Comparison of American and British English

For a comparison of typical American versus British pronunciation differences, see Comparison of General American and Received Pronunciation.

This is one of a series of articles about the differences between British English and American English, which, for the purposes of these articles, are defined as follows:

Written forms of British and American English as found in newspapers and textbooks vary little in their essential features, with only occasional noticeable differences in comparable media[1] (comparing American newspapers with British newspapers, for example). This kind of formal English, particularly written English, is often called "standard English".[2][3]

The spoken forms of British English vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect development amid isolated populations. In the United Kingdom, dialects, word use and accents vary not only between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also within them. Received Pronunciation (RP) refers to a way of pronouncing standard English that is actually used by about two percent of the UK population.[4] It remains the accent upon which dictionary pronunciation guides are based, and for teaching English as a foreign language. It is referred to colloquially as "the Queen's English", "Oxford English" and "BBC English", although by no means do all graduates of the university speak with such an accent and the BBC no longer requires it or uses it exclusively.[5] The present monarch uses a hyperlect of the Queen's English.

Regional dialects in the United States typically reflect some elements of the language of the main immigrant groups in any particular region of the country, especially in terms of pronunciation and vernacular vocabulary. Scholars have mapped at least four major regional variations of spoken American English: Northern, Southern, Midland, and Western.[6] After the American Civil War, the settlement of the western territories by migrants from the east led to dialect mixing and levelling, so that regional dialects are most strongly differentiated in the eastern parts of the country that were settled earlier. Localized dialects also exist with quite distinct variations, such as in Southern Appalachia, Boston and the New York City area.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world, excluding countries where English is spoken natively such as Australia, Canada, Ireland and New Zealand. In many former British Empire countries where English is not spoken natively, British English forms are closely followed, alongside numerous AmE usages which have become widespread throughout the Anglosphere.[7][8] Conversely, in many countries historically influenced by the United States where English is not spoken natively, American English forms are closely followed. Many of these countries, while retaining strong BrE or AmE influences, have developed their own unique dialects, which include Indian English and Philippine English.

Chief among other native English dialects are Canadian English and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in the number of native speakers. For the most part, Canadian English, while featuring numerous British forms alongside indigenous Canadianisms, shares vocabulary, phonology and syntax with American English, leading many to recognize North American English as an organic grouping of dialects.[9] Australian English likewise shares many American and British English usages alongside plentiful features unique to Australia, and retains a significantly higher degree of distinctiveness from both the larger varieties than does Canadian English. South African English, New Zealand English and the Hiberno-English of Ireland are also distinctive and rank fifth, sixth and seventh in the number of native speakers.

Historical background

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Similarly, the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonization elsewhere and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, held sway over a population of 470–570 million people, approximately a quarter of the world's population at that time.

Over the past 400 years the form of the language used in the Americas—especially in the United States—and that used in the United Kingdom have diverged in a few minor ways, leading to the versions now occasionally referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, and formatting of dates and numbers, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much less than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings in the two versions or are even unknown or not used in one of the versions. One particular contribution towards formalizing these differences came from Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary (published 1828) with the intention of showing that people in the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain, much like a regional accent.[10]

This divergence between American English and British English has provided opportunities for humorous comment, e.g., George Bernard Shaw has a character say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language";[11] and Oscar Wilde that "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language" (The Canterville Ghost, 1888). Henry Sweet incorrectly predicted in 1877 that within a century American English, Australian English and British English would be mutually unintelligible. It may be the case that increased worldwide communication through radio, television, the Internet and globalization has reduced the tendency towards regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct (for instance, the wireless, being progressively superseded by the radio) or in the acceptance of wide variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere.

Although spoken American and British English are generally mutually intelligible, there are occasional differences which might cause embarrassment—for example, in American English a rubber is usually interpreted as a condom rather than an eraser;[12] and a British fanny refers to the female pubic area, while the American fanny refers to an ass (US) or an arse (UK). Likewise the Australian root means to have sexual intercourse whilst in American English it means to support someone for success.



Formal and notional agreement

In British English (BrE), collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively; compare a committee was appointed with the committee were unable to agree.[13][14] The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasise the principle of cabinet collective responsibility.[15] Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army is here to stay / Oliver's Army are on their way . Some of these nouns, for example staff,[16] actually combine with plural verbs most of the time.

In American English (AmE), collective nouns are almost always singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree. However, when a speaker wishes to emphasize that the individuals are acting separately, a plural pronoun may be employed with a singular or plural verb: the team takes their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. Such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats.[17] Despite exceptions such as usage in The New York Times, the names of sports teams are usually treated as plurals even if the form of the name is singular.[18]

The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,

BrE: SuperHeavy is a band that shouldn't work or First Aid Kit are a band full of contradictions;[19][20] AmE: The Clash is a well-known band.
BrE: FC Red Bull Salzburg is an Austrian association football club; AmE: The New York Red Bulls are an American soccer team.

Proper nouns that are plural in form take a plural verb in both AmE and BrE; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Patriots are the champions, with one major exception: in American English, the United States is almost universally used with a singular verb. Although the construction the United States are was more common early in the history of the country, as the singular federal government exercised more authority and a singular national identity developed (especially following the American Civil War) it became standard to treat the United States as a singular noun.[21]


Verb morphology

Use of tenses

Verbal auxiliaries

  • Example: "Did Frank love nature or fair play?" "Why, he must have done."[46]
The AmE response would be "Why, he must have." omitting the form of "do". The BrE usage is commonly found with all forms of "do", for example:[45]
I have done.
I haven't done.
I will do.
I might have done.
I could do.
I could have done.
I should do.
I should have done.
Except in the negative, the initial pronoun may be omitted in informal speech.


The following verbs show differences in transitivity between BrE and AmE:


Presence or absence of syntactic elements

Definite article

Prepositions and adverbs

Phrasal verbs

Miscellaneous grammatical differences

Word derivation and compounds


Most of the differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English are in connection with concepts originating from the 19th century to the mid 20th century, when new words were coined independently. Almost the entire vocabularies of the car/automobile and railway/railroad industries (see Rail terminology) are different between the UK and US, for example. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms (where frequent new coinage occurs) and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations, even within the US or the UK, can create the same problems. From the mid-20th century, movies and television have spread new words in both countries, usually from the US to the UK.

It is not a straightforward matter to classify differences of vocabulary. David Crystal identifies some of the problems of classification on the facing page to his list of American English/British English lexical variation and states "this should be enough to suggest caution when working through an apparently simple list of equivalents".[75]

Overview of lexical differences

Note: A lexicon is not made up of different words but different "units of meaning" (lexical units or lexical items e.g., "fly ball" in baseball), including idioms and figures of speech. This makes it easier to compare the dialects.

Though the influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each other's regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language.

Words and phrases that have their origins in BrE

Most speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, although they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). It is generally very easy to guess what some words, such as "driving licence", mean. However, use of many other British words such as naff (slang but commonly used to mean "not very good") are unheard of in American English.

Words and phrases that have their origins in AmE

Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most common AmE terms, examples such as "sidewalk" (pavement), "gas (gasoline/petrol)", "counterclockwise" (anticlockwise) or "elevator (lift)", without any problem, thanks in part to considerable exposure to American popular culture and literature. Certain terms that are heard less frequently, especially those likely to be absent or rare in American popular culture, e.g., "copacetic (satisfactory)", are unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers.


