About a year ago now I made a friend from Boston while I was living abroad, and was fortunate enough to get the chance to visit her in the States a few months ago. One night we went to an improvised comedy show, and I really enjoyed it, but truthfully, there was more than one occasion where I didn’t understand what was going on. The whole audience would be laughing, and I just wasn’t getting the references! This was quite surprising for me considering Americans and Brits speak the same language, but you’d be surprised at the number of variations between the two dialects – so here’s 10 of the funny differences between American and British English I picked up on!
Telling The Time
While I was in Boston, I found that Americans tended to say the time as though it were written digitally, e.g. 18:45 would be said aloud as “six forty five”, whereas Brits would more commonly say “quarter to seven”. The same applies with 18:05, which would be said by Americans as “six o five”, and by Brits as “five past six”. Equally, 18:15 for Americans translates as “six fifteen”, whereas Brits would favour “quarter past six”. You do wonder how these curious differences developed, don’t you?
Pants Are Trousers
I will never forget my American friend Nora turning around to me and saying “should I wear pants tonight?” my automatic reaction of course being, “yes, Nora, you should always wear pants!” . This is a difference between American and British English which still baffles me to this day. Pants in America means trousers, and pants in the UK means underwear. I asked my friend what trousers meant to her, and she said it had a connotation of something formal and smart, whereas pants could be anything. This is a difference which I don’t ever see changing either, as pants in the UK will most likely always refer to underwear…
There’s No Such Thing As A Ned/Chav
So in the UK we have terms to refer to a distinct group of young people, which in Scotland translates as Ned (Non-Educated Delinquent), whereas in England they have Chav (Council Housed And Violent). The two words basically refer to the same characteristic of person, someone who is deemed non-educated and sometimes violent, and is usually seen wearing a sports tracksuit. Being from Scotland, I curiously asked my American friend what they call Neds in America, and she didn’t have even the slightest clue what I was talking about. Could it really be that they don’t exist over there, hence there not being a translation? I even showed her a photo of the infamous tracksuit and she was equally as baffled!
The Naming Of Floors In A Building
In British English, the name of a floor at street level is the ground floor, with the floor above it being the first floor, and the floor below it being the lower-ground. However, in American English, the floor at street level is usually called the first floor, with the floor above being the second floor, and the floor below being the basement. This can be a really confusing business for Brits staying in American hotels and vice-versa – why couldn’t it just be the same?! This is one of the funniest differences between American and British English.
I’ve never found the pronunciation of American English difficult to understand, it wasn’t until I started teaching English in Colombia, a country with a huge American influence, that I realised how different the two accents were. My students had mostly been exposed to American English, and found me really challenging to understand at times. The simple word “what” caused a lot of confusion in the beginning, as one student could not figure out what word I was saying! I soon realised that the American pronunciation had more of an “ah” sound, like “whaht”, whereas the British was more of an “aw” sound, like “whawt”. You’d be shocked at how crucial this difference can be for those learning English as a foreign language!
Centigrade Vs Fahrenheit
This has to be one of the most confusing differences between American and British English, as in the States the temperature scale is measured in Fahrenheit, whereas in the UK we use Centigrade. You’d be surprised the number of times the weather came up as a subject for conversation between me and my friend while I was in Boston, and it was so difficult to understand each other! I never knew what she was talking about when she mentioned Fahrenheit and I hadn’t a clue what the temperature was the whole time I was visiting her. Can we introduce a universal temperature scale, please?
Can you think of any other funny differences between American and British English? Let us know in the comments below!
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A 22 year old foreign languages enthusiast from Glasgow. Lover of all things latino with a passion for travel, writing and photography.