The American Guide to British Words

April 3, 2016

Moving to a new country can be extremely challenging, and even more so if you feel you can’t adequately communicate.  In this regard, we were happy that London was our chosen destination because language wouldn’t be a barrier (and I get to hear the beautiful British accent on a daily basis).  Little by little, I’m learning the British equivalent to my American words and I try to use them as often as I remember.  When I use the American version, then correct myself, people just laugh and tell me they know what I mean because they watch so much American tv.  I’d love to be able to pick up some of the English accent, but sadly, the way in sounds in my head versus coming out of my mouth is not at all like the real thing.  Looks like I’ll be sticking with my Southern American accent.  I’ve had a taxi drive ask me to repeat my street name multiple times because he couldn’t figure out what I was saying.  They pronounce their “A’s” differently (as in “dawnce” vs “dance”) and since our street name has an “a” in it, it might be an ongoing issue! Without further ado, here is the list I’ve compiled thus far of the American vs. British words.  I’ll continue to add to this list as I learn new words, so check back later for updates.

If you ever visit London, print off this handy cheat sheet and you’ll sound like a Londoner in no time!


 American WordEnglish WordExplanation/Example
zip codepostal code
ZzedAs in the letter Z. In school, kids learn the letters "A to Zed", not A to Z. "Z" is always said as "Zed".
NEW!whiningwhining or whingeing
whilewhilstExample - "Let's eat tea whilst watching tv."
vest (such as suit vest)waistcoat
NEW!vest (such as a sleeveless jacket)gilet (pronounced "zhee-lay")
untilwhileThis one was pretty confusing too. Example - "I'm going to lunch at noon while one" or "My shift is 8 while 5." Specifically used in Northern England.
underwearpants/knickersPants are for boys, knickers are for girls.
trash canrubbish bin or dust bin
NEW!training wheelsstabalisers
traffic lightsrobots
thankscheersUsed often as a general way of saying, "Thanks, bye."
teaafternoon tea or high teaThis is an event rather than just a drink. If you "go to tea" or ask someone over for tea, you're expected to have food as well. If you go for high tea or afternoon tea, you will have the option of savory, sweet or both. Savory includes various types of sandwiches and sweet is multiple desserts. All teas include scones with clotted cream and jam.
takeout/to gotakeawayExample - "For here or takeaway?" or "Let's order some takeaway."
swimsuitswim costume/costume
sunscreensun cream
strollerpram, buggy or pushchairA pram is for newborns and young babies, usually while lying flat. Stroller is for older babies. A buggy can be a pushchair or a stroller.
stovehubMay vary by region
sports uniformkit or strip
spoiled/expiredgone offExample - "The wine tastes like it's gone off." or "Let's cook the chicken before it goes off."
sneakers/tennis shoestrainers
NEW!sippy cupbeaker
robedressing gown
rentletMore detail in my previous post about housing. Instead of saying a house or flat is "for rent" you'd say it's "to let". Agents will advertise "lettings".
Ready, Set, GoReady, Steady, Go
rain bootswellies
push upspress ups
public schoolstate school
parking lotcar park
paper money/billsnotes
ovencookerMay vary by region
My turnCan I have a go
Moving to a new house/Moving to a new countryMoving house/Moving country
monkey barsclimbing frame
mommum or mummy
mathmathsExample - "He's not very good at maths." or "Do the maths."
mailpostBoth noun and verb. Example - "I need to post a letter" or "My package is coming by post"
lunchdinnerMay vary by region
linequeueBoth a noun and verb. Example - "The queue starts here." or "They will starting queuing at 8 am."
lady buglady bird
iced popcicleiced lolly
How are you?You ok/ You all right?It still strikes me as odd when I go into a store or meet someone and instead of saying "Hi, how are you?" they say, "You ok?" or "You all right?" It always make me think I look concerned about something until I remember that this is their standard casual greeting.
high schoolsecondary school
footballAmerican football
first floorground floorBuildings start on the ground floor and the first floor is one floor up (typically the 2nd floor in the US). If there is anything below ground, it's the basement and negative from there (i.e. -2).
elementary schoolprimary school
NEW!doctor's officesurgery
dish soapwashing up liquid
dinnerteaThis really confused me in the beginning! It was first used by a babysitter who texted me to say my daughter ate all of her tea. I had to google it to figure out what she meant. Now I hear it used all the time.
diaper bagchanging bag
custombespokeAs in custom made, like a bespoke tailor, bespoke interior designer, etc.
crackerssavory biscuits
costumefancy dressExample - "Are you coming to the fancy dress party on Halloween?"
college/universityuniA casual term but very frequently used.
coffee creamerwhitenersWhiteners refer to a non-dairy liquid or granular creamer (like CoffeeMate). It is atypical to use these and they are hard to find, especially flavored ones. The general rule is that you use real milk or cream in coffee.
NEW!cilantrocorianderConfusing, right? In the States, cilantro refers to the leaves and stalks of the plants and coriander is the seeds. In the UK, it's coriander and coriander seeds. Cilantro doesn't exist.
cigarettesfagsSlang and is not used nearly as frequently as in the past.
cell phonemobile
cash registertill
car trunkboot
car hoodbonnet
cantinAs in food tin. Example - "I can't find the tin opener for the green beans."
calendardiaryExample - "I've put the appointment in my diary."
bucks (slang for dollar)quid (slang for pound)
bow tiedickie bow
bed skirtvalance
bathroomtoilet, loo or WCYou only ask for the bathroom is you want to take a bath or shower.
bangsfringeAs in hair. Example - "I need to trim her fringe before it gets in her eyes".
back packruck sack
NEW!bachelorette partyhen do OR hen party
NEW!bachelor partystag do
attorneysolicitor or barristerThe use of solicitor or barrister depends on the type of attorney

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