Words and phrases with different meanings

Words such as bill and biscuit are used regularly in both AmE and BrE but mean different things in each form. In AmE a bill is usually paper money (as in "dollar bill") though it can mean the same as in BrE, an invoice (as in "the repair bill was £250"). In AmE a biscuit is what in BrE is called a scone. In BrE a biscuit is what AmE calls a cookie. As chronicled by Winston Churchill, the opposite meanings of the verb to table created a misunderstanding during a meeting of the Allied forces;[76] in BrE to table an item on an agenda means to open it up for discussion whereas in AmE, it means to remove it from discussion, or at times, to suspend or delay discussion.

The word "football" in BrE refers to Association football, also known as soccer. In AmE, "football" means American football. The standard AmE term "soccer", a contraction of "association (football)", is of British origin, derived from the formalization of different codes of football in the 19th century, and was a fairly unremarkable usage (possibly marked for class) in BrE until relatively recently; it has lately become perceived incorrectly as an Americanism. In international (i.e. non-American) context, particularly in sports news outside English-speaking North America, American (or US branches of foreign) news agencies also use "football" to mean "soccer", especially in direct quotes.

Similarly, the word "hockey" in BrE refers to field hockey and in AmE, "hockey" means ice hockey.

Other ambiguity (complex cases)

Words with completely different meanings are relatively few; most of the time there are either (1) words with one or more shared meanings and one or more meanings unique to one variety (for example, bathroom and toilet) or (2) words the meanings of which are actually common to both BrE and AmE but that show differences in frequency, connotation or denotation (for example, smart, clever, mad).

Some differences in usage and/or meaning can cause confusion or embarrassment. For example the word fanny is a slang word for vulva in BrE but means buttocks in AmE—the AmE phrase fanny pack is bum bag in BrE. In AmE the word fag (short for faggot) is a highly offensive term for a homosexual male but in BrE it is a normal and well-used term for a cigarette, for hard work, or for a chore, while a faggot itself is a sort of meatball. In AmE the word pissed means being annoyed whereas in BrE it is a coarse word for being drunk (in both varieties, pissed off means irritated).

Similarly, in AmE the word pants is the common word for the BrE trousers and knickers refers to a variety of half-length trousers (though most AmE users would use the term "shorts" rather than knickers), while the majority of BrE speakers would understand pants to mean underpants and knickers to mean female underpants.

Sometimes the confusion is more subtle. In AmE the word quite used as a qualifier is generally a reinforcement: for example, "I'm quite hungry" means "I'm very hungry". In BrE quite (which is much more common in conversation) may have this meaning, as in "quite right" or "quite mad", but it more commonly means "somewhat", so that in BrE "I'm quite hungry" can mean "I'm somewhat hungry". This divergence of use can lead to misunderstanding.


In fiction

In the 2016 movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, set in the fictional Harry Potter universe, the word for a person who lacks magical ability is "muggle" in BrE and "no-maj" in AmE.[78]

Social and cultural differences

Lexical items that reflect separate social and cultural development.


The naming of school years in British (except Scotland) and American English
Age range British English American English
Name Alternative/old name Syllabus Name Alternative name
1–4 Preschool (optional)  
Nursery Playgroup Foundation stage 1 Daycare
3–5 Primary school  
Reception Infants reception Foundation stage 2 Preschool Pre-K
5–6 Year 1 Infants year 1 Key stage 1 Kindergarten
Elementary school
6–7 Year 2 Infants year 2 1st grade  
7–8 Year 3 First year Junior Key stage 2 2nd grade  
8–9 Year 4 Second year junior 3rd grade  
9–10 Year 5 Third year junior 4th grade  
10–11 Year 6 Fourth year junior 5th grade  
11–12 Secondary school / High school Middle school Junior high school
Year 7 First form[79] Key stage 3 6th grade  
12–13 Year 8 Second form 7th grade  
13–14 Year 9 Third form 8th grade  
14–15 Year 10 Fourth form Key stage 4, GCSE High school
9th grade Freshman year
15–16 Year 11 Fifth form 10th grade Sophomore year
16–17 Sixth form / FE College[80] 11th grade Junior year
Year 12 Lower sixth (AS) Key stage 5, A level
17–18 Year 13 Upper sixth (A2) 12th grade Senior year

The US has a more uniform nationwide system of terms than does the U.K., but the division by grades varies somewhat among the states and even among local school districts. For example, elementary school often includes kindergarten, and may include sixth grade, with middle school including only two grades or extending to ninth grade.

In the UK the US equivalent of a high school is often referred to as a "secondary school" regardless of whether it is state funded or private. Secondary education in the United States also includes middle school or junior high school, a two- or three-year transitional school between elementary school and high school. "Middle school" is sometimes used in the UK as a synonym for the younger junior school, covering the second half of the primary curriculum—current years four to six in some areas. However, in Dorset (South England) it is used to describe the second school in the three-tier system, which is normally from year five to year eight. In other regions, such as Evesham and the surrounding area in Worcestershire, the second tier goes from year six to year eight, and both starting secondary school in year nine. In Kirklees, West Yorkshire in the villages of the Dearne Valley there is a three tier system: first schools year reception to year five, middle school (Scissett/Kirkburton Middle School) year six to year eight and high school ([81])year 9 to year 13.

A public school has opposite meanings in the two countries. In AmE this is a government-owned institution open to all students, supported by public funding. The BrE use of the term is in contrast with "private" education, i.e., to be educated privately with a tutor.[82] In England and Wales the term strictly refers to an ill-defined group of prestigious private independent schools funded by students' fees, although it is often more loosely used to refer to any independent school. Independent schools are also known as "private schools", and the latter is the term used in Scotland and Northern Ireland for all such fee-funded schools. Strictly, the term public school is not used in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same sense as in England, but nevertheless Gordonstoun, the Scottish private school, is sometimes referred to as a public school, as are some other Scottish private schools. Government-funded schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland are properly referred to as "state schools"—but are sometimes confusingly referred to as "public schools" (with the same meaning as in the US); whereas in the US, where most public schools are administered by local governments, a state school is typically a college or university run by one of the states.

Speakers in both the United States and the United Kingdom use several additional terms for specific types of secondary school. A US prep school or preparatory school is an independent school funded by tuition fees; the same term is used in the UK for a private school for pupils under thirteen, designed to prepare them for fee-paying public schools. An American catholic schools cover costs through tuition and have affiliations with a religious institution, most often a Catholic church or diocese. In England, where the state-funded education system grew from parish schools organized by the local established church, the Church of England (C. of E., or C.E.), and many schools, especially primary schools (up to age 11) retain a church connection and are known as church schools, C.E. schools or C.E. (aided) schools. There are also faith schools associated with the Roman Catholic Church and other major faiths, with a mixture of funding arrangements.

In the US, a magnet school receives government funding and has special admission requirements: in some cases pupils gain admission through superior performance on admission tests, while other magnet schools admit students through a lottery. The UK has city academies, which are independent privately sponsored schools run with public funding and which can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude. Moreover in the UK 36 local education authorities retain selection by ability at 11. They maintain grammar schools (state funded secondary schools), which admit pupils according to performance in an examination (known as the 11+) and comprehensive schools that take pupils of all abilities. Grammar schools select the most academically able 10% to 23% of those who sit the exam. Students who fail the exam go to a secondary modern school, sometimes called a "high school", or increasingly an "academy". In areas where there are no grammar schools the comprehensives likewise may term themselves high schools or academies. Nationally only 6% of pupils attend grammar schools, mainly in four distinct counties. Some private schools are called "grammar schools", chiefly those that were grammar schools long before the advent of state education.


