Talk:Comparison of American and British English

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Talk:American and British English Differences (Archive 1)

Adverbs-: missing 'ly' in American English

Since when have many adverbs lost the ending 'ly' in the US? It has become impossible to distinguish between the adverb and adjective in many cases. E.G: "He'll be here real soon now" (International: really soon now) Sounds very strange to this writer because I think 'real' is an adjective but the US example above treats it as an adverb (modifying the verb 'be') - Clive

Formally speaking, 'real' is an adjective in American English and 'really' is the adverb. However, it is common in informal American speech to drop the -ly where there is no ambiguity, so whether or not that counts as a difference is a matter of interpretation. As an American, if I saw 'real' used as an adverb on wikipedia, I would correct it. - Rob

"Many" adverbs have not lost the -ly suffix. Only a few have. However, as is often the case in irregularities in English dialects, they happen to be more common adverbs Dogface 22:09, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Tap vs. faucet in Canadian English

Am I right in thinking that Canadians, perhaps in an attempt to preserve some differences from their southern neighbours, also use tap rather than faucet? jimfbleak

Tap is much more common in Canada; I believe there's even research on it. I've heard tap all my long life, though, so in that period it wasn't introduced as a deliberate alternative to faucet. Jfitzg

I've just thought of one difference. In Europe, we say 'two thousand and three' for 2003 (I to be alkward say 20-0-3!) whereas americans say 'two thousand three' not using the 'and'. Is this widespread or just a phenomenon associated with news anchors? JTD 07:52 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

That's pretty widespread. Here in Canada I even had someone try to "correct" me when I wrote "one hundred and twenty dollars" on a cheque, with the claim that meant $100.20, which I thought was ridiculous. Bagpuss

News-: -anchors, -casters and -readers

(There's another one: US - news anchors. UK + Irl: newscasters or newsreaders) JTD 07:52 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

(newscasters is not unheard of, though rare, newsreaders is unknown to me) I think most Americans would just two-thousand-three -- I would, anyway. Tuf-Kat

Newsreaders is an old term from the time when actors rather than journalists 'read' the news, becoming professional newsreaders. (Kenneth Kendel in the UK and Charles Mitchell in Ireland spring to mind.) By the 1980s, most stations used professional journalists, who to show their journalistic cred insisted on being called newscasters to show they weren't mere actors reading someone else's script. Call a newscaster a newsreader is a bit like calling Rev. Jerry Falwell a catholic: you better duck before you get a punch!!! (But the term still is used, to the fury of journalists. JTD 08:03 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

Of 'flammable' and 'inflammable'

Could someone say how an American would interpret "Highly Inflammable"? - in the UK, contrary to appearances it normally appears in warning signs, meaning "very likely to catch fire". Arwel 22:02 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

"Wait, inflammable means the same as flammable? What a crazy language!" - Dr. Nick Riviera
Taking, as I do, the Simpsons as my guide to America, they have the same thing there. Bagpuss

The word inflammable is not used in American English. I suspect that many Americans would be highly confused by it. They might guess that it means "fireproof", the opposite of flammable, which is what warning signs in the US say. However, if an American saw inflammable on a warning sign, they could possibly figure the correct meaning out from context. (fireproof would be an advertising claim, not a warning)

According to my dictionary, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. Flammable is always used on warning signs in the US. The use of inflammable, though technically correct, is considered too confusing.

The terms combustible, flammable, highly flammable, explosive etc., used on warning signs in the US, have precise meanings which depend on characteristics, such as flash point, of the material involved. Bluelion 23:38 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

I've seen inflammable used in writing, but warning signs here in the NE US all seem to say flammable. Perhaps because the ones saying inflammable all have burned down? <g> Mkweise
IIRC, "inflammable" was still common in USA English into the 1960s, but "flammable" became more common and started replacing it in the 1970s. -- Infrogmation
Inflammatory is still widely used in the U.S., so I suspect that many would find inflammable easy to parse by analogy.
Damn, you must be even older than I am! Mkweise
The words 'flammable' and 'flammability' are in effect deliberate coinages. There are very few older citations in the OED. For 'flammable' it has quotes from 1813 and 1867, then the next one is 1959: it's from the BSI (British Standards Institute), suggesting the adoption of the word 'flammable' for safety reasons, in place of 'inflammable'. Likewise, 'flammability' has two sporadic quotations in the seventeenth century, but next appears in 1942, and in 1963 the BSI again call for the word 'flammability' to be adopted in place of its dangerous synonym 'inflammability'. Gritchka 13:26 27 May 2003 (UTC)
Many fireproof signs have burned down as well. Bluelion 23:47 Feb 19, 2003 (UTC)

The reason "flammable" and "inflammable" have the same meaning is that children and illiterates get confused by the "in-" and think that "inflammable" means "not combustible" when it means "combustible". -- 04:22 Feb 20, 2003 (UTC)

Technically speaking, inflammable and flammable are synonymous in American English. However, 'flammable' seems to be increasingly common on warning signs, probably to avoid confusion. When writing something formal, I would always use 'inflammable,' just because 'flammable' sounds silly to me. - Rob (American)

Tea as a meal

The fact that tea refers to a meal (as well as a beverage) in British English should be added, but I'm not sure where exactly. Mkweise

Errr... I don't think there's a North/South divide on tea being an evening meal, it's more of a class thing. Mintguy

Well, when I was a kid on our north Wales farm in the 60s, we had breakfast, dinner (about noon), tea (about 3p.m., or after we got back from school), and supper (about 6p.m.). Oh, and a snack before bedtime. And people were surprised when we put on weight... Arwel 02:14 Feb 20, 2003 (UTC)

Mintguy is correct. It is a matter of class. In Ireland too, we called the midday meal dinner, and the evening meal tea, largely because the meal was based around tea. However upper middle class and upper people tend to have a light 'lunch' in the middle of the day, and a large dinner for the evening meal.

Oh. Well pretty much everyone I've met from the south has lunch and dinner. I'll agree that in the north the posh types will probably use the same, but I'm not sure about the lower classes in the south. Bagpuss

Of course, at school, whether you are in the North or South, you still get school dinners, served by dinner ladies (paid for with dinner money) during the lunch break. It's a confusing world. (I am, of course, referring to the midday meal).

