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British English facts for kids

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British English is the kind of English language which is used in the United Kingdom and in most countries which previously were in the British Empire.

Pronunciation in British English

In the United Kingdom, many different people say words in different ways. For example, a man from a place near London may not pronounce his "r"s the same as a man from Scotland or a man from Northern Ireland. Across the country, the accent is different. For instance, in Liverpool, people may speak with a "scouse" accent, in Birmingham with a "brummie" accent, and in London with a "cockney" accent. Different variations on all of British English exist from the manner in which words are pronounced to the manner in which they are spelt. One place people speak English in a different way is Cornwall, where the Cornish dialect is spoken.

Other languages

Britain, like other countries, has languages other than English. In Wales many speak Welsh; in Scotland some people speak Gaelic, and in Ireland a few people speak Irish. However, that is not the subject of this particular article.

Spelling in British English

British English often keeps more traditional ways of spelling words than American English.

  • Some British English words end in "re", because the words were originally taken from French. They are often simplified to "er" in American English
British English: centre, litre, metre.
American English: center, liter, meter.
  • Some British English words end in "our" and are simplified to "or" in American English. The English spelling also came from the French language.
British English: colour, favour, honour, labour
American English: color, favor, honor, labor
  • Some British English words that have originally come from the Greek language use "ph". This has been changed to "f" in some other languages.
British English: Sulphur
American English: Sulfur
  • Some words in British English use "s" where "z" is used in American English. However, usage of the "z" can also be occasionally seen in British English, in words such as "citizen".
British English: colonisation, realisation, organisation
American English: colonization, realization, organization
  • The word "gray" is also a special case, as it is normally spelled "gray" in American English and "grey" in British English. However, "gray" is also used in Britain, and "grey" is also used in America.
  • Many of these rules are also used in other countries outside of the United Kingdom, mostly in countries that are members in the Commonwealth of Nations.

Vocabulary in British English

In British English, "dock" refers to the water in the space between two "piers" or "wharfs". In American English, the "pier" or "wharf" could be called a "dock", and the water between would be a "slip".

Some common differences:

British – American

  • accelerator – throttle
  • autumn – fall
  • biscuit – cookie
  • bonnet – hood (of a car)
  • boot – trunk (of a car)
  • bum – butt
  • caravan – trailer, mobile home
  • chips – French fries
  • courgette – zucchini
  • crisps – chips
  • face flannel – washcloth
  • flat – apartment
  • football – soccer
  • garden – yard
  • handbag – purse
  • jumper – sweater
  • lift – elevator
  • lorry – truck
  • manual gearbox – stick shift
  • metro, underground, tube – subway
  • motorway – freeway
  • mum – mom
  • nappy – diaper
  • number plate – license plate
  • pants - underpants
  • pavement – sidewalk
  • pram – stroller
  • petrol – gas or gasoline
  • phone box - phone booth
  • post – mail, mailbox
  • railway – railroad
  • shopping trolley – shopping cart
  • take-away – take-out
  • trousers – pants
  • torch – flashlight
  • tram – streetcar

Usage in different countries

American English is only an official language in the United States. In Canada, the accent sounds extremely similar to American English but with few exceptions (see Canadian English). The American spelling in Canada is sometimes used, but traditionally, the British Spelling (with the exceptions of some words like programme, -isation/-ise/-isable, chilli, etc.) is used. Although Commonwealth English is the most spoken, American English is seen more often on the internet. American English vocabulary dominates the visual media: "movies" (British: "films") and television.

All Commonwealth nations and Africa learn Commonwealth English, while American English is often learnt in the Americas and China. Z pronounced 'Zee' is only seen in the U.S.A and less commonly in Canada, while Z pronounced 'Zed' is spoken almost everywhere else. The United Kingdom and Ireland use British layout keyboards, while Australia, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand and the U.S.A use American layout keyboards. In continental Europe English as a second language is nowadays sometimes even taught in American English, except perhaps in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

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