Homonyms with Harmony, Part 2–American and British English Conventions

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Hi SErs! It’s a day of Harmony here at Story Empire 🙂 Today, as promised in Homonyms with Harmony Part 1–Introduction, I’d like to share with you some common differences between US and UK spellings as well as word usage. And, as this is Admin Professional’s Day, what better time than to make sure we write it right?!

Words at War:

In my book on how to self-edit, Polish Your Prose, (Booklinker has stopped working just now, so instead of a universal link, here are the US and UK links in case it still isn’t working when you click on it. Sorry.) I have a whole chapter devoted to this common uncommon language. In this post, I’ll share the tables and information I made for this topic.

NOTE: While this post focusses on American versus British English, I would like to note that Irish and Australian English have many many differences too, as does any country with English as its root language. However, to delve into all of these is beyond the scope of these posts, and if we explored all possible avenues, we’d never reach the part about actual Homonyms!

Considering the British and Americans share a common language, there are plenty of points where they couldn’t have less in common. This isn’t only in the spelling of words, but also their usage. Where a Brit would say ‘garden’, an American is more likely to say ‘yard’ … and they wouldn’t be meaning some bare concreted area—far from it! Below, I list some of the most common differences. We’ll start with a table of the most commonly alternately spelled words …

Generally speaking, the Brits like to double up and use ‘our’ and ‘ise’—whereas the Americans like to keep things single and use ‘or’ and ‘ize’. Whichever system you use, you need to learn and check your spelling, and keep it consistent. And please, please, please, do not rely on automated spell checkers solely. I beg you!

DIFFERENT WAYS OF SAYING THE SAME THING: As well as differences in spelling conventions–and don’t even get me started on punctuation!–we also love to use different words for the same thing and/or give the same word a different meaning. One that never fails to tickle my warped humour is ‘fanny’. In the US, this means what the Brits would callbum’ or ‘bottom’ or ‘backside’, or ‘arse’, and the Americans call ‘butt’, or ‘ass’, amongst other things! In the UK, ‘fanny’ has an entirely opposite meaning, and refers to a certain part of the decidedly female anatomy. 😂 So, whenever I read the term ‘fanny pack’ my brain does a double-take. Ahem.

Below, you will find tables which list some of these pesky common/uncommon words:


Interestingly enough, until relatively recently, I hadn’t realised the Americans and Brits share another difference, not listed in the tables above. For shared passages from books, the UK says ‘Extract’, while the US says, ‘Excerpt’. Even after ten years of writing, reading, and editing for both the US and the UK markets, I still come across American words new to me. These tables give just a few examples of a vast array of alternate ways of saying and spelling words between the two countries. And just for a bit of interesting (to me), if useless information, in knitting and crocheting, you will discover a planet’s worth of differences! I tell you–in case you haven’t yet guessed!–language fascinates me 😊

That’s it from me today. I hope you’ve found this post useful, and I’ll see you again on Friday 19th May for Homonyms with Harmony, Part 3–The Origins of Homonyms 😊

Bio Box for Harmony Kent that links to her website www.harmonykent.co.uk

Homonyms with Harmony: Part 1–Introduction

©2023 Harmony Kent

109 thoughts on “Homonyms with Harmony, Part 2–American and British English Conventions

  1. Pingback: Does a Character’s Past Weigh Them Down? by Traci Kenworth – Where Genres Collide Traci Kenworth YA Author

  2. Pingback: Homonyms with Harmony, Part 3–The Origins of Homonyms | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Writer’s Tips May Edition – Copyright Page, Italics, Web Content, Amazon, Canva – DGKayewriter.com

  4. Hi Harmony, Thank you for this exhaustive list and post. I always thought I was bad at spellings but now I realize that I was just spelling words the American way in a British system. I found this post extremely useful. Revived my confidence. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Spotlight – May 12th 2023 – #Coronation Janet Gogerty, #Tribute Janet Weight Reed, #Review Ritu Bhathal, #Sofas Silly Old Sod, #Homonyms Harmony Kent, #Review Carla Loves to Read | Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

  6. Great list, Harmony! I noted a number of words that here Australia have a different meaning, such as ‘boob tube’ is our slang for television. ‘Kerb’ refers to the concrete fixture between path and road, whereas ‘curb’ is to refrain from action. These are just few variations. Enjoyable read 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I must be bilingual, lol. I use both British, and American words. But of course I stick to American in my writing without mixing up words or spelling from different countries. Quite a task sometimes for this Canadian. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I owned and maintained a Triumph Spitfire for 30 years, so I became familiar with many of these words including “Spanner” which we call a “Wrench.” One that you have that had me totally confused was Allen key. In the US, an Allen Key (or simply key) is a bit of metal that connects a pulley to a shaft by sitting in corresponding slots in each. The key is often held in place by an Allen set screw in the pulley and tightens with an Allen wrench. Of course, I began using this manual in 1979, well before I could search for the British meaning, so I was looking for the wrong thing under the bonnet,