And of course in US usage kids get their school lunches served by lunch ladies (in New England at least), and the more-widely-used dinner is usually synonymous with supper. [[User:Poccil|Peter O. (Talk)]] 04:44, Jul 18, 2004 (UTC)
In England they call them dinner ladies in school. Personally I call the two main meals lunch and tea. I think it's pretty rare for tea to be used to mean mid-afternoon, except for the very upper class. For the evening meal, I think tea and dinner are used interchangably, althought the latter would only be used to refer to a meal later in the evening (say, when eating out at 7-8pm). I'm from the North of England (Yorkshire) Rob
I would use tea to refer to a snack taken in the late afternoon or early evening (i.e. after getting home from work but before the main meal, which I call dinner) and I don't think that's rare at all. I think the differences in terminology are down to where you originally had your main meal and I would agree that it's a class thing, not a north/south thing (I've heard the midday meal referred to as both lunch and dinner by different people in all areas of England). Dinner was always the main meal. In the past, working class men tended to work near (or even at) home and came home for their main meal at midday, and so that was their dinner. Middle class men tended to work in offices some distance from their homes (often working in the city centre, and living in the suburbs) and so couldn't go home for a meal at midday. They therefore had a light meal at midday and had their main meal with their family in the evening after they got home from work, hence dinner in the evening. Because the majority of children (obviously) at state schools were working class, we still tend to use dinner for school meals. For middle and upper class people, tea was a light snack served in the mid-afternoon at which ladies (who didn't, of course, go out to work) could entertain their friends. For working class people, however, tea was the light meal they had in the evening to tide them over until the next day. Supper, for all classes, was the light snack you had before going to bed. However, because work patterns changed and many working class people started eating their main meal in the evening too, dinner, tea and supper started to become interchangeable for them. Because many working class families have since become middle class, the terms have become less of a current class thing (if class still exists at all) and more of a system of terminology inherited from grandparents etc, varying from family to family. When I was a kid (Southern England, middle class family, but with working class forebears) we called the midday meal dinner and the evening meal tea, but when I was in my early teens I acquired a new stepfather (from a family that had been solidly middle class for generations) who used lunch and dinner, and that's what I've used ever since. -- Necrothesp 00:18, 29 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In Australia it is common to talk of morning tea (10 or 11am) and afternoon tea (3pm), and also of tea as the evening meal. The first two may well be just a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit. I think this is common across classes, although it may be fading away. Mbp 06:16, 16 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Veterinarians and veterans

If a Briton said - "My brother is a vet". Everyone would understand that his brother is a veterinarian. If an American said the same thing, would people automatically assume that he is a war veteran, or might there be some confusion as to whether he is a veterinarian or a war veteran? Mintguy

"Vet" does have both meanings in the U.S. and, in abscence of solid context, it can sometimes cause confusion, but usually the intended meaning can be easily determined by context. nknight 12:53 Mar 14, 2003 (UTC)
Support of Nknight. In the US, the meaning of "vet" is purely contextual. Now, that being said, I happen to know a vet who is a vet, and he was a vet before he became a vet.

Admonishment vs. admonition

Q: I am British, and for the noun-form of admonish I say admonishment.

Fred received an admonishment from his teacher for untidy work.

My American wife says admonition.

Fred received an admonition from his teacher for untidy work.

Is this a UK/US difference, are they just alternative words, or is one of us plain wrong! -- Chris Q 09:24 Mar 3, 2003 (UTC)

For what it's worth, I'd say the first, but I wouldn't think the second was wrong. Bagpuss
I've always heard and used 'admonition.' - Rob (American)
"Admonition" is more common among the older folks, but I've heard "admonishment" among peopl 30 and younger in Indiana. Dogface 22:13, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

"An upside down" apartment

On an old NOVA production on visual agnosia, one English guy describes another guy's apartment as "an upside down". What does that mean?Arthur 19:30 Mar 14, 2003 (UTC)

Possibly meant that there were two floors and the entrance was on the top one. Not certain on this. Bagpuss
An upside down dwelling (usually a house but anything with at least two floors) is where the daytime rooms (reception/living/lounge etc.) are on the upper floor and bedroom etc. are on the ground floor. Although this might be done for a variety of reasons, the most common on I have observed is where the occupant wants to enhance the views that might be seen from the lounge etc. Dainamo 09:02, 21 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Use of double-hyphens for em-dashes

Discussion, including the suggestion to automatically transform them into appropriate markup, moved to meta:Automatic transformation of hyphens and dashes.

-re in AE?

I removed the following claim, on the grounds that there is no body authorized to designate official spellings, and that American dictionaries typically give the -er spellings as standard. (This is regarding words like center/centre.)

"The official American spellings end in -re, but the American people use the -er spelling almost exclusively."

Mark Foskey 03:38 Mar 15, 2003 (UTC)

I like that change. Meant to do it myself on same grounds but forgot. Arthur 21:39 Mar 16, 2003 (UTC)

I removed the following from this section, I think it's more an example of a wider US phenomenon of affected use of Commonwealth forms. I haven't put it back anywhere else though... Joestynes 10:25, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)

The Commonwealth forms are recognizable by Americans and are occasionally found in American texts, but their usage may be considered an affectation. The Commonwealth spelling that has perhaps gained the most currency in American English is theatre. However, theater is still more common in everyday use, and theatre is generally reserved for more formal settings or for the names of specific venues (e.g., the Kodak Theatre).

Lounge as a (commerical) drinking location

Does "lounge" really mean "bar" in the States? Bagpuss 23:45 Mar 16, 2003 (UTC)

I think of a specific kind of bar, a relatively quiet place with some sort of generally unobtrusive live music (i.e. a lounge singer, lounge music). Tuf-Kat
Okay, it's not one I'd heard of. UK pubs sometimes have a lounge, a large room with couches (a small one would be the snug). Bagpuss

In the most common usage of "lounge" in the US, it does not mean a "bar". It could mean a bar, but it's much more likely that it simply means a place to relax.

Bagpuss. - You're probably too young to remember this, but most pubs used to have two or more bars, the "public bar" or "saloon bar" was for working men (in workman's clothes perhaps) and might have had lino (linoleum) or possibly even sawdust on the floor, whilst the other bar (the "lounge bar") would be for women in company and the more refined customer and would have had carpet and some soft chairs. A pub might have also had a "snug bar" which would have been a small room for a few people to enjoy their own company. Mintguy (Actually this should go in the the entry on pubs).

It's still like that in Scotland for the most part. -- Derek Ross

I'm surprised the UK doesn't use lounge meaning bar. It is so common in Ireland a pub will often have a separate lounge, with it described as that in the signage. A lounge is usually more comfortable, with soft seating, softer music, carpeted floor, more relaxing. In many ways, a lounge is more feminised, a bar more masculinised, with harder seats, seats at the bar counter, wooden or tiled floor, with Sky sports blaring on a TV (God I hate Sky Sports!). It never dawned on me that that term didn't exist in the UK. STÓD/ÉÍRE 21:03 Apr 7, 2003 (UTC)

Don't let the Englishmen confuse you, JTD. There are still plenty of hotels and public houses with lounge bars, public bars (and even snugs) in the UK of just the type that you describe. Maybe they're dying out in some parts of England but they are still going strong in Scotland. -- Derek Ross 04:37 25 May 2003 (UTC)

Don't let the other Englishmen confuse you. They're still common in English pubs as well, although not as common as they used to be. Most older pubs that haven't been bought up by chains still have both a lounge bar and a public bar. -- Necrothesp 00:26, 29 Aug 2004 (UTC)

The use of "lounge" is, has been stated before, very specifit. Not just any drinking establishment would be a lounge. A lounge attempts to exude an aura of sophistication and fancy-pantsity. In general, any sort of raucous association would be discouraged. As an extreme (and probably incorrect) stereotype: A tuxedo would be less out of place at a lounge than it would anywhere else in the world of American inebriative establishments.

