The term "British English" really only refers to writing. It doesn't make any sense in relation to pronunciation, though outsiders who use it that way are perhaps referring to a particular accent called Received Pronunciation, or modern accents resembling it such as Estuary English. It's hard to tell: the term means virtually nothing to Britons themselves.

British English can be distinguished from American English by the spelling: the familiar -re vs -er, -our vs -or, the variation in double consonants in words such as traveller, and the use of digraphs in words such as oedema. There are also differences in individual words, such as grey, gray.

In almost all cases the Southern Hemisphere Englishes align with British, though you do see spellings like color in Australia, even in newspapers (though never in books). Furthermore, in almost all cases, all parts of Britain use the same spelling: there is the odd exception such as gray being met with in Scotland. Ireland uses the same spellings as Britain. So what (North) Americans perceive as British ('Britishisms' as they sometimes call them) are more likely to be general non-American uses.

There are things that have names used in Britain but not elsewhere: lorry, which is truck in other Englishes.

No doubt there are quite a few popular phrases and colloquialisms that diffuse over Britain by the influence of television, but have not diffused overseas, and there may also be a few grammatical quirks that are widespread all over Britain and less so elsewhere. Possibly have and haven't where other Englishes use have got and either haven't got or don't have. (These also occur in Britain; the distribution is one of age and class: bare have is now quite conservative.)

But basically, the notion "British English" is almost entirely one of spelling, with a few cultural notions such as pelican crossing that occur across Britain and aren't used outside. In normal speech it's unlikely that a Briton would use such characteristic words enough to be noticeable.

There is no such thing as a British accent, nor British grammar, nor British slang.

The dialects and accents, and their corresponding treasure-hordes of slang and the like, vary within Britain much more than outside, because being the home of the language it has had vastly more time to accumulate variation.

Nor is there any such thing as an English accent, meaning "the" accent that an English person speaks with. This is not a matter of fine distinction, as e.g. distinguishing Australian from New Zealand, or Louisiana from Texas: the corresponding fine distinction in Britain would be between say Yorkshire and Lancashire.

We need to distinguish at least four major varieties (dialect groups rather than single dialects):

To this list may be added two others at an equal level, for comparison: If I had to make a crude division of English into dialect groups, that is the sixfold division I would make. The Southern Hemisphere varieties, South African and Australian/New Zealand, belong to what I am calling the Southern English dialect, though they have strikingly different accents.
Cletus the Foetus has suggested that American has some dialects that are as distinct as those within Britain: see American English. I don't know enough to comment in detail. The Newfoundland accent does seem to be striking different and perhaps should rate its own entry in the above list.

The following is a list of common British words that are not common in the U.S., including words that have different meanings in Great Britain and the U.S.:

advert: advertisement
Alsatian: German shepherd
Aunt Sally: easy target
banger: sausage
barrow: push-cart
bespoke: custom-tailored
billion: 1,000,000,000,000 (U.S. trillion)
bomb: great success (opposite of the U.S. meaning)
bonnet: car hood
boot: car tunk
braces: suspenders
brolly: umbrella
building society: savings and loan association
caravan: trailer
car park: parking lot
carriage: railroad passenger car
catapult: slingshot
chemist: pharmacist
chips: French-fried potatoes
clanger: blunder
conk: nose
cornet: ice-cream cone
costermonger: pushcart peddler
cotton wool: absorbant cotton
crisps: potato chips
draughts: checkers (the board game)
drawing pin: thumbtack
dual carriageway: divided highway
dummy: baby's pacifier
dustman: garbage collector
estate car: station wagon
Father Christmas: Santa Claus
first floor: second floor (the British begin counting above the ground floor)
flannel: washcloth
flat: apartment
flex: electric cord
flutter: small bet
football: soccer
Girl Guide: Girl Scout
glasshouse: greenhouse, military prison
hire-purchase: installment plan
hoarding: billboard
ironmongery: hardware store
jelly: gelatin dessert
jumble sale: rummage sale
ladder: run in a stocking
lashings: large servings of food or drink
lido: beach resort
lift: elevator
lorry: truck
milk float: dairy home-delivery truck
moggy: pet cat
nappy: diaper
nark: police informer
noughts-and-crosses: tic-tac-toe
nursing home: small private hospital
panda car: police patrol car
pants: underpants
patience: solitaire (card game)
petrol: gasoline
pissed: drunk
plimsolls: sneakers
point: electrical outlet
pontoon: twenty-one (card game)
pram: baby carriage
redcap: military police officer
return ticket: round-trip ticket
roundabout: traffic circle, merry-go-round
rubber: eraser
runner beans: string beans
serviette: napkin
silencer: car muffler
singlet: undershirt
steps: stepladder
subway: underpass
torch: flashlight
tram: streetcar
trolley: cart
trousers: pants
trunk call: long-distance call
tube: subway
tunk: trunk
turnup: trouser cuff
vest: undershirt
waistcoat: vest
warder: prison guard
wellies: rubber boots
wholemeal: whole-wheat
windcheater: windbreaker
windscreen: windshield
wing: fender