    Thanks for the tables.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Lols 😂! I’m so with you on that. The first time I came across the US name for Ball Pein/Peen/machinist’s hammer I had to Google what it was and work out what the UK name was. Thanks, Dan. I’m loving the responses to this post 💕🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wonderful, Harmony! I’ve Bookmarked that incredible list and intend to print it out as well. There’s plenty there that I didn’t know about…
    Many thanks! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Pingback: Homonyms with Harmony, Part 2–American and British English Conventions | Dragons Rule OK. V.M.Sang (author)

  11. I had no idea there were so many differences, Harmony. I knew quite a few of them from reading a lot of my UK friends’ books. The fanny pack cracked me up. Also a “boob tube” in the US slang also means a television. That’s what my dad called it anyway. A fun and interesting post, my friend.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Pingback: Homonyms with Harmony, Part 2–American and British English Conventions – Maureen Twomey

  13. Wow! That’s a lot more differences in words than I realized. I knew about the “u” in front of “or” and the “s” instead of “z” used. I knew about lift, loo, bonnet, and boot. I didn’t know the list was that long.

    I saw a video the other day that said the southern drawl was closer to British than other accents in the U. S. They said if you slow down the British accent, it would sound like a southern U.S. accent, and if you speed up the southern accent it would sound British. I don’t know if it’s true or not but it would explain how British actors and actresses can do southern accents so well.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Great post, Harmony 🙂 I enjoy coming across the differences when reading and liked the list. I think it adds some flavor. I still prefer grey to gray.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. These differences are so interesting, Harmony! I’ve always read a lot of British fiction, so absorbed a lot of them, and being Canadian has helped. We use a mixture of British and American spellings here. Then there are uniquely Canadian words, like “tuque,” which is a “beanie” in the US, or “knitted cap” in other places.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Words are so much fun. This was an excellent post, Harmony. I enjoyed going down the list. The nice thing about blogging is many of these words are recognized from being exposed to British writers. Looking forward to the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. What a long list, Harmony. I’ve seen a lot of these since many mysteries and historical fiction book are written by authors from across the pond. I’m getting used to it! Took a while with the ‘chips’ though!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I don’t think I ever realized how extensive the differences are between American and British terminologies. Thank you for sharing, Harmony. I had no idea what a bum was when I read it in a book. Now I know it is a fanny pack. 🙂 Great post! Pinning for future reference.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Wow, I had no idea there were so many differences, Harmony! I’m really going to have to study this list.
    I had noticed a lot of non-American authors using the term extract, and at first thought it was an error. Then I realized it was just a different way of saying excerpt, LOL.

    BTW, my mom (non Brit) always said “tea towel.” There are many times I use that term too. Nice to know where it came from! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Fantastic post on one of my favorite topics, Harmony. I’ve always been fascinated by the differences in American English and … English English? (Okay. British English works better. 😁) Love your extended list. Some of these I’ve learned over many years of enjoying books by British authors. Some of them were new to me entirely. (I am definitely saving your tables for future reference,) And yep, since I’ve been blogging, I’ve often noticed the extract/excerpt thing. For Americans, extract usually refers to a something more physical or chemical, like bottled Vanilla extract flavoring. But either way … it does mean to pull or remove one thing from something else, so it works. 😊

    My take away from your post is that the most important thing is to be consistent, Unless it’s intentional for plot reasons, don’t have your American characters using the British terms or vice versa. Definitely something to watch out for in dialogue.

    Thanks for an interesting, useful, and FUN post! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Absolutely fascinating, Harmony. The difference between our languages is most interesting. In some cases, it is more understandable how the U S version has come about. Take, for example, the use of Trunk in US, but boot in UK. The original cars actually had a trunk on the back.
    Also, there can be confusion about roads. The US calls the place where pedestrians walk the ‘sidewalk’ while we Brits call it the ‘pavement’, which is used in the US to mean the road. So if you tell an American to keep on the pavement, there could be a nasty event.
    I find that the American use of ‘yard’ for ‘garden’ gives me entirely the wrong picture. That I cannot understand how this useage has come about.
    One thing that I looked up, because it grated on me, was the American use of ‘gotten’ instead of ‘got’. Apparently, ‘gotten’ is the old version, going back to the Anglo-Saxon where the past participle often ended in -en. We still use this form in some British English words, like ‘proven’.
    But many of the American versions are becoming more used here. I suspect due to American films and TV programmes. I think that’s a pity. So many words have fallen out of use. Vocabularies are getting smaller, I believe.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I see more and more Americanisms gaining use and momentum over here, as well as actual conventions such as Prom and Trick or Treating, which we never used to do in the UK. I agree wholeheartedly that vocabularies need to expand rather than contract. As it is, we owe so many phrases and words to Shakespeare. Without his genius, our choices would be even more limited. Thanks, Viv 💕🙂


  22. I knew some of these differences but not all. Am I correct that British English would say “the surgery” for what we call a doctor’s office or clinic? I too have a fascination with the differences in the language.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. Amazing lists, Harmony! I knew of a few differences, but I had no clue as to the extent of the differences. Thank you for sharing this with us. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Pingback: Homonyms with Harmony, Part 2–American and British English Conventions | Legends of Windemere

We'd love to know what you think. Comment below.

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s