Flat apartments

What is this idea implied in one of the tables that "flat" does not mean "apartment" in the US. It most certainly does! - especially in the case a apartments that are flats. As is stated in the text, "apartment" has been gradually displacing "flat" in much of the world. My experience is that the generation before mine used the word "flat" instead of the word "apartment". How is the status of the word 'flat' any different in the US than it is in much of the world? Bluelion 00:25 Mar 17, 2003 (UTC)

Well if it's wrong it's a popular misconception in the UK. Bagpuss
I think most Americans are aware of the word, but think it's a Britishism. I don't think I've ever heard an American use it. Tuf-Kat

Well, I've heard lots of Americans use the word "flat" to refer to an "apartment' although, admittedly, some were of a generation before mine. It is , perhaps, somewhat regional, but "Flat for Rent" signs are available at many hardware stores in the US. Believe me, that is a fact. I have current sign catalogs to prove it. Such signs are readily available even today in the US. I doubt sign companies would be selling signs using a word that isn't commonly understood. Bluelion

As a fairly young'un on the US west coast, I've never in my life heard "flat" used to describe an apartment except as a Britishism. I have though managed to google up this page which seems to indicate that "flat" is current in upstate New York and that it's considered exceptional enough elsewhere for an expat to mention it as a regional peculiarity. --Brion 02:25 Mar 17, 2003 (UTC)

I'm not so young and, in my younger days, I heard LOTS of Americans refer to apartments as "flats". In fact, they were pretty disdainful of the word "apartment" - only people "putting on airs" used that word, according to them. That's my experience, growing up in the 'show-me' state of Missouri. And I've seen more "Flat for Rent" signs than I'd care to count. Bluelion 02:38 Mar 17, 2003 (UTC)

Just to add to the confusion, in New Zealand English "apartment" is a fairly specific term while "flat" may mean an apartment but could mean almost any form of rented accomodation including part of a house. "Flatting" used as a varb describes the situation where a group of people who are not a family share any rented accomodation even a whole house.

From above because it's relevant

"This can result either with some variations becoming extinct (as, for instance, apartment has been gradually displacing flat in much of the world) or that wide variations are accepted as "perfectly good English" everywhere. "
I'd have thought that "flat" was more an example of the latter. It's certainly not extinct in the UK. The main reason new buildings contain "apartments" is that "flat" sounds downmarket, due to council flats. A decent example of a now extinct word or phrase required. Bagpuss
In Ireland, an apartment is usually a new development, largely middle class. A flat is usually either council owned or a converted part of an older building, which may have been subdivided. Apartments usually are larger, more modern and almost invariably less well built than older buildings that have been converted into flats. STÓD/ÉÍRE 20:40 Mar 14, 2003 (UTC)
Similar. Either way "flat" is not extinct. Bagpuss
Perhaps "flat" is now extinct in the US but not in the UK. Bagpuss
In Toronto a flat is, or at least was, an apartment which is not self-contained (you share a kitchen or a bathroom). The term is dying out as flats die out.
As a young American on the East Coast (Maryland), I am aware of 'flat' only as a Britishism. - Rob

"Complexion" is still standard British English. PML.

Pronunciation of Greek-alphabet letters

The article claims that "phi is "fie" to Britons and "fee" to Americans". φβκ in "American" though would seem to be "fie beta kappa" not "fee beta kappa": American dictionaries also seem to give the pronounciation "fi": is φ indeed pronounced as "fee" by most Americans? -- Someone else 02:25 Mar 22, 2003 (UTC)

I think it depends greatly on the context. As you say, "fie" appears to be the most common pronunciation when the letter appears as itself, but in a technical or scientific context it is almost invariably "fee" (as in "the oiler fee function" -- i.e., Euler's φ function, with stress on the "fee"). A check of my AHD gives "fie" and only "fie" as a pronunciation for the word phi. 03:04, 2 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Just to add a tiny bit to's point: Outside of scientific and Greek-language contexts (such as in names for fraternities), "fie" is almost always heard. Even scientists and classicists say "fie bayta kappa", though they would say "fee" when talking about the letter in their work. Most utterances of the letter come out as "fee", but most people call the letter "fie" (when they call it anything at all). --Atemperman 21:47, 29 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Dots in abbreviations

Regarding this time - Full stops/Periods in abbreviations - Americans tend to write "U.S.", "U.N.", "Mr.", "Mrs." etc., while most British will write "US", "UN", "Mr", "Mrs", etc. I regularly get letters from the UK addressed to 'Mr.' and from the US as 'Mr' as were always taught in Ireland that leaving outh the period was dead wrong. So NEVER write St when you mean St. (street or saint), never write Mr. or Mrs. without a period, etc. So whatever about U.S. versus US, saying that putting in a period is an Americanism not found in the UK seems dead wrong. STÓD/ÉÍRE 21:03 Apr 7, 2003 (UTC)

See Guardian style guide,5817,184844,00.html - for abbreviations and,5817,184832,00.html and Times style guide here - for saint. Mintguy
In common usage people in UK, Australia etc. do often use full stops after Mr, Mrs, but the house style preferred by most proper publishers is to omit the full stop for a contraction, i.e. where the last letter is included: so Str. for Street but Rd for Road. Gritchka 13:26 27 May 2003 (UTC)
An interesting new twist that I've seen, using US Postal Service-approved mailing software, is the preference for removing all periods in address information (but not names or titles). Such comformance also includes standardized abbreviations for street components and states, and combining two-line street data into a single abbreviate line. Thus, one commonly finds things like:
ACME Corp.
1500 N Fairfax Ave Ste 100
Mesa, AZ 85211
which translates to "1500 North Fairfax Avenue, Suite 100, Mesa, Arizona". Frankly, I've come to like it, especially since the postal clerks seem delighted to take my mail, and it always arrives quickly. I only wish more nations would adopt similar (but country-specific) formal condensations and abbreviations. I find it hard to cram seven lines onto some of my UK mailings! Sometimes bowing to the exigencies of the computer age can have its advantages. (I also learned of the much more logical British use of commas and periods with quotations this way.) ☺ — Jeff Q 08:57, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
I doubt if many addresses in the UK need 7 lines. Mailing software here also simplifies things. All that is required for a unique address is the house number/name and postcode, though the sreet name and post town are often included. People often like to "decorare" their addressses with district names and things that are not in the official address. For Example, an official address of
23 Bong St
could be written as
James Jameson,
The Retreat,
23 Bong St.,
Chapel Allerton,
The West Riding,
West Yorkshire,
Of course you would add ENGLAND if posting from abroad. See [1] for more info -- Chris Q 14:52, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
-- Chris Q 14:52, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Thanks for the info, Chris! — Jeff Q 16:04, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Confusion arising in the populace

changed .... which are likely to be misunderstood by most speakers of British English. to ... which could be misunderstood by speakers of British English.. I think that many younger English people have enough exposure to US tv and films to know these terms. There are a lot of people who wouldn't but I would not like to say "most"