In the UK a university student is said to "study", to "read" or, informally, simply to "do" a subject. In the recent past the expression 'to read a subject' was more common at the older universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. In the US a student studies or majors in a subject (although concentration or emphasis is also used in some US colleges or universities to refer to the major subject of study). To major in something refers to the student's principal course of study; to study may refer to any class being taken.


"She read biology at Cambridge."
"She studied biology at Cambridge."
"She did biology at Cambridge." (informal)


"She majored in biology at Harvard."
"She studied biology at Harvard."
"She concentrated in biology at Harvard."

At university level in BrE, each module is taught or facilitated by a lecturer or tutor; professor is the job-title of a senior academic (in AmE, at some universities, the equivalent of the BrE lecturer is instructor, especially when the teacher has a lesser degree or no university degree, though the usage may become confusing according to whether the subject being taught is considered technical or not; it is also different from adjunct instructor/professor). In AmE each class is generally taught by a professor (although some US tertiary educational institutions follow the BrE usage), while the position of lecturer is occasionally given to individuals hired on a temporary basis to teach one or more classes and who may or may not have a doctoral degree.

The word course in American use typically refers to the study of a restricted topic or individual subject (for example, "a course in Early Medieval England", "a course in integral calculus") over a limited period of time (such as a semester or term) and is equivalent to a module or sometimes unit at a British university. In the UK, a course of study or simply course is likely to refer to the entire programme of study, which may extend over several years and be made up of any number of modules, hence it is also practically synonymous to a degree programme. A few university-specific exceptions exist: for example, at Cambridge the word paper is used to refer to a module, while the whole course of study is called tripos.

A dissertation in AmE refers to the final written product of a doctoral student to fulfil the requirement of that program. In BrE, the same word refers to the final written product of a student in an undergraduate or taught master's programme. A dissertation in the AmE sense would be a thesis in BrE, though dissertation is also used.

Another source of confusion is the different usage of the word college. (See a full international discussion of the various meanings at college.) In the US this refers to a post-high school institution that grants either associate's or bachelor's degrees, while in the UK it refers to any post-secondary institution that is not a university (including sixth form college after the name in secondary education for years 12 and 13, the sixth form) where intermediary courses such as A levels or NVQs can be taken and GCSE courses can be retaken. College may sometimes be used in the UK or in Commonwealth countries as part of the name of a secondary or high school (for example, Dubai College). In the case of Oxford, Cambridge, Aberdeen, London, Lancaster, Durham, Kent and York universities, all members are also members of a college which is part of the university, for example, one is a member of King's College, Cambridge and hence the university.

In both the US and UK college can refer to some division within a university that comprises related academic departments such as the "college of business and economics" though in the UK "faculty" is more often used. Institutions in the US that offer two to four years of post-high school education often have the word college as part of their name, while those offering more advanced degrees are called a university. (There are exceptions: Boston College, Dartmouth College and the College of William & Mary are examples of colleges that offer advanced degrees, while Vincennes University is an unusual example of a "university" that offers only associate degrees in the vast majority of its academic programs.) American students who pursue a bachelor's degree (four years of higher education) or an associate degree (two years of higher education) are college students regardless of whether they attend a college or a university and refer to their educational institutions informally as colleges. A student who pursues a master's degree or a doctorate degree in the arts and sciences is in AmE a graduate student; in BrE a postgraduate student although graduate student is also sometimes used. Students of advanced professional programs are known by their field (business student, law student, medical student). Some universities also have a residential college system, the details of which may vary but generally involve common living and dining spaces as well as college-organized activities. Nonetheless, when it comes to the level of education, AmE generally uses the word college (e.g., going to college) whereas BrE generally uses the word university (e.g., going to university) regardless of the institution's official designation/status in both countries.

In the context of higher education, the word school is used slightly differently in BrE and AmE. In BrE, except for the University of London, the word school is used to refer to an academic department in a university. In AmE, the word school is used to refer to a collection of related academic departments and is headed by a dean. When referring to a division of a university, school is practically synonymous to a college.

"Professor" has different meanings in BrE and AmE. In BrE it is the highest academic rank, followed by reader, senior lecturer and lecturer. In AmE "professor" refers to academic staff of all ranks, with (full) professor (largely equivalent to the UK meaning) followed by associate professor and assistant professor.

"Tuition" has traditionally had separate meaning in each variation. In BrE it is the educational content transferred from teacher to student at a university. In AmE it is the money (the fees) paid to receive that education (BrE: tuition fees).

General terms

In both the US and the UK, a student takes an exam, but in BrE a student can also be said to sit an exam. When preparing for an exam students revise (BrE)/review (AmE) what they have studied; the BrE idiom to revise for has the equivalent to review for in AmE.

Examinations are supervised by invigilators in the UK and proctors (or (exam) supervisors) in the US (a proctor in the UK is an official responsible for student discipline at the University of Oxford or Cambridge). In the UK a teacher sets an exam, while in the US, a teacher writes (prepares) and then gives (administers) an exam.


"I sat my Spanish exam yesterday."
"I plan to set a difficult exam for my students, but I don't have it ready yet."


"I took my exams at Yale."
"I spent the entire day yesterday writing the exam. I'm almost ready to give it to my students."

In BrE, students are awarded marks as credit for requirements (e.g., tests, projects) while in AmE, students are awarded points or "grades" for the same. Similarly, in BrE, a candidate's work is being marked, while in AmE it is said to be graded to determine what mark or grade is given.

There is additionally a difference between American and British usage in the word school. In British usage "school" by itself refers only to primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools and to sixth forms attached to secondary schools—if one "goes to school", this type of institution is implied. By contrast an American student at a university may talk of "going to school" or "being in school". US and British law students and medical students commonly speak in terms of going to "law school" and "med[ical] school", respectively. However, the word is used in BrE in the context of higher education to describe a division grouping together several related subjects within a university, for example a "School of European Languages" containing departments for each language and also in the term "art school". It is also the name of some of the constituent colleges of the University of London, for example, School of Oriental and African Studies, London School of Economics.

Among high-school and college students in the United States, the words freshman (or the gender-neutral terms frosh or first year, sometimes freshie), sophomore, junior and senior refer to the first, second, third, and fourth years respectively. For first-year students, "frosh" and "freshie" are another gender-neutral terms that can be used as a qualifier, for example "Frosh class elections". It is important that the context of either high school or college first be established or else it must be stated directly (that is, She is a high school freshman. He is a college junior.). Many institutes in both countries also use the term first-year as a gender-neutral replacement for freshman, although in the US this is recent usage, formerly referring only to those in the first year as a graduate student. One exception is the University of Virginia; since its founding in 1819 the terms "first-year", "second-year", "third-year", and "fourth-year" have been used to describe undergraduate university students. At the United States service academies, at least those operated by the federal government directly, a different terminology is used, namely "fourth class", "third class", "second class" and "first class" (the order of numbering being the reverse of the number of years in attendance). In the UK first-year university students are sometimes called freshers early in the academic year; however, there are no specific names for those in other years nor for school pupils. Graduate and professional students in the United States are known by their year of study, such as a "second-year medical student" or a "fifth-year doctoral candidate." Law students are often referred to as "1L", "2L", or "3L" rather than "nth-year law students"; similarly, medical students are frequently referred to as "M1", "M2", "M3", or "M4".

