaemia
maneuvermanoeuvre
estrogenoestrogen
pediatricpaediatric
defensedefence
licenselicence
offenseoffence
pretensepretence
analoganalogue
catalogcatalogue
dialogdialogue

American vs British Final Thoughts and Complete Table

Although adjusting to unfamiliar words and spellings can seem daunting at first, British and American English are more similar than different.

We might be divided by a common language, but both nations share much of the same media, including films, music, and television, which bridges many gaps in translation and blends local slang. As a result, the two forms of English are steadily homogenizing.

Ultimately, while there may be differences between British and American English, the beauty of the English language is that it continues to evolve and adapt.

Don’t sweat! Whatever American vs British words we missed out on throughout the article have been included in the table below:

American WordBritish Word
ApartmentFlat
CellphoneMobile phone
ElevatorLift
EraserRubber
FaucetTap
High schoolSecondary school
MailmanPostman
Movie theaterCinema
RailroadRailway
RestroomToilet
SoccerFootball
SubwayUnderground
VacationHoliday
BillNote
BroilGrill
CheckBill
ClosetWardrobe
Counter-clockwiseAnti-clockwise
DowntownCity Centre
MailboxPostbox
MailPost
StoreShop
YardGarden
VacuumHoover

Immigration to the US

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Jason Coles

Jason Coles is the Founder of Foreign USA and its Chief Content Writer and Editor. Recognized as a prolific business plan writer by many prominent immigration attorneys in the U.S. who refer his services to their clients regularly, Jason has written over 1,350 business plans across the past 17+ years for start-up companies and franchises looking to expand their footprint in the United States. Jason is considered a seasoned expert in his field. He creates detailed business plans for his clients that include five-year financial projections, market and industry analysis reports, demographic studies, organizational charts, job descriptions, employee hiring plans, and more.