Someone who assumes that all British are English, hmmm... Ah, well, Let's see if I can clarify this anyway. Exposure to TV doesn't have anything to with it. I speak from personal experience. I was once the first person (and only) person to attend a car accident in Scotland in which a car had left the road and dropped twenty feet down an embankment before landing on its roof. Luckily the occupant, a Californian, wasn't badly hurt -- a cut on his head -- but when I asked the fuel type (for safety reasons), he told me that it was a gas car. Now I'm well aware that Californians, normally mean petrol when they say gas, but this was a Californian in the UK driving a British car and cars in the UK may use Diesel fuel, petrol, or propane gas as fuel, so perhaps he really did mean gas. Whereas Diesel fuel or petrol are unlikely to explode, a damaged bottled gas tank is an extremely dangerous item for two different reasons. This was one case where it was better to assume that the car really was fuelled by gas rather than petrol and beat a hasty retreat, so we did. I was not going waste time to try and clarify things with someone who was possibly concussed when a possible explosion was looming over us.
The case where a single concept has an American word for it and a different British word, doesn't normally cause confusion. TV and film certainly help there (and most older people have had more exposure than younger people because they've been around longer). The problems arise with words like suspenders or gas where one word can be used for two different concepts. Normally the confusion doesn't matter but merely knowing what is probably meant doesn't mean you know what was actually meant. Sometimes the difference is obvious or unimportant but sometimes you really need to know. -- Derek Ross

Letter writing

Is there any empirical evidence for the following assertion, which I have removed from the article?:

  • Letter-writing: When starting a letter, Americans usually write a colon after the greeting ("Dear Sir:") while Britons usually write a comma ("Dear Sir,").

Seems doubtful to me. Jfitzg

I've seen the colon as at least an alternative in Am. usage, but I don't know how common it is. I can't recall ever seeing a colon in Br. usage. Gritchka

I was the one who added the assertion. I am British, and have seen Americans use colons many times, which I had never seen over here. However, sorry, there is a subtlety which I did not first realis/ze, that Am usage uses the colon only for a formal letter, while still using a comma for personal letters. A Google search with term "dear Sir" comma colon gives various references to this, e.g.: (section Colon) (scroll near to bottom)

Please could you reinstate the comment, but with the modification that the difference only applies to formal letters.


Thanks for the clarification. I didn't realize the British used commas in formal letters. More sensible, though. I'll restore it. To the right place, I hope. Jfitzg
For the Americans, do you suspect that we are here perpetuating some (possibly British) myth that Americans use colons in the salutation ?
I am American and I was definitely taught in school to use a colon after a salutation in a "formal" letter. However, I'd guess that because we Americans are so formality-averse the colon usage is very uncommon, as we maintain an air of informality even in formal situations. I guess this is because, at least in American culture, being extra formal about things often comes off as rude and/or condescending. But certainly letters addressed "To whom it may concern:" usually take a colon. --Nohat 20:24, 2003 Dec 14 (UTC)
A check of the style guide used when I was in secondary school (Basic English Revisited by Sebranek et al, fifth ed.) says (paragraph 153): "A colon may be used after the salutation of a business letter." Interestingly, I was taught a stronger rule than that; specifically, that a comma should only follow the salutation in informal letters. I have invariably hewed to this rule, but I wouldn't notice if all of my (preprinted form-letter) correspondence suddenly started arriving with commas (assuming it hasn't already). 02:59, 2 Jan 2004 (UTC)
The use of colons is to be restricted to business letters in the USA. Friendly letters use a comma. However, such niceties are no doubt eroding in the face of corporate takeover of our culture.Dogface 22:20, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

What about the ending of letters? In the UK the ending of a letter commencing "Dear Sir/Madam" ends "Yours faithfully" and one begining "Dear Mr (name)", ends "yours sincerely". I have seen Yours truly and yours very truly in the US but do not know the protocol of use. Dainamo 14:25, 21 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I don't think it's quite so hard-and-fast as you suggest British usage is. In formal letters, I think the single most common closing is "Sincerely yours", but there are several alternatives, any of which would be unremarkable: "Sincerely", "Yours truly", "Very truly yours", and probably a few others that aren't coming to my mind right now. JamesMLane 04:45, 22 Aug 2004 (UTC)

While meaning 'until'?

This bit: some Northern dialects, while means "until". Not knowing this caused a number of fatalities when automatic level (railway) crossings were first introduced with signs saying "do not cross the track while the lights are flashing"; people in the North waited for the flashing lights before crossing the line. Similarly instructions on equipment "do not press start while this cover is removed" have had to be changed for England.

Sounds like an urban legend to me. I asked about it on the Wordcraft board, and no-one British believed it to be true. Is there any evidence for it?


Chambers Dictionary gives 'until (Northern dialect)' as one sense for the conjunction and 'until (Shakesp; Northern dialect)' for the preposition. The admirable Michael Quinion at discusses BrE v. AmE use of 'while'/'whilst' but doesn't mention this traditional story, and I'm inclined to think he would know it if it was true. Gritchka

Yes, indeed. I agree that while can mean until in some Northern dialects, but I'd think this is largely in speech, and that even speakers of the dialect would have no trouble at all with the written "while". I just don't believe that "this caused a number of fatalities" or that there was good reason to change the equipment instructions, if indeed they were changed. Sounds much more like an urban legend popular because it puts "stupid Northerners" in a poor light; same family as "Irish milk-bottles have Open other end written on the bottom".

Pauld 10:16 28 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I've got an e-mail back from Michael Quinion scorning the story, so I think we can dump it. He agrees with your points that (a) the signs never said that, and (b) standard 'while' would certainly be understood standardly in context. Gritchka 17:17 28 Jun 2003 (UTC)

Thanks Gritchka. My perception (as a British writer) is that whilst and while are almost interchangeable, although whilst feels slightly more old-fashioned than while. As great efforts have been made in recent years to write signs and official documents in straightforward English, I'd be very surprised if they now "nearly always"" use whilst. As a google of a couple of UK Government departments' sites gives about four times as many hits for while as for whilst, I've rewritten the para. Pauld 00:34 29 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I changed the supposed reference to while in the story on Northern railway signage to whilst. If whilst was seen as meaning until then the sentence must have been used with whilst not while. If it used while there could have been no confusion. Also - saying that whilst seems slightly old fashioned is POV. Whilst is still widely in many parts of Britain and Ireland and is still widely used in legislation.

BTW re the above comment about the Irish and milk bottles, the Irish don't use milk bottles they use cartons and have done for many many years. FearÉIREANN 14:24 29 Jun 2003 (UTC)

It's while that is used by Northerners to mean until. (My husband's from Lincolnshire and they say it all the time, eg. "I'll wait while you're ready.") Whilst means something else entirely and would not be used on a sign like that, so I've taken the liberty of changing it back. Deb 21:45 29 Jun 2003 (UTC)
Yes, I have fixed the article. I removed the "not often used in speech" because in areas where while has a different meaning whilst is very frequently used in speech. -- Chris Q 06:33 30 Jun 2003 (UTC)

FearÉIREANN, my point was the the story about level-crossing fatalities is untrue, in the same way the the "Irish milk-bottle" joke is untrue. If the Irish don't in fact have milk-bottles, it's irrelevant -- the story isn't told by Irish people, and (presumably) it's not supposed to be true.