While anyone in the US who finishes studying at any educational institution by passing relevant examinations is said to graduate and to be a graduate, in the UK only degree and above level students can graduate. Student itself has a wider meaning in AmE, meaning any person of any age studying at any educational institution or level, whereas in BrE it tends to be used for people studying at a post-secondary educational institution and the term pupil is more widely used for a young person at primary or secondary school, though the use of "student" for secondary school pupils in the UK is increasingly used, particularly for "sixth form" (years 12 and 13).

The names of individual institutions can be confusing. There are several "University High Schools" in the United States that are not affiliated with any post-secondary institutions and cannot grant degrees, and there is one public high school, Central High School of Philadelphia, which does grant bachelor's degrees to the top ten per cent of graduating seniors. British secondary schools occasionally have the word "college" in their names.

When it comes to the admissions process, applicants are usually asked to solicit letters of reference or reference forms from referees in BrE. In AmE, these are called letters of recommendation or recommendation forms. Consequently, the writers of these letters are known as referees and recommenders, respectively.

In the context of education, for AmE, the word staff mainly refers to school personnel who are neither administrators nor have teaching loads or academic responsibilities; personnel who have academic responsibilities are referred to as members of their institution's faculty. In BrE, the word staff refers to both academic and non-academic school personnel. As mentioned previously, the term faculty in BrE refers more to a collection of related academic departments.

Government and politics

In Britain, political candidates stand for election, while in the US, they run for office. There is virtually no crossover between BrE and AmE in the use of these terms. Also, the document which contains a party's positions/principles is referred to as a party platform in AmE, whereas it is in BrE commonly known as a party manifesto. The term general election is used slightly differently in British and American English. In BrE, it refers exclusively to a nationwide parliamentary election and is differentiated from local elections (mayoral and council), EU Parliamentary Elections and by-elections; whereas in AmE, it refers to an election for any government position in the US, in AmE the term is differentiated from the term primary (an election that determines a party's candidate for the position in question).

In AmE, the term swing state, swing county, swing district is used to denote a jurisdiction/constituency where results are expected to be close but crucial to the overall outcome of the general election. In BrE, the term marginal constituency is more often used for the same and swing is more commonly used to refer to how much one party has gained (or lost) an advantage over another compared to the previous election.

In Britain, the term government only refers to what is commonly known in America as the executive branch of government.


In financial statements, what is referred to in AmE as revenue or sales is known in BrE as turnover.

A bankrupt firm goes into administration in BrE; in AmE it goes bankrupt, or files for Chapter 7 (liquidation) or Chapter 11 (reorganization). An insolvent individual or partnership goes bankrupt in both jurisdictions.

If a finance company takes possession of a mortgaged property from a debtor, it is called foreclosure in AmE and repossession in BrE. In some, limited scenarios, repossession may be used in AmE, but it is much less common compared to foreclosure. One common exception in AmE is for automobiles, which are always said to be repossessed. Indeed, an agent who collects these cars for the bank is colloquially known in AmE as a Repoman.


In BrE, the term curriculum vitae (commonly abbreviated to CV) is used to describe the document prepared by applicants containing their credentials required for a job. In AmE, the term résumé is more commonly used, with CV primarily used in academic or research contexts, and is usually more comprehensive than the résumé.


Americans refer to transportation and British people to transport.[83] (Transportation in Britain has traditionally meant the punishment of criminals by deporting them to an overseas penal colony.) In AmE, the word transport is mainly used only as a verb, seldom as a noun or adjective except in reference to certain specialized objects, such as a tape transport or a military transport (e.g., a troop transport, a kind of vehicle, not an act of transporting).

Road transport

Differences in terminology are especially obvious in the context of roads. The British term dual carriageway, in American parlance, would be divided highway. The central reservation on a motorway or dual carriageway in the UK would be the median or center divide on a freeway, expressway, highway or parkway in the US. The one-way lanes that make it possible to enter and leave such roads at an intermediate point without disrupting the flow of traffic are known as slip roads in the UK but US civil engineers call them ramps and both further distinguish between on-ramps or entry-slips (for entering) and off-ramps or exit-slips (for leaving). When American engineers speak of slip roads, they are referring to a street that runs alongside the main road (separated by a berm) to allow off-the-highway access to the premises that are there, sometimes also known as a frontage road—in both the US and UK this is also known as a service road.

In the UK, the term outside lane refers to the higher-speed overtaking lane (passing lane in the US) closest to the centre of the road, while inside lane refers to the lane closer to the edge of the road. In the US outside lane is used only in the context of a turn, in which case it depends in which direction the road is turning (i.e., if the road bends right the left lane is the "outside lane" but if the road bends left it is the right lane). Both also refer to slow and fast lanes (even though all actual traffic speeds may be at or around the legal speed limit).

In the UK drink driving is against the law, while in the US, where the action is also outlawed, the term is drunk driving. The legal term in the US is driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (of alcohol) (DUI). The equivalent legal phrase in the UK is drunk in charge of a motor vehicle (DIC) or more commonly driving with excess alcohol.[84]

In the UK, a hired car is the US equivalent of a rental car. The term "hired car" can be especially misleading for those in the US, where the term "hire" is generally only applied to people and the term "rent" is applied to goods. To an American, a "hired car" would therefore imply a driver is being hired with the car, such as a taxi, limousine, Uber driver, etc.

In the UK, a saloon is a vehicle that is equivalent to the American sedan. This is particularly confusing to Americans, because in the US the term saloon is used in only one context: describing an old bar (UK pub) in the American West. Coupé is used by both to refer to a two-door car, but is usually pronounced with two syllables in the UK (coo-pay) and one syllable in the US (coop).

In the UK, a silencer is the equivalent to the US muffler. In the US, the word silencer has only one meaning: an attachment on the barrel of a gun designed to stop the distinctive crack of a gunshot.

Specific auto parts and transport terms have different names in the two dialects, for example:

accelerator gas [pedal], accelerator
bonnet hood[85]
boot trunk[85][86]
mudguard, wheel arch, wing fender[87]
hood, soft/hard top convertible top, soft/hard top
car park parking lot[88]
driving licence driver's license[89]
dual carriageway divided highway[85]
estate car station wagon[88]
flyover overpass,[88] flyover
gearbox transmission[85]
hard shoulder shoulder
hired car, hire car rental car, rental
juggernaut, lorry semi, semi-truck, 18 wheeler, tractor-trailer[90]
lorry truck[86]
articulated lorry trailer truck, semi[88]
manual stick shift, manual
motorway freeway,[90] highway or expressway
pavement sidewalk[90]
roadworks construction zone, roadwork
petrol gasoline or gas[85]
saloon sedan[91]
silencer muffler[85]
spanner wrench[85][86]
ticking over idling[90]
windscreen windshield[85]
car valeting auto detailing
Rail transport

There are also differences in terminology in the context of rail transport. The best known is railway in Britain and railroad in America, but there are several others. A railway station in the UK is a railroad station or train station in the US; trains have drivers (often called engine drivers) in Britain, while in America trains are driven by engineers; trains have guards in the UK and conductors in the US; a place where two tracks meet is called a set of points in the UK and a switch in the US; and a place where a road crosses a railway line at ground level is called a level crossing in Britain and a grade crossing in America. In Britain, the term sleeper is used for the devices that bear the weight of the rails and are known as ties or crossties in the United States. The British term platform in the sense "The train is at Platform 1" would be known in the US by the term track, and used in the phrase "The train is on Track 1". Also, the British term Brake Van or Guard's Van, is a Caboose in the US. Finally the American English phrase "All aboard!" when getting on a train is rarely used in Britain; the nearest British equivalent is "Take your seats!", and when the train reaches its final stop, in Britain the phrase used by announcers is "All change!" while in America it is "All out!"


