One day, I was invited by a British friend to a “fancy dress” party. This was very exciting, because I love to wear elegant clothes and look fancy occasionally. What a perfect invitation! To prepare, I bought new, expensive leather shoes, and a very nice jacket. I was ready to go! After preparing in the hotel room, I entered the elevator. Reaching the ground floor, the elevator doors opened and I walked out. Looking around, all I could see were people dressed as vampires all over the lobby! They had fake vampire teeth, and everyone was wearing fake blood. As you can imagine, I was very confused.
“Where are the fancy dresses and suits?” I kept thinking. Finally, my friend comes down from his room and joins me. He too is dressed like a vampire! “What in the world is going on?” I asked my friend. “It’s a fancy-dress party. Why aren’t you wearing a costume?”
Oh no! “Fancy-dress” in British English means “costume” in American English! I was so embarrassed. But, I had learned a valuable lesson. Even though British and American people speak the same language, there are many differences in vocabulary, grammar, and accent.
Let’s take some time to learn about these differences so you don’t make the same mistake as me!
Here we go!
When people think of language, they often say “English” or “Spanish,” as if learning the language in London is the same as in Boston. It can be quite fun to learn the differences between the words we use from coast to coast, or region to region. Below is a list of some common words that are different in American and British English and their meanings.
American: Costume party, British: Fancy dress party
Meaning: A party where people dress up in costumes, typically with a specific theme
American: Dude, British: Mate
Meaning: Informal way to greet a friend
American: Elevator, British: Lift
Meaning: Moving compartment used to lift/lower people to different floors of a building
American: Trunk, British: Boot
Meaning: The space at the back of a car used for storage
American: Thanks, British: Cheers
Meaning: Informal way to say “thank you.” *In the US, cheers is used for making toasts when you drink with friends
American: Classy, British: Posh
Meaning: Something or someone who is considered fancy
American: Cell phone, British: Mobile
Meaning: A portable phone
American: College/University, British: :Uni
Meaning: Higher educational institution
Now that we have some words to work with, let’s play a little game. Read the sentences below, and using the vocabulary as clues, try and guess if the writer is using American or British English. Try not to look at your notes.