Chris Q, you didn't in fact "fix" the article, because the second para started "because of this" which you made to refer to the fact that official docs use whilst. Also the claim that official docs use whilst "to avoid misunderstanding" is POV, and has the feeling of the level-crossing story about it. I've tried a small re-ordering.

I've also restored aeroplane to the list of spelling differences; took it out (but not the American airplane) as one of a list of otherwise excellent changes. Not sure why he/she took it out. Pauld 11:33 30 Jun 2003 (UTC)

I guess it was removed because it was not a straight ae -> e substitution like the rest, in fact a different word rather than a different spelling. I will remove it again because I don't see it as a "spelling difference", but since it is a bit of a judgment call I won't argue or remove it again if anyone reinstates it. -- Chris Q 08:57 1 Jul 2003 (UTC)

Makes sense to me. -- Pauld 12:20 1 Jul 2003 (UTC)

While/Whilst, Among/Amongst, Amid/Amidst

As an American, I'd always choose the former in each of these pairs, and I rarely hear Americans say the latter. Is this a US/Britain difference? Fg2 07:37, Sep 16, 2004 (UTC)

The British and their acceptance of these demmend colonials

The most recent edit has made the following out of what was previously a badly formed sentence. "The British use the American spelling of encyclopedia as part of their language." I'm not sure this is what the original author intended. I certainly don't think it's true. Mintguy 18:50 24 Jul 2003 (UTC)

Well, yes, but before it said
The British accept use the American spelling of encyclopedia as part of their language. (My emphasis)
... which to me at least suggests that the American spelling has been imposed against the will of the British, but they accept it as something they have to live with, and so is arguable POV (of course, I agree with said POV, so...). Also, I agree that what it's been replaced with, as it were, suggests something that isn't true, but I can't think of a concise way of putting it that is NPOV.
James F. 19:15 24 Jul 2003 (UTC)
I've changed it. See what you think now. Pauld 13:25, 31 Jul 2003 (UTC)
That seems fine. Thanks.
James F. 04:09, 1 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Another source of information

I have another list that I have been working on for a while; will someone attempt to incorporate? --Kaihsu 05:40, 17 Aug 2003 (UTC)

Preposition of 'naming'

On Wikipedia I sometimes see something like "Washington State, named for George Washington, ...", whereas I would normally write "Washington State, named after George Washington, ...". Is this a British/American difference or is this just me being ignorant? Mintguy 11:30, 20 Aug 2003 (UTC)

The example in section 6 about double consonants in first syllables, i.e. that the 'a' in parrot is pronounced like the 'a' in sat, is simply not true for most speakers of American English. The vowels in, bad, bed, and bade are all the same before 'r', so for most Americans, the first syllable of parrot sounds like pair. Perhaps a better example of this phenomenon would be helpful. -- Nohat 04:06, 2003 Sep 11 (UTC)

Um, which "most speakers of American English" are you talking about? If I heard an American pronounce parrot as "pair-ot", I would assume they were from Fargo, North Dakota. AdmN 20:08, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)
PAIR-it would be a better way of describing how everyone *I* know pronounces it, anyway. Elf | Talk 05:40, 19 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In NYC, "PAIR-it" is virtually nonexistent. When I lived in Ohio and North Carolina, I would've expected to encounter it. Hence, my limited experience would suggest that "PAIR-it" reflects a Southern/Midwestern accent. I wouldn't be surprised at anything I heard out of California, because so many Californians come from somewhere else -- but if I heard a national newscaster use the word, I'd expect the a to rhyme with the a in sat. JamesMLane 03:55, 20 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Well, I'd say that the "a" in "parrot" would be /e/ or /eI/ in most of the Upper Midwest, not /{/, which the "a" in "sat" would be. /{r/ really isn't possible there, for the most part, except via eliding a phoneme between /{/ and /r/, thanks to the Mary/merry/marry merger. 02:40, 21 Aug 2004 (CDT)

Fixed.--Atemperman 22:06, 29 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Just plain wrong 'misspellings'

"But compelled, excelling, propelled, rebelling in both, although Americans also use exceling, propeled, rebeling."

What's up with this? I know American English and those spellings like "exceling", "propeled" and "rebeling" are just plain WRONG! Wiwaxia 01:15, 14 Sep 2003 (UTC)

Like the user who calls himself Someone Else, I also use "fie" for the pronunciation of "phi" at the university (or in any other context, for that matter).
arguement, exceling, propeled, rebeling - As Wiwaxia pointed out above (for the last three), these are just plain misspellings. They do not appear in Merriam-Webster and a Google search shows them occurring less than 1% of the time of their correct counterparts (except 'rebeling' at 1.6%). Spellbinder 12:00, 10 Dec 2003 (UTC)


You may not say 'drugs dealer' or 'sport page', but I do, as do many others, as does the BBC and other media outlets some times; it is a recognised common (and often thought more 'accurate', for some reason, not my POV) alternative to the form used exclusively in the Americas. I added the line:

Note that some British would now find this usage odd. point out that it is not wholly common. Please do not keep just reverting it to blankness.

James F. 23:47, 27 Oct 2003 (UTC)

"Sports page" is certainly the American usage. What else would you say? "Sport page"? RickK 23:55, 27 Oct 2003 (UTC)
Sorry, that was a typo. Corrected now.
James F. 23:59, 27 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Removed Note that some British would now find this usage odd. If you put it back please make it clear whether you mean they find the American or British usage odd. Personally "drugs delaer" sounds odd to me! Chris Q 08:27, 28 Oct 2003 (UTC)

Done. Please sign your comments on talk pages.
James F. 10:26, 28 Oct 2003 (UTC)


I agree with Seglea's summary comment - "(oh come on. This pluralisation thing is ridiculous)".

Doing a google on the exact phrases shows: "sports page" - 248,000 occurrences "sport page" - 19,700 occurrences and, in direct contradiction to what is stated, "sport page" appears to be MORE common in America, whereas it's listed as British usage in the article. (The first three occurrences are,, and the 'Ohio Wrestling Sport Page'.)

For the other phrase, we get: "drug dealer" - 135,000 occurrences "drugs dealer" - 1,290 occurrences I would agree from the google entries that "drugs dealer" is more likely to be British, but there are plenty of British examples of "drug dealer" - including the Guardian, Observer and the BBC. Indeed, James F's assertion that the BBC uses "drugs dealer" is not borne out by checking google counts for site - the BBC news site uses "drug dealer" 734 times and "drugs dealer" only 66 times.

Given this, the section is factually incorrect for both phrases given and I therefore deleted it. If anyone feels that there ARE noteworthy differences between British and American .. AND they can back it up with evidence (as opposed to just introspective examination of their own usage), the section needs rewriting.