Traditionally, a show on British television would have referred to a light-entertainment program (BrE programme) with one or more performers and a participative audience, whereas in American television, the term is used for any type of program. British English traditionally referred to other types of program by their type, such as drama, serial etc., but the term show has now taken on the American meaning. In American television the episodes of a program first broadcast in a particular year constitute a season, while the entire run of the program—which may span several seasons—is called a series. In British television, on the other hand, the word series may apply to the episodes of a program in one particular year, for example, "The 1998 series of Grange Hill", as well as to the entire run. However, the entire run may occasionally be referred to as a "show". The term telecast, meaning television broadcast, is not used in British English. A television program would be broadcast, aired or shown in Britain.


A long-distance call is a "trunk call" in British English, but is a "toll call" in American English. The distinction is a result of historical differences in the way local service was billed; the Bell System traditionally flat-rated local calls in all but a few markets, subsidising local service by charging higher rates, or tolls, for intercity calls, allowing local calls to appear to be free. British Telecom (and the British Post Office before it) charged for all calls, local and long distance, so labelling one class of call as "toll" would have been meaningless.

Similarly, a toll-free number in America is a freephone number in Great Britain. The term "freefone" is a BT trademark.

Levels of buildings

There are also variations in floor numbering between the US and UK. In most countries, including the UK, the "first floor" is one above the entrance level, while the entrance level is the "ground floor". In the US the ground floor is considered the first floor. In a British lift one would press the "G" or "0" button to return to the ground floor, whereas in an American elevator, one would push the "1", "G", or "L" (for Lobby) button to return to the ground floor. The "L" button (or sometimes "-1") in a British lift would take you to the lower ground floor, which implies that the building is built on a slope and thus there are two ground floors - there would similarly be a "U" button (or "0") for upper ground floor.

American (AmE) apartment buildings / (BrE) blocks of flats are frequently exceptions to this rule. The ground floor often contains the lobby and parking area for the tenants, while the numbered floors begin one level above and contain only the flats (AmE apartments) themselves.

Units and measurement


When saying or writing out numbers, the British insert an and before the tens and units, as in one hundred and sixty-two or two thousand and three.[92][93] In the United States it is considered correct to drop the and, as in one hundred sixty-two or two thousand three. However, the and is also retained even in AmE speech, for emphasis or as another acceptable variant.

Some American and Canadian schools teach students to pronounce decimally written fractions (for example, .5) as though they were longhand fractions (five tenths), such as thirteen and seven tenths for 13.7. This formality is often dropped in common speech and is steadily disappearing in instruction in mathematics and science as well as in international American schools. In the UK, and among most Americans, 13.7 would be read thirteen point seven.

In counting, it is common in both varieties of English to count in hundreds up to 1,900—so 1,200 may be twelve hundred. However, Americans use this pattern for much higher numbers than is the norm in British English, referring to twenty-four hundred where British English would most often use two thousand four hundred. Even below 2,000, Americans are more likely than the British are to read numbers like 1,234 as twelve hundred thirty-four instead of one thousand two hundred (and) thirty-four.

In the case of years, however, twelve thirty-four would be the norm on both sides of the Atlantic for the year 1234. The years 2000 to 2009 are most often read as two thousand, two thousand (and) one and the like by both British and American speakers. For years after 2009, twenty eleven, twenty fourteen, etc. are more common, even in years earlier than 2009 BC/BCE. Likewise, the years after 1009 (until 1099) are also read in the same manner (e.g. 1015 is either ten fifteen or, rarely, one thousand fifteen). Some Britons read years within the 1000s to 9000s BC/BCE in the American manner, that is, 1234 BC is read as twelve (hundred and) thirty-four BC, while 2400 BC can be read as either two thousand four hundred or twenty four hundred BC.

There is also a historical difference between billions, trillions, and so forth. Americans use billion to mean one thousand million (1,000,000,000), whereas in the UK, until the latter part of the 20th century, it was used to mean one million million (1,000,000,000,000).[94] In 1974 the British prime minister, Harold Wilson, told the House of Commons that UK government statistics would now use the short scale, followed by the Chancellor, Denis Healey, in 1975, that the treasury would now adopt the US billion version. One thousand million was sometimes described as a milliard, the definition adopted by most other European languages. However, the "American" version has since been adopted for all published writing, and the word milliard is obsolete in English, as are billiard (but not billiards, the game), trilliard, and so on. All major British publications and broadcasters, including BBC, which long used thousand million to avoid ambiguity, now use billion to mean thousand million.

Many people have no direct experience of manipulating numbers this large, and many non-American readers may interpret billion as 1012 (even if they are young enough to have been taught otherwise at school); moreover, usage of the "long" billion is standard in some non-English speaking countries. For these reasons, defining the word may be advisable when writing for the public. See long and short scales for a more detailed discussion of the evolution of these terms in English and other languages.

When referring to the numeral 0, British people would normally use nought, oh, or zero, although nil is common in sports scores. Americans use the term zero most frequently; oh is also often used (though never when the quantity in question is nothing), and occasionally slang terms such as zilch or zip are used. Phrases such as the team won two–zip or the team leads the series two–nothing are heard when reporting sports scores. In the case of association football—known as "football" in Britain and "soccer" in America—Americans will sometimes use "nil" as in Britain, although this usage is mostly confined to soccer journalists and hardcore fans and is not universal among either group. The digit 0, for example, when a phone or account number is being read aloud, is nearly always pronounced oh in both language varieties for the sake of convenience. In the internet age the use of the term oh can cause certain inconveniences when one is referencing an email address, causing confusion as to whether the character in question is a zero or the letter "O".

When reading numbers in a sequence, such as a telephone or serial number, British people will usually use the terms double followed by the repeated number. Hence 007 is double oh seven. Exceptions are the emergency telephone number 999, which is always nine nine nine and the apocalyptic "Number of the Beast", which is always six six six. In the US, 911 (the US emergency telephone number) is usually read nine one one, while 9/11 (in reference to the September 11, 2001, attacks) is usually read nine eleven.

Monetary amounts


Dates are usually written differently in the short (numerical) form. Christmas Day 2000, for example, is 25/12/00 or 25.12.00 in the UK and 12/25/00 in the US, although the formats 25/12/2000, 25.12.2000, and 12/25/2000 now have more currency than they had before the Year 2000 problem. Occasionally other formats are encountered, such as the ISO 8601 2000-12-25, popular among programmers, scientists and others seeking to avoid ambiguity, and to make alphanumerical order coincide with chronological order. The difference in short-form date order can lead to misunderstanding. For example 06/04/05 could mean either June 4, 2005 (if read as US format), 6 April 2005 (if seen as in UK format) or even 5 April 2006 if taken to be an older ISO 8601-style format where 2-digit years were allowed.

When the output of a computer printer has a date in the header or footer this can cause problems since the date style depends on the software, not the country where the printer is located.