Please add more terms to this node if you know any that I failed to include.

Primary Differences in Transatlantic Spelling

Generally speaking, it's pretty easy to figure out the British spelling of any American word or vice-versa (usage differences are beyond the scope of this writeup). There are a few primary differences, outlined below.


"-Ize" vs. "-ise."
In American English, only "-ize" is used (with a couple of oddball exceptions like "improvise" and "surprise" {Yeah, I know, it's not really in the same class, but it appears that way nonetheless}). In British English, "-ise" is preferred, but "-ize" is acceptable.
< e.g. Am "realize" Br "realise" or "realize"

Irregular Past Tense
Several English words can either be spelled with the normal "-ed" ending or with a "T" instead (e.g. "learned"/"learnt," "burned"/"burnt"). American English tends to prefer the "-ed" endings while Britons are more fond of "T" endings, although they are interchangeable in either dialect.


"-Or" vs "-our" nouns
The canonical example of the difference between British and American English. For many words, Americans would use "-or" and Britons "-our." Of course, this isn't always true, so don't go dropping the "U" from "hour." Another important distinction: In British English, the "O" is dropped when the word is made into a verb, e.g. "colorise" and not *"colourise."

Greek words
There are a number of instances where Americans will drop the "O" in the "oe" from a Greek word in which it makes the "-ey" sound in "key" while British English will retain it (e.g. "fetus" versus "foetus") but it seems the pioneers of American English kind of did this willy-nilly, since the word "onomatopoeia" keeps it and "amoeba" in American English is more common than "ameba," though the latter is considered acceptable. Above all, rely on aesthetics.

"-Gue" vs "-g"
"-Gue" endings for words like "dialogue" are preferred in both American and British dialects, but only American English allows "dialog." Same deal with "catalogue" and "catalog" and some others, I'm sure.

"-Re" vs. "-er"
British spelling only uses "-re" in words like "kilometre"/"kilometer", American, only "-er" (except for "center"/"centre" and "theater"/"theatre"), where both are acceptable). However, for a word like "killer" this is simply false. If you can imagine someone saying "-a" instead of "-er," then in British English it probably uses "-er."

"Ls" Sometimes British words and American spellings will use different numbers of "Ls," like "traveller"/"traveler." Britons tend to double up on the "Ls."

Other weird noun stuff
"Moslem" is more common in British usage (Fisher says that this is old-fashioned and not so true anymore), but "Muslim" is more common in American usage. Both are acceptable.
Am "maneuver" as opposed to Br "manoeuvre"
When transliterating Arabic, Americans are more likely to use "I" for the "-ey" sound in "key" (e.g. Mazar-I-Sharif) whereas the Britons prefer an "E" (e.g. Mazar-E-Sharif). However, either is acceptable.
Am "tire" is equivalent to Br "tyre"


With some adjectives and adverbs, Americans use double "Ls" and Britons don't necessarily.
e.g. Am "skillful" vs. Br "skilful" or "skillful"

Americans use periods after abbreviations like "Mr." Britons don't necessarily.

I'm an ignorant American, so /msg me with corrections or additions, you crazy Redcoats.

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