I Could Murder a Cuppa


George Bernard Shaw once famously remarked that America and Britain were “two countries divided by a common language.” In fact, differences are fairly small and have certainly grown smaller with the rise of a globalised, networked economy. However, there do remain several important differences and, although, you would rarely cause confusion or misunderstanding it is important to be consistent. Look at the sentences below and decide which are more commonly used in American English and which in British English:-

  1. I cashed his cheque.
  2. I cashed his check.

  1. They lived in a fourth floor flat.
  2. They lived in a fourth floor apartment

  1. He recently bought a new mobile phone.
  2. He recently bought a new cell phone.

  1. She met a colleague on the pavement outside the office.
  2. She met a colleague on the sidewalk outside the office

In all the cases above, (a) is the British version with (b) the American equivalent. In good dictionaries, this should be indicated with abbreviations such as BrE and AmE. As in the first case, spelling differences are quite common such as catalogue(BrE)/catalog(AmE), theatre (BrE)/theater(AmE) and colour(BrE)/color(AmE) representing the more common variations. In the areas of cars(BrE)/automobiles(AmE), many of the words are different with motorway(BrE)/freeway(AmE), gear-lever(BrE)/gear-shift(AmE),bonnet(BrE)/hood(AmE), and crossroads(BrE)/intersection(AmE) being some of the more common.

Grammatical differences are more common in spoken language than in business correspondence where an international standard has nearly been arrived at. Here are some of the more common spoken examples, with the first one being the more often used form in American English.

  1. What did you do on the weekend?
  2. What did you do at the weekend?

  1. Hello, is this John?
  2. Hello, is that John?

  1. The office is open Tuesday through Saturday.
  2. The office is open Tuesday to Saturday.

  1. Your plane just landed.
  2. Your plane has just landed.

The last example shows an interesting case, where the present perfect is used in British English and past simple more commonly used in American English, especially with just.

Oh, the headline refers to a British slang expression meaning “I would love to have a cup of tea” which left my American colleague puzzled and a little worried!!

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