When using the name of the month rather than the number to write a date in the UK, the recent standard style is for the day to precede the month, e. g., 21 April. Month preceding date is almost invariably the style in the US, and was common in the UK until the late twentieth century. British usage often changes the day from an integer to an ordinal, i.e., 21st instead of 21. In speech, "of" and "the" are used in the UK, as in "the 21st of April". In written language, the words "the" and "of" may be and are usually dropped, i.e., 21 April. The US would say this as "April 21st", and this form is still common in the UK. One of the few exceptions in American English is saying "the Fourth of July" as a shorthand for the United States Independence Day. In the US military the British forms are used, but the day is read cardinally, while among some speakers of New England and Southern American English varieties and who come from those regions but live elsewhere, those forms are common, even in formal contexts.

Phrases such as the following are common in Britain but are generally unknown in the US: "A week today", "a week tomorrow", "a week Tuesday" and "Tuesday week"; these all refer to a day more than a week in the future. "A fortnight Friday" and "Friday fortnight" refer to a day two weeks after the coming Friday). "A week on Tuesday" and "a fortnight on Friday" could refer either to a day in the past ("it's a week on Tuesday, you need to get another one") or in the future ("see you a week on Tuesday"), depending on context. In the US the standard construction is "a week from today", "a week from tomorrow", etc. BrE speakers may also say "Thursday last" or "Thursday gone" where AmE would prefer "last Thursday". "I'll see you (on) Thursday coming" or "let's meet this coming Thursday" in BrE refer to a meeting later this week, while "not until Thursday next" would refer to next week.


The 24-hour clock (18:00, 18.00 or 1800) is considered normal in the UK and Europe in many applications including air, rail and bus timetables; it is largely unused in the US outside military, police, aviation and medical applications. British English tends to use the full stop or period (.) when telling time, compared to American English which uses Colons (:) (i.e., 11:15 PM or 23:15 for AmE and 11.15 pm or 23.15 for BrE).[97] Usually in the military (and sometimes in the police, aviation and medical) applications on both sides of the Atlantic 0800 and 1800 are read as (oh/zero) eight hundred and eighteen hundred hours respectively.

Fifteen minutes after the hour is called quarter past in British usage and a quarter after or, less commonly, a quarter past in American usage. Fifteen minutes before the hour is usually called quarter to in British usage and a quarter of, a quarter to or a quarter 'til in American usage; the form a quarter to is associated with parts of the Northern United States, while a quarter 'til is found chiefly in the Appalachian region. Thirty minutes after the hour is commonly called half past in both BrE and AmE; half after used to be more common in the US. In informal British speech, the preposition is sometimes omitted, so that 5:30 may be referred to as half five. The AmE formations top of the hour and bottom of the hour are not used in BrE. Forms such as eleven forty are common in both dialects. To be simple and direct in telling time, no terms relating to fifteen or thirty minutes before/after the hour are used; rather the time is told exactly as for example nine fifteen, ten forty-five.


In British usage, human body mass is colloquially expressed in stones (equal to 14 pounds). People normally describe themselves as weighing, for example, "11 stone 4" (11 stones and 4 pounds) and not "158 pounds" (the conventional way of expressing the same weight in the United States). Stones are never used in the United States, and most Americans are unfamiliar with the term. Kilogrammes (note the difference from the U.S. spelling, kilograms) are the official measurement in the United Kingdom, although very few people know their weight in kilogrammes. This is rarely noticed by the British (one such occasion might be a weight measurement at a hospital).

When used as the unit of measurement the plural form of stone is correctly stone (as in "11 stone"). When describing the units, the correct plural is stones (as in "Please enter your weight in stones and pounds").


The shorthand word for the subject itself is Maths for BrE and Math for AmE.

In geometry, what is referred to as a trapezoid (a quadrilateral with exactly 1 pair of parallel sides) in US textbooks is a trapezium in its UK counterparts.

Holiday greetings

Main article: Holiday greetings

It is increasingly common for Americans to say "Happy holidays", referring to all, or at least multiple, winter holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter solstice, Kwanzaa, etc.) especially when the subject's religious observances are not known; the phrase is rarely heard in the U.K. In Britain, the phrases "holiday season" and "holiday period" refer to the period in the summer when most people take time off from work, and travel; AmE does not use holiday in this sense, instead using vacation for recreational excursions.

Idiosyncratic differences

Figures of speech

Both BrE and AmE use the expression "I couldn't care less" to mean the speaker does not care at all. Many Americans use "I could care less" to mean the same thing. This variant is frequently derided as sloppy, as the literal meaning of the words is that the speaker does care to some extent.

In both areas, saying, "I don't mind" often means, "I'm not annoyed" (for example, by someone's smoking), while "I don't care" often means, "The matter is trivial or boring". However, in answering a question such as "Tea or coffee?", if either alternative is equally acceptable an American may answer, "I don't care", while a British person may answer, "I don't mind". Either sounds odd to the other.

Equivalent idioms

A number of English idioms that have essentially the same meaning show lexical differences between the British and the American version; for instance:

British English American English
not touch something with a bargepole not touch something with a ten-foot pole
sweep under the carpet sweep under the rug*
touch wood knock on wood
see the wood for the trees see the forest for the trees
put a spanner in the works throw a (monkey) wrench (into a situation)
put (or stick) your oar in[98]
but it won't make a ha'porth of difference[99]
to put your two penn'orth (or tuppence worth) in
to put your two cents (or two cents' worth) in[100]
skeleton in the cupboard skeleton in the closet
a home from home a home away from home
blow one's own trumpet blow (or toot) one's own horn
a drop in the ocean a drop in the bucket,[101] a spit in the ocean
flogging a dead horse beating a dead horse
haven't (got) a clue don't have a clue or have no clue (haven't got a clue is also acceptable)
couldn't care less could care less or couldn't care less[102]
a new lease of life a new lease on life
lie of the land lay of the land
take it with a pinch of salt take it with a grain of salt
a storm in a teacup a tempest in a teapot

* In the US, a "carpet" typically refers to a fitted carpet.



Before the early 18th century English spelling was not standardized. Different standards became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. For the most part current BrE spellings follow those of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755), while AmE spellings follow those of Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828). In Britain, the influences of those who preferred the French spellings of certain words proved decisive. In many cases AmE spelling deviated from mainstream British spelling; on the other hand it has also often retained older forms. Many of the now characteristic AmE spellings were popularized, although often not created, by Noah Webster. Webster chose already-existing alternative spellings "on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology".[103] Webster did attempt to introduce some reformed spellings, as did the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 20th century, but most were not adopted. Later spelling changes in the UK had little effect on present-day US spelling, and vice versa.


Full stops and periods in abbreviations

There have been some trends of transatlantic difference in use of periods in some abbreviations. These are discussed at Abbreviation § Periods (full stops) and spaces. Unit symbols such as kg and Hz are never punctuated.[104]

Restrictive and non-restrictive modifiers

In American English, restrictive and non-restrictive modifying phrases require different words and sentence structures. In particular, a non-restrictive modifying phrase must be set off by commas, and it generally uses "which" as its pronoun. A restrictive modifying phrase, by contrast, is not set off by commas, and uses the pronoun "that." An example of the first in American English is: "The dog, which bit the man, was brown." In that sentence the phrase "which bit the man" is non-restrictive: it is merely providing background information about a dog whose identity is otherwise not in question. The contrasting sentence in American English would be: "The dog that bit the man was brown." In this sentence, the phrase "that bit the man" is restrictive: it tells the reader that, of several dogs that might have bitten the man, the actual biter was brown. Interchanging the two structures is grammatically incorrect in American English because they have different meanings.

