English is spoken throughout the world but it’s always a good idea to brush up on the type of English language you might hear when you visit another country where it’s spoken. I lived in England for a couple of years and learned (or as they say, learnt) that there are a lot of differences between what they say and what a Yank might hear.
This post is about how the English language is spoken in England, which is a part of Great Britain and the United Kingdom.
Don’t Assume a Person is English!
It’s tempting to assume a person you meet in England is English. However, there are lots of non-English living there who identify with their nation. Even many Irish (from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) emigrate to study or work in England.
Although most speak the English language in their daily lives, there has been renewed interest in Scottish and Irish Gaelic languages. It’s even more of a reason to take care you don’t mistake a Scot for an Englishman; what if he whips out his dirk to scare you off? The Welsh can get riled up as well; if they start speaking their own language (it’s part of school curriculum), you’re lost. Back away, slowly.
While we’re at it, could you not bring up the King or his family? Literally, no one there cares. Even tabloid sales have been falling slowly but steadily in recent years.
20 Key Differences in the English Language in North America and the UK
I don’t know if you can call it Queen’s, um, King’s English everywhere. Regardless, here’s a list of linguistic differences I often noticed between English spoken in the UK and in the US. I learned/learnt most of them through personal, and sometimes embarrassing experiences (see #2 and #8 below).
- Tea refers to any kind of snack. It doesn’t even have to include tea!
- Spotted dick is not an STD. It’s a popular dessert of bread pudding with raisins and quite tasty.
- Pudding is a cake, usually served with cream.
- Yorkshire Pudding isn’t cake but a kind of popover served with gravy
- Blood pudding is a pork sausage that includes pork blood and oatmeal. It’s also called black pudding
- Bangers are also sausages but aren’t bloody.
- Sultanas are a type of raisin, not women from Oman or Qatar who married well.
- A rubber is an eraser. Galoshes are still galoshes.
- A lift isn’t a ride home but an elevator.
- “Mind the gap” means “watch your step.” You see it mostly in the London Underground and train stations.
- The Underground is London’s subway, not a club.
- A coach is a bus. You won’t have a Jane Austen experience riding one.
- A boot sale isn’t a sale on boots. It’s more like a swap meet or rummage/trunk sale.
- A boot is a car trunk as well as footwear. Boot’s is the name of a drugstore chain.
- A bonnet is a car hood.
- A fag – a word I don’t use in any circumstance – is a cigarette. But someone might ask you for one.
- Infant school is daycare or preschool.
- Someone who’s mad is crazy. Madness = insanity.
- Sod it” means “screw it.” “Feck” is Irish for a similar expression comparable a common American curse.\\\
- The phrase Hobson’s Choice—take it or leave it—came from a Cambridge stable owner who didn’t take special requests. There, a horse was a horse of course.
Grammatical Anarchy in the UK
(With apologies to the Sex Pistols)
There are some grammatical differences as well. The one I noticed the most involves plural versus singular distinctions.
Is a team or band a group or separate individuals? Grammatically, we screw this up.
Americans tend to consider everything and anything that ends with an “s” as a plural, even if it’s a singular item. Not so in the UK.
- There: Pink Floyd reunite in a one-time reunion. (I wish.)
- Here: Pink Floyd reunites in a one-time reunion.
Yet we’d both say “The Rolling Stones play” because we see an “s” at the end of the band’s name. They just see more subjects as plural.
Personally, I’d treat the Yankees and say, Manchester United as a singular entity. The Yankees would agree; they don’t even put players’ names on their uniforms. But it would sound odd to say “Manchester United play an exhibition game against Phoenix United next week.”
What Exactly is England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom?
England is part of Great Britain, which includes England, Wales, and Scotland. The United Kingdom is Great Britain plus the territory known as Northern Ireland, which lies about the independent Republic of Ireland.
Both the Republic and Northern Ireland are part of the geographic designation “British Isles.” This also includes several islands governed by England, Wales, and Scotland:
- The Isle of Wight, off England’s southern coast, belongs to England only.
- The Isle of Anglesey, off the Welsh coast, belongs to Wales.
- Scotland claims the Shetland, Hebrides, and Orkney Islands.
Then there’s the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey, islands that do not belong to any of these nations but are properties of the British Crown.
I highly recommend this five-minute video by CGP Grey for more information on the UK’s reach across the British Isles and the world. Cheers!