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
- I cashed his cheque.
- I cashed his check.
- They lived in a fourth floor flat.
- They lived in a fourth floor apartment
- He recently bought a new mobile phone.
- He recently bought a new cell
- She met a colleague on the pavement outside the office.
- 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
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),
crossroads(BrE)/intersection(AmE) being some of the more
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
- What did you do on the
- What did you do at the
- Hello, is this
- Hello, is that
- The office is open Tuesday through Saturday.
- The office is open Tuesday to Saturday.
- Your plane just landed.
- Your plane has just
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!!