Spellbinder 17:55, 11 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Please try to understand the difference between one-way and two-way implication.
However, I agree that the section is about what is possibly too much of a 'grey area' in as much as that considerable merging and commingling of the sections has occurred.
James F. (talk) 22:08, 11 Dec 2003 (UTC)


Although most American would write "meter", isn't "metre" (and "kilometre", etc. the OFFICIAL US Government spelling? RickK 07:09, 14 Dec 2003 (UTC)

I don't think the US Government puts itself in the business of declaring official spellings, but for what it's worth, the National Institute of Standards and Technology uses "meter". [2] --Nohat 19:52, 2003 Dec 14 (UTC)
no it isnt the governments official spelling. Kilometer is the official spelling of the US government. Alexandros 22:31, 14 Dec 2003 (UTC)

re: Greek oe

> Greek-derived words with ae or æ and oe or œ

Is this a British transliteration of omega with "oe", or of omicron, or of something else ?

I have never seen the word "esthetic." It is always spelled "aesthetic" in my experience. - Rob (American)

Yeah, I too see "aesthetic" at least twenty times as often as "esthetic". Same goes for "archaeology" over "archeology". I've fixed this on the page now. --Atemperman 22:12, 29 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Decimal point typeset using a center dot (middle dot?)

During the 1950s at least, in at least some British publications, the decimal point was typeset as a center dot or middle dot; that is,

π = 3·14159,


π = 3.14159.

Is this still true? (Can someone tell me more about how common it is/was and during what time period it is/was used so I can update my remark at Middle dot?)

Two examples of books in which this practice occurs.

  • Pearson, E. S. and H. O. Hartley, Biometrika Tables for Statisticians: Volume I, Cambridge University Press, Third Edition (1966) reprinted with additions. (Original publication was 1954).
  • Cundy, H. Martyn and A. P. Rollett (1954), Mathematical Models, Oxford: at the Clarendon Press.

The latter is particularly interesting because sections and illustrations numbered with ordinary periods, which are also used in the nomenclature for identifying polyhedra. For example, p. 96 is headed

3.7.2. Cuboctahedron. 3.42

Later on the same page, it says

So this text uses center dots as decimal points in numeric decimal fractions, but ordinary base-aligned periods in section designations.

Addresses: in or on?

Is it still common in British English to use in when referring to the location of something adjacent to a particular street (e.g., "His shop is in Mumblefrotz street") where an American would use on ("His store is on Mumblefrotz Street")? For that matter, how about capitalization and use of the definite article ("in the Willesden road" versus "on Williston Road")?

Certainly, it is "Upper Street" or "St Martin's Lane", not "Upper street" or "St Martin's lane" in British English. The use of 'in' as an identifier for an item at a specific street (as opposed to an area, where it is universally used) is still common, but 'on' is also used a lot.
James F. (talk) 13:20, 24 Jan 2004 (UTC)
I would say that in Britian you usually live in a street, but if it is clearly a stretch of road rather than a continous row of buildings, then you live on it. Thus you would live on The Great North Road but in Railway Terrace. Hilton Park services are on the M6.
As to capital letters, "the Telford road" would be any road that went to Telford (as in "Watling Street is the Telford road"), whereas "the Telford Road" would have to have that specific name. But that's normal English-language usage, not a British-English thing. Andy G 18:35, 24 Jan 2004 (UTC)
In American English, the form "the Foo road" in the way you are using it would be recognized as archaic, if not ungrammatical. We would never say "Waverley Street is the Ashland road", only "Waverley Street is the road to Ashland". 18:57, 24 Jan 2004 (UTC)

Missing/Extra Prepositions?

As an Englishman living in North America, I find one of the most blatant differences is the frequent dropping of prepositions in American English where they would be normal, or even compulsory, in British English. Examples:

"He resigned Tuesday" vs "He resigned on Tuesday"

"They appealed/protested the decision" for "They appealed/protested against the decision" (although the former has started creeping into British use in the last few years)

This doesn't seem to feature in the article - has nobody else noticed it or am I just overlooking it? And does anyone know how linguists classify this kind of usage? For example, in the American example above, is the word "Tuesday" a direct object? Cambyses 18:39, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I think that in your example, "Tuesday" is functioning as an adverb. Matt gies 18:12, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
I think that that example isn't functioning ;-)
James F. (talk) 18:57, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)
Well, in the sentence "He resigned yesterday," yesterday is acting as an adverb. In cases like "He resigned Tuesday", Tuesday is behaving the same way. I surmise that this usage has crept into normal usage from "headline style" English, which eliminates words not essential to meaning. As an American, the usage "He resigned Tuesday" feels slightly awkward, and I would probably use "on", but I wouldn't think too long about it if I read it.
As for protest, the OED lists meaning 7b: "To protest against (an action or event); to make the subject of a protest. Chiefly U.S"---so it would seem this usage of protest is indeed mainly American. On the other hand, most of the other meanings of protest don't require a preposition either. To me, the usage "They protested against the decision" seems unnecessarily wordy---if I were editing text and encountered that, I would probably strike out the word "against".
Also, if you add this phenomenon to the page, don't call them "missing prepositions", because from the American point of view, the British are "adding unnecessary words". Nohat 19:25, 2004 Mar 12 (UTC)

That's interesting. Now that I check, the OED lists "Tuesday" as a colloquial adverb as well as a noun, although I can't say I've ever heard it used as such by a British speaker. In NA this use seems to be common, even in quite formal writing, but Websters (online) seem to list "Tuesday" only as a noun. Curiouser and curiouser.... :-)

I'm not quite so sure the use of "against" with "protest" is quite as superfluous as you suggest. In England, the direct object of "protest" (when used at at all) is usually the viewpoint being put forward rather than that opposed. For example, one might "protest one's innocence" or "protest against one's criminal conviction". To "protest against one's innocence" would be something else entirely! BTW, I'm aware of the subjectivity of the phrase "missing prepositions" - hence the question mark in the title! Cambyses 19:43, 12 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Well, I can see how it might be necessary in British English, but this usage of protest, as in "protest one innocence", is pretty rare in the US, and using it likely to cause confusion. For the same reason I guess Americans don't use "against" because there's nothing to disambiguate. Nohat 02:49, 2004 Apr 15 (UTC)

That sounds about right. For what it's worth, I think this is one of those rare cases where UK English is definitely more logical! It is clear (and confirmed by the Oxford Etymology) that the word derives from the Latin "pro" (in favour of) and "test" (to witness, assert or declare). So to "protest" something should be to "declare in favour of" it, and the American usage is a rather bizarre reversal! Cambyses 14:23, 15 Apr 2004 (UTC)

Back on the original topic of missing prepositions--they crop up [or maybe DON'T crop up?] often in spoken language and go from there into writing. As a technical writer and editor, I'm putting them back in all the time because I know that it can make translation harder when these presumably unassuming connective words are missing. I agree that, in my experience, most Americans have trouble recognizing that they're missing in many cases. When I teach engineers "Better Writing", I include a section on prepositions and such. Elf | Talk 21:59, 5 May 2004 (UTC) (American English)Reply[reply]
When I teach writing, I encourage writers to eliminate words that don't serve a useful function and their absense doesn't change the meaning of a sentence. To do otherwise would be to encourage pleonasm. Extra function words get in the way of valuable content words. Nohat 23:05, 2004 May 5 (UTC)

