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George Bernard Shaw said that America and Britain were two nations divided by a common language. But how different is British English from American English?

Some British and American people gave their definitions for some common words.


Confused? British and American English have lots of words, which look the same but have different meanings. Nobody ever gets into serious trouble if they make a mistake, although you may get a strange look if you ask for the wrong clothes.

But things get even more complicated! Here are some American English words, which the British don’t use at all.

  • druggist — someone who sells medicine in a shop
  • parking lot — a place where you park the car
  • drugstore — a shop where you can buy medicine, beauty products, school supplies, small things
  • main street — the street in a town where all the shops are
  • stop lights — lights, which control the traffic
  • faucet — something you turn on and off to control water in a bath or a basin
  • elevator — a device which carries people from one floor to another in a building

But most of the differences between British English and American English are minor and are only concerned with vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation. You can usually understand what words mean from the context.


definition [,defɪ’nı∫(ə)n] — визначення

to confuse [kən’fju:z] — збивати з толку, бентежити, дивувати

faucet [‘fɔ:sɪt] — водопровідний кран

minor [‘maınə] — незначний, другорядний


  1. Which is more useful to you — British or American English? Work in pairs and say why.
  2. Read the dialogue and find the differences between the British and the American English.


AMERICAN: A bill is paper money. You have a dollar bill, a five-dollar bill and so on.

ENGLISH: Right. We call that a bank note. Trousers are an item of clothing.

AMERICAN: Oh. I know what trousers are! Yes… we call them pants.

ENGLISH: Oh, right.

AMERICAN: Oh, the snack food that’s round and flat and fried and thin and very crisp, we call them chipspotato chips.

ENGLISH: Oh, right. Cold, you mean? We call those crisps. You buy them in a packet… crisps. Car park, well… a place where you park cars.

AMERICAN: We call that a parking lot. If I need some medicine or something like that I go to see the druggist.

ENGLISH: Right. Oh, is that a place or a person?

AMERICAN: No, the place is the drugstore, the druggist is the person who’ll give me the medicine.

ENGLISH: Right, we call that a chemist — but that’s the name of the shop. A state school is a school, which is funded by the state, it’s the opposite of a private school, in other words.

AMERICAN: Oh yes, we call that public school.

ENGLISH: Oh, right.

AMERICAN: Water in a sink comes out of a faucet.

ENGLISH: Ah yes, we call that a tap. Traffic lights — do you know what those are? When you’re driving along the road, and you have to stop because there are lights…

AMERICAN: You have to stop. So we call them stop lights.

ENGLISH: Stop lights. Right…

AMERICAN: When I get a hamburger I also like to get french fries which are the strips of fried potato.

ENGLISH: Oh, right — chips, we call those. When you travel around, for example in London on the train under the ground, that’s called the underground.

AMERICAN: No. It’s called a subway, that’s what we call it. I fill my car with gas.

ENGLISH: Ah yes, we call that petrol. There’s another item of clothing — a waistcoat.

AMERICAN: Oh, yeah, that men wear. We call that a vest.

ENGLISH: That’s right, it doesn’t have any sleeves, yeah? Vest… yeah.

AMERICAN: Every town in America has a main street where all the shops are.

ENGLISH: Oh, right… No, we call that the high street. Same thing, ‘high street’.


Match American English words with the British English words:

Bill, chips, druggist, faucet, french fries, gas, main street, vest, pants, stop, lights, parking lot, subway, public school, trousers, car park, state school, traffic lights, underground, waistcoat, chemist, chips, crisps, high street, bank note, petrol, tap.

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