English: The Language of a Thousand Faces

Flashlight or torch? Truck or lorry? British and American English have many differences and unique idiosyncrasies that can take some getting used to.

Pradyoth Velagapudi, Managing Editor

American English and British English may be the same language at their core, but many years of separation and isolated growth have made them into two very different dialects. Looking at both them in a side by side comparison, you may notice many small differences.

The first noticeable difference between the two are the different words used to describe the same objects. According to the Oxford Dictionary website, some common English and American vocabulary differences are as follows:

British English American English
Cinema Movie theater, Movies
Kennel Doghouse
Queue Line
Nappy Diaper
Jelly babies Jellybeans
Petrol Gasoline, Gas
Zebra crossing Crosswalk
Pram Stroller
Lift Elevator
Jumper Sweater
Tube Subway
Flat Apartment

But it’s not just vocabulary differences! Some of the same words are spelled differently in British and American English, such as:

British English American English
Centre Center
Theatre Theater
Litre Liter
Metre Meter


As you can see above, British English prefers to spell words with and -re ending, while American English prefers to spell the same words as -er.

British English American English
Colour Color
Flavour Flavor
Neighbour Neighbor
Humour Humor

Another difference, shown above, is that American usually spells words with an -or, whereas British English usually adds a “u.”

But besides word variation, British and American English also differ over punctuation. For example, in American English, “( )” are parentheses, and “[ ]” are brackets; in British English,  “( )” are brackets, and “[ ]” are square brackets, according to the Oxford Dictionary website.

Another punctuation difference is that American English prefers to use the Oxford comma, while it is not as prevalent in British English. The Oxford comma refers to the optional comma that goes at the end of a list, before “and” or “or.” For example, the sentence “He bought rice, beans, and cheese” uses the Oxford comma, but it still denotes the same meaning if it omitted the comma, saying “He bought rice, beans and cheese,” but British English prefers the latter, and American English prefers the former.