British English, by contrast, generally does not require its writers to construct sentences in a manner that distinguishes between the restrictive and non-restrictive forms of modifiers. Thus, a writer of British English might write: "The dog which bit the man was brown." In this sentence, it is ambiguous whether the phrase "which bit the man" is serving to identify a particular dog among several candidates or just to provide background information about a dog whose identity is otherwise not in doubt. Readers must try to infer the distinction from context or from their own knowledge.

H. W. Fowler, in A Dictionary of Modern English Usage of 1926, recommends "that", without a preceding comma, for restrictive ("defining") use and "which", with a comma, for descriptive ("non-defining") use. However, he notes that it was not (then) commonly British English usage, and that British and American usages differed, without explicitly identifying this usage as American. He also notes several problems with this usage "The most important of these is its [that's] insistence on being the first word of its clause ; it cannot, like whom & which, endure that a preposition governing it should, by coming before it, part it from the antecedent or the main sentence ; such a preposition has to go, instead, at the end of the clause ; that is quite in harmony with the closer connexion between a defining, (or that-) clause & the antecedent than between a non-defining (or which-) clause & the antecedent ; but it forces the writer to choose between ending his sentence or clause with a preposition & and giving up that for which." However, Fowler also goes on to reprise his assertion that prepositional endings are acceptable: "to shrink with horror from ending with a preposition is no more than a foolish superstition".[105]


Americans begin their quotations with double quotation marks (") and use single quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations (nested quotations). BrE usage varies, with some authoritative sources such as The Economist and The Times recommending the same usage as in the US,[106] whereas other authoritative sources, such as The King's English, recommend single quotation marks.[107] In journals and newspapers, quotation mark double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style.

American guides almost always recommend placing commas and periods inside adjacent quotation marks. Specific exceptions are made for cases in which the addition of a period or comma could create confusion, such as the quotation of web addresses or certain types of data strings. In both styles, question marks and exclamation marks are placed inside the quotation marks if they belong to the quotation and outside otherwise. With narration of direct speech, both styles retain punctuation inside the quotation marks, with a full stop changing into a comma if followed by explanatory text, also known as a dialogue tag. Americans tend to apply quotations when signifying doubt of veracity (sarcastically or seriously), to imply another meaning to a word or to imply a cynical take on a paraphrased quotation, without punctuation at all.

The American style is used by most American newspapers, publishing houses and style guides in the United States and Canada (including the Modern Language Association's MLA Style Manual, the American Psychological Association's APA Publication Manual, the University of Chicago's The Chicago Manual of Style, the American Institute of Physics's AIP Style Manual, the American Medical Association's AMA Manual of Style, the American Political Science Association's APSA Style Manual, the Associated Press' The AP Guide to Punctuation and the Canadian Public Works' The Canadian Style).[108]

Hart's Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" quoting. It is also similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch and German). A few US professional societies whose professions frequently employ various non-word characters, such as chemistry and computer programming, use the British form in their style guides (see ACS Style Guide). According to the Jargon File, American hackers switched to what they later discovered to be the British quotation system because placing a period inside a quotation mark can change the meaning of data strings that are meant to be typed character-for-character.[109] (It may be noted that the current American system places periods and commas outside the quotation marks in these cases anyway.)


In British English, "( )" marks are often referred to as brackets, whereas "[ ]" are called square brackets and "{ }" are called curly brackets. In formal British English and in American English "( )" marks are parentheses (singular: parenthesis), "[ ]" are called brackets, and "{ }" can be called either curly brackets or curly braces.[110] In both countries, standard usage is to place punctuation outside the parenthesis, unless the entire sentence is contained within them:

In the case of a parenthetical expression which is itself a complete sentence, the final punctuation may be placed inside the parenthesis, particularly if not a period:

Titles and headlines

Use of capitalization varies.

Sometimes the words in titles of publications and newspaper headlines as well as chapter and section headings are capitalized in the same manner as in normal sentences (sentence case). That is, only the first letter of the first word is capitalised, along with proper nouns, etc.

However, publishers sometimes require additional words in titles and headlines to have the initial capital, for added emphasis, as it is often perceived as appearing more professional. In AmE this is common in titles but less so in newspaper headlines. The exact rules differ between publishers and are often ambiguous; a typical approach is to capitalise all words other than short articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. This should probably be regarded as a common stylistic difference rather than a linguistic difference, as neither form would be considered incorrect or unusual in either the UK or the US. Many British tabloid newspapers (such as The Sun, The Daily Sport) use fully capitalised headlines for impact as opposed to readability (for example, BERLIN WALL FALLS or BIRD FLU PANIC). On the other hand the broadsheets (such as The Guardian, The Times, and The Independent) usually follow the sentence style of having only the first letter of the first word capitalised.

American newspapers commonly use a comma as a shorthand for "and" in headlines. For example, The Washington Post had the headline "A TRUE CONSERVATIVE: For McCain, Bush Has Both Praise, Advice."[111]