There is a distinction, though, between obtaining a sentence which "has the same meaning" and one which "has no formal meaning but will hopefully be construed in the same way". Very often one can use different prepositions in the same place ("They met on/by/before/after/around/through Tuesday") to obtain quite different meanings. If you drop the preposition entirely, how is the reader to know which meaning is meant? The answer, of course, is that she applies local conventions to pick the most likely meaning ("They met Tuesday" -> "They met on Tuesday"). In places where prepositions are less frequently omitted, there is less familiarity with such conventions, so these sentences can be quite difficult to interpret. Cambyses 15:09, 6 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

In American English, dates may serve as adverbs, a situation which is encountered in British English as well. No one would say, "I'm planning to go to France 'on' this summer"; they would simply say, "I'm planning to go to France this summer". Just as pretty much any noun can function as an adjective, most nouns specifying a date can function as adverbs. --Atemperman 22:22, 29 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

Grammar: "Have" vs. "did"


American English allows do as a substitute for have (the full verb, in the sense of possess); in the past, British English did not allow this, but it is becoming increasingly common. American: 'Have you any food? Yes, I do.' British: 'Have you any food? Yes, I have.' Note that such substitution is not possible for the auxiliary verb have: 'Have you eaten? Yes, I have.' for both American and British English.

The last sentence is not (or is no longer) correct, in that "Have you eaten? Yes, I did." and similar responses are very common in spoken American English, and have been since I was a child 30+ years ago (back when I had the annoying habit of correcting adults' grammar). This may not be considered "proper" for written English, but I doubt many editors would take exception to it — certainly not for written dialog(ue). -- Jeff Q 18:06, 24 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Questions worded as "Have you any food?" are rare in American English; I think most Americans would hear that and "translate" it into "Do you have any food?", to which "Yes, I do." is the proper response. By the way, what is so special about the verb "have"? I hear "do" used to replace any verb, especially in response to a question where "do" is used as an auxillary verb: "Do you skydive? Yes, I do." Is this the same in British English?
I also hear "Have you eaten? Yes, I did." and the like in spoken American English, although it seems wrong in that what is meant is "Yes, I have", while the change of tense emphasizes the different meaning of "Yes, I did" (in this case the difference is trivial and silly, but one can imagine analogous examples where the meaning is important). Perhaps this abuse of the language is more common in American English, but I think it is an abuse of the language nonetheless, rather than just a matter of dialect. CyborgTosser 21:00, 28 Apr 2004 (UTC)

"Cot" vs. "caught" merger

I am from (and live in) the geographic center of the coterminous USA, and I (and almost everyone else I know here) pronounces "cot" as "kaht," and "caught" as "kawt." Any comments?

Yes. cot-caught merger clearly states that the merger is not universal; that is, there are many people who don't have it. Nohat 14:57, 2004 Apr 15 (UTC)
Thanks, Nohat, for the response. I re-read that article, and see that it states: Some varieties of North American English still have both the vowels [A:] and [O:], but [O:] is a conditioned variant that only occurs before certain sounds, particularly /r/ or /l/, and does not count as a separate phoneme. I, and others in my regional area, say [A:] and [O:] differently when it appears before many different consonants. However, I can easily understand it if someone isn't aware of this; I live in an area that is thought of as "flyover territory" (laugh). Maybe someone could do more research into this and do a modest re-write of cot-caught merger. Good luck to anyone intrigued enough to do this. —Catdude
Well, from my fly-to/from area (next stop Hawaii if you fly over it), I'll report the same. Certainly some people in northern California say "cot" for "caught", but not most that I encounter. I think the generalization in the article isn't a good one, and the qualification is inadequate. Dandrake 23:53, Apr 29, 2004 (UTC)
I spent the first 18 years of my life in California and didn't even know that anyone might pronounce "cot" and "caught" differently until I went away to college in New York. In my experience, the merger is nearly complete in California. I've done actual research on this, interviewing people from around the country, and my results generally agree with [3], although I found the merger to be more complete overall among younger speakers. The merger of low front vowels before /r/, however, was much more widespread than the /a/ /C/ merger. Nohat 03:25, 2004 May 4 (UTC)
In Indiana, we differentiate betwee "cot" and "caught" quite distinctly, therefore putting the lie to the claim that the distinction only appears when colored by sounds such as /r/ or /l/. Therefore, whomsoeover claims that these two words are not distinguished at all in American English tells a lie. My wife is from Massachussetts, on the other hand, and she could not distinguish between the names "Don" and "Dawn". So she kept calling women named "Dawn" by the name "Don". We finally taught her better. Dogface 22:28, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Commonwealth English?

There was some discussion about the use of "International English" versus "Commonwealth English" on The discussion there suggests that "Commonwealth English" replace "International English", and I agree. I have edited the "American and British English differences" page accordingly. --Atemperman 23:47, 29 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]

I think 'international' is better than 'Commonwealth' in the sense that it is the form of English used internationally; that is, most publications outside of both the Commonwealth and the USA use what one might term as 'Commonwealth English', even if speakers tend to use an American (or quasi-American) accent owing to the influence of films. For example, the European Union publishes all materials in this variety of English, even though, you will agree, it is hardly in the Commonwealth of Nations. It is also the (written) language used in, say, Ireland. In addition, 'Commonwealth English' would include Canadian English, which, it appears, follows many of Noah Webster's reforms (though certainly not all). The term 'international English', I believe, tends not to include Canadian English. On the other hand, the term 'international English' (or sometimes 'world English', though this has other meanings) sometimes refers to the English pure of all regional forms, thus neither British nor American, but that of second-language speakers. Bearing this in mind, I should say, it may indeed be better to use the term 'Commonwealth English'. Or we might as well say 'British English' and state in the introduction that what we mean by that is the English used in the Commonwealth of Nations and most second-language publications.
Also, in How to name numbers in English, you have changed one occurrence to 'Commonwealth English' when it in fact referred to this second meaning (in English, the usage of a decimal comma as a radix point symbol is restricted mostly to written pieces for or by non-natives).
Sinuhe 09:05, 30 May 2004 (UTC)Reply[reply]
Europe certainly isn't in the Commonwealth of Nations, but the UK, which is, is the principal English-speaking country in Europe, so it's no surprise that the EU publishes its material in British English. Likewise, most members of the OAS (Organization of American States) are not the United States, but since the principal English-speaking country in that organization speaks American English, the OAS's material is published in American English. American English is also the standard in many international or otherwise non-American academic, especially scientific, publications.
West of the Atlantic, not including, to some extent, Canada, American English prevails. East of the Atlantic, not counting Japan, South Korea, and, to my knowledge, the Phillipines, British English prevails. Neither has an overwhelming claim to being the 'international' English. I'll grant you that the combined population of people in countries where the English used is more-or-less British English excedes the combined population of people in countries where the English used is more-or-less American English, but that doesn't lend it more of a qualitative 'international' flavor.
For these reasons, and owing to the ambiguity of 'International English' that you mention, I think it's probably better to leave it as American English and either British or Commonwealth English.
With regard to Canada, I think the article specifies that it doesn't fit so neatly into either American English or British/Commonwealth English.
And thanks for the correction regarding How to name numbers in English. --Atemperman 18:44, 3 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Greek letters.

"epsilon is "epp-SIGH-lon" /Ep"saIl(@)n/ to Britons and "EPP-si-lon" /"Eps@%lOn/ to Americans". as a Brit i've never come across anyone pronouncing "epp-SIGH-lon". So if this pronunciation exists it may be archair. Therefore the only letter difference would be beta. Mintguy (T) 13:21, 16 Jun 2004 (UTC)

I've come across both pronounciations on both sides of the Atlantic, so agree that this is not a Britsh vs American difference. You and the article are right that beta does differ fairly consistently, as do all the letters which rhyme with it. (eta, theta, zeta and any others I've forgotten). Best wishes, Cambyses 00:34, 17 Jun 2004 (UTC)

I myself'd always heard "EPP-sih-lahn" /"EpsIlAn/; of course, that may be local, as I've practical always lived in southeastern or southern Wisconsin. OTOH, I've never heard that supposed American pronunciation of epsilon myself. That's not saying that other Americans don't pronounce it differently, of course. 02:50, 21 Aug 2004 (CDT)

"in (the) hospital" - capitalization of language names

Apparently, only American English uses "in the hospital", whereas elsewhere (including Canada) it is "in hospital". How did this one come about? It's not mentioned anywhere in the article.

Also, I remember being taught that that names of languages should only be capitalized if they are part of a name or title, such as "English 101" class, but not when talking about the english language itself. Again, apparently this is only in American English (or american english)? This seems one of the odd parts of the language, along with capitalizing days of the week (which I do only if it's really darn important and expected) and months (which I do), but not say, the seasons. Maybe this come from English being a polyglot of German (capitalize almost everything) and Latin (capitalize almost nothing)? –radiojon 06:54, 2004 Jun 23 (UTC)

As an American, I've never seen a capitalization like "american english." I would use lower-case in a few specific instances in which the word is not the name of a language (put english on the ball, french kiss). Otherwise, I would always capitalize language names, days of the week, and months, nor do I recall seeing any of these words lower-cased in any formal writing. JamesMLane 14:07, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Ditto. Elf | Talk 03:25, 11 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Americans use the older English practice. If one looks at 17th and 18th century English books, one will find a great deal more capitalization, sometimes going so far as the German practice of capitalizing all nouns (but usually not that far). British English dropped that practice while American English retained it. Dogface 22:30, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Some errors in this article

  • This opening sentence: When saying or writing out numbers, the British will put an "and" before the last part, as in "one hundred and sixty-two" and "two thousand and three", whereas Americans go with "one hundred sixty-two" and "two thousand three" is just wrong. Americans do tend to leave out the 'and' if there are zeros in the number, and certainly in a date, but it is standard to include the 'and' in large numbers in American usage.
  • The section on grammar does not include a significant difference: the use of the verb 'to try'; 'try and...' is allowed in British English, whereas it will always be considered incorrect in formal and written American English, where the correct form is 'try to'.
  • The section on building levels is correct, but leaves out the fact that many large edifices in U.S. cities use a Lobby or Street level, causing much confusion even among Americans.
  • Mintguy's comment on 'vet' being used for 'veterinarian' in Britain and 'veteran' in the U.S. deserves a mention. Yes, it would eventually be understood in context, but would be confusing when first heard.

Quill 23:39, 10 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Interestingly enough, I noticed your first point yesterday when I was reading this page but wasn't immediately inspired on how or whether to change it. We are certainly taught in school (hmmm, well at least I was, way back in mumble), that the "and" is part of the correct way to write out numbers; when speaking, it's often left off, but I think that in writing out numbers, say, on checks, the "and" usually makes an appearance. Elf | Talk 03:15, 11 Jul 2004 (UTC)
Interestingly, I've just noticed another difference between British and American English there. As a Brit, I learned things "at school", not "in school". -- Necrothesp 23:45, 19 Jul 2004 (UTC)
Well, I was taught in school (that is, in an American school) that "and" was incorrect in saying or writing numbers. The word appears on a check because it separates the integer number of dollars from the following fraction. I'll give three and a half to one odds that the use of "and" in that context is pretty nearly universal. But "Five hundred and six and 07/100" would look really odd on a check. OTOH the teacher who taught us this rule was an awful person and not an authority on anything; so I don't take the rule with much seriousness, merely following it by habit. Dandrake 04:46, Jul 21, 2004 (UTC)
In Britain, we would write "Five Hundred and Six Pounds and Seven Pence" (or variations of same) on a cheque, which would look perfectly normal (to me at least). -- Necrothesp 12:28, 21 Jul 2004 (UTC)
I strongly agree with your first point. It is exceedingly rare to hear an American not use "and" after the hundreds place in a number. Interestingly enough, I had a geometry teacher of Scotish origins who informed us that one should only use "and" to denote fractional values, as in "one hundred twenty three and six tenths." Most Americans, I believe, would use "and" twice in saying such a number, (although more commonly the fractional part would simply be spoken as "point six"). AdmN 06:22, 12 Aug 2004 (UTC)
As would every Briton I've ever met. -- Necrothesp 16:35, 12 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In the U.S., I don't think either usage can be called "exceedingly rare". I hear both "one hundred twenty-three" and "one hundred and twenty-three" (along with "one twenty-three"). JamesMLane 03:13, 15 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Say what?

Well, this is an amazing article! I'm impressed. However, as a speaker of American English and a student of linguistics, I find a number of the points listed to overgeneralize. I would say some of it is "incorrect", except that in most cases I've heard and/or used both constructs:

I apologise for editing 'inside' your writing, but I am sure you will agree it is much clearer to do this in order to address all your points.
  • "try to" vs "try and" I've heard and used both. It's definitely grammatical both ways in the trivial case of "Try [to/and] connect to the server." In longer sentences that may not be true...comments?
It is a colloquial but idiomatic expression. And yes, it can't be used in other forms of try:
  • He tried to [not and] connect to the server minutes ago.
  • He tries to [not and] connect to the server every day.
  • He is trying just now to [not and] connect to the server.
  • When I went to primary (public) school, we were taught that "Dear John," (note comma) is correct for informal letters, and "Dear Ms. Public:" is correct for formal letters. This is the usage I see in written correspondence on paper, but in the age of email these rules are losing ground.
I am not sure what you wish to say here. This is what is stated in the article. I have only got two letters from the USA with a salutation ending with a colon; both started with 'To Whom It May Concern:'. Never have I seen anyone, and especially not in the UK, begin with 'Dear Ms Public:'. In fact, even in formal correspondence from the USA, the salutation is usually 'Dear Sir,'. However, in my experience, British English writers nowadays prefer open punctuation, that is, without any punctuation in the salutation or the complimentary closing. 'Dear Sir or Madam' and 'Yours faithfully'.
Should we mention that the US practice is not to adhere to 'standard' British English rules for closings? That is, instead of