See also



  1. Even in vocabulary. "A British reader of Time or Newsweek would note distinctly American expressions only a few times on any page, matching the few distinctly British expressions an American reader of The Economist would note." Edward Finegan in Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century. Eds Charles Albert Ferguson, Edward Finegan, Shirley Brice Heath, John R. Rickford (Cambridge University Press, 2004). p. 29. See also: David Crystal, the Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language] (Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 304.
  2. "Standard English is essentially written, printed English, seen in the textbooks, newspapers, and periodicals of the world – and also, these days on the WWW. It is largely identical in its global manifestation; we must allow only for the small amount of variation in vocab, grammar and spelling which make up the differences between Am, Br, Aus and other 'regional' standards." David Crystal, "The Past, Present, and Future of World English" in Andreas Gardt, Bernd-Rüdiger Hüppauf, Bernd Huppauf (eds) Globalization and the future of German (Walter de Gruyter, 2004). p. 39.
  3. NB: "standard English" as used to describe written and spoken international English is a more contentious usage.
    "standard English: In Sociolinguistics, a much debated term for the VARIETY of English used as a communicative norm throughout the English-speaking world. The notion has become increasingly difficult to handle because of the emergence of differing national standards of usage (in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and spelling) in areas where large numbers of people speak English as a first or second language." [sic]
    David Crystal, A Dictionary of Linguistics & Phonetics (Blackwell Publishing, 2003). p. 431.
  4. Kirby, Terry (28 March 2007). "Are regional dialects dying out, and should we care if they are?". Belfast Telegraph. Archived from the original on August 15, 2004. Retrieved 27 December 2011.
  5. "RP: a Social Accent of English". The British Library. Retrieved 26 December 2011.
  6. Labov, William; Sharon Ash; & Charles Boberg. (2006). Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 311-016746-8. Compare with Labov, Ash, & Boberg. (1997). A national map of the regional dialects of American English. Linguistics Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania. . Retrieved 16 April 2007.
  7. Clark, Laura (29 May 2012). "Unstoppable rise of American English: Study shows young Britons copying US writing style". Daily Mail. London.
  8. "Viewpoint: Why do some Americanisms irritate people?". BBC News. 13 July 2011.
  9. Trudgill and Hannah, 2002
  10. Sokolowski, Peter. "Soop vs. Soup" (Video). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 4 January 2015. Noah Webster: the man who changed the way we spell... up to a point.
  11. See, for example, Krueger CL, Stade G, Karbiener K, Encyclopedia of British Writers: 19th and 20th Centuries Book Builders LLC Infobase Publishing ISBN 0816046700, p. 309
  12. "Macmillan Dictionary". definition 3: Macmillan Publishing Lts. Retrieved 30 September 2013.
  13. Peters, p. 23
  14. Houghton Mifflin Company (2006). The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 94–. ISBN 0-618-60499-5. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  15. Instructions to Secretaries of Committees, Cabinet Office, nd
  16. Peters, p. 24
  17. Chapman, James A. Grammar and Composition IV. 3d ed. Pensacola: A Beka Book, 2002.
  18. "The names of sports teams, on the other hand, are treated as plurals, regardless of the form of that name."
  19. Savage, Mark (14 September 2011). "Mick Jagger on SuperHeavy: 'Everyone subsumed their egos'". BBC News. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  20. Sweeney, Sabrina (22 November 2012). "First Aid Kit: A band of contradictions". BBC News. Retrieved 28 May 2014.
  21. Winik, Jay (2001). April 1865: The month that saved America. New York: Harper. p. 379. ISBN 978-0-06-018723-1.
  22. Peters, pp. 165 and 316.
  23. Algeo, pp. 15ff.
  24. Peters, p. 322.
  25. Peters, p. 208.
  26. Peters, p. 512
  27. Peters, p. 487.
  28. Dive - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  29. Dive | Define Dive at
  30. Sneak - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  31. Sneak | Define Sneak at
  32. Spring | Define Spring at
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  34. Shrink | Define Shrink at
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  38. Pearson Longman, Longman Exams Dictionary, grammar guide: It is possible to use would in both clauses in US English but not in British English: US: The blockades wouldn't happen if the police would be firmer with the strikers. Br: The blockades wouldn't happen if the police were firmer with the strikers.
  39. 1 2 "NELL.links". Retrieved 2010-11-07.
  40. "To stress willingness of wish, you can use would or will in both clauses of the same sentence: If the band would rehearse more, they would play better. If the band will rehearse more, they will play better. Both mean the same. (based on the examples and explanations from Practical English Usage, Michael Swan, Oxford)". 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2010-11-07.
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  63. "Guardian Style Guide". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-12-03. different from or to, not different than
  64. Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Luxury Edition (12th ed.). Oxford University Press. 2011. ISBN 978-0-19-960111-0. (name someone/thing after or (N. Amer.) also for) call someone or something by the same name as: Nathaniel was named after his maternal grandfather.
  65. Peters, p. 50; cf. OALD.
  66. Huddleston, Rodney; Pullum, Geoffrey K. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 610. ISBN 0-521-43146-8.
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  69. Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Rajend Mesthrie, Mouton de Gruyter, 2008, page 475
  70. 1 2 New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1999, usage note for an: "There is still some divergence of opinion over the form of the indefinite article to use preceding certain words beginning with h- when the first syllable is unstressed: ‘a historical document’ or ‘an historical document’; ‘a hotel’ or ‘an hotel’. The form depends on whether the initial h is sounded or not: an was common in the 18th and 19th centuries because the initial h was commonly not pronounced for these words. In standard modern English the norm is for the h to be pronounced in words such as hotel and historical and therefore the indefinite article a is used; however the older form, with the silent h and the indefinite article an, is still encountered, especially among older speakers."
  71. 1 2 Brown Corpus and Lancaster-Oslo-Bergen Corpus, quoted in Peters (2004: 1)
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  74. "''Cookbook'' is now often used in BrE". Retrieved 2010-11-07.
  75. Crystal states one of the classification problems as
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    David Crystal, The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of The English Language. 2nd Edition. (Cambridge University Press, 2003)
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  102. Could Care Less Versus Couldn't Care Less
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  106. "American and British English". The Economist Style Guide (Fourth ed.). London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. 1996. p. 85. ISBN 0241135567. Tim Austin, Richard Dixon (2003) The Times Style and Usage Guide. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0007145055
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  108. Other style guides and reference volumes include: U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual (2008, p. 217), US Department of Education's IES Style Guide (2005, p. 43), The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing (1997, p. 148), International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, International Reading Association Style Guide, American Dialect Society, Association of Legal Writing Directors' ALWD Citation Manual, The McGraw-Hill Desk Reference by K. D. Sullivan (2006, p. 52), Webster's New World Punctuation by Geraldine Woods (2005, p. 68), The New Oxford Guide to Writing by Thomas S. Kane (1994, pp. 278, 305, 306), Merriam-Webster's Manual for Writers and Editors by Merriam-Webster (1998, p. 27), Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers by Lynn Troyka, et al. (1993, p. 517), Science and Technical Writing by Philip Rubens (2001, p. 208), Health Professionals Style Manual by Shirley Fondiller, Barbara Nerone (2006, p. 72), The Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin (2000, p. 247), The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus(2007, p. 61), The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage by Allan M. Siegal, The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge. (2004, p. 788), The Copyeditor's Handbook by Amy Einsohn (2000, p. 111), The Grammar Bible by Michael Strumpf, Auriel Douglas (2004, p. 446), Elements of Style by William Strunk, Elwyn B. White (1979, p. 36), Little English Handbook by Edward P. J. Corbett (1997, p. 135), Commonsense Grammar and Style by Phillip S. Sparks (2004, p. 18), Handbook of Technical Writing by Gerald Alred, et al. (2006, pp. 83, 373), MIT Guide To Science and Engineering Communication by J. Paradis, M. L. Zimmerman (2002, p. 314), Guide to Writing Empirical Papers by G. David Garson (2002, p. 178), Modern English by A. L. Lazarus, A. MacLeish, H. W. Smith (1971, p. 71), The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers (8th ed.) by John Ruszkiewicz, et al., Comma Sense by Richard Lederer, John Shore (2007, p. 138), Write right! by Jan Venolia (2001, p. 82), Scholastic Journalism by Earl English, Clarence Hach (1962. p. 75), Grammar in Plain English by Harriet Diamond, Phyllis Dutwin (2005, p. 199), Crimes Against the English Language by Jill Meryl Levy (2005, p. 21), The Analytical Writer by Adrienne Robins (1997, p. 524), Writing with a Purpose by James McNab McCrimmon (1973, p. 415), Writing and Reporting News by Carole Rich (2000, p. 60), The Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well by Tom Goldstein (2003, p. 163), Woodroof's Quotations, Commas And Other Things English by D. K. Woodroof (2005, pp. 10–12), Journalism Language and Expression by Sundara Rajan (2005, p. 76), The Business Writer's Handbook by Gerald Alred, et al. (2006, p. 451), The Business Style Handbook by Helen Cunningham (2002, p. 213), Essentials of English by Vincent Hopper (2000, p. 127).
  109. "The Jargon File, Chapter 5. Hacker Writing Style". Retrieved 2010-11-07.
  110. Crystal, David (2003), The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language (second ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. 278, ISBN 0-521-82348-X "It also gives ... clues about the prosody ... through such features as question marks, exclamation marks and parentheses".
  111. Greenslade, Roy (2008-02-13). "Headline Commas, Who Needs Them?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2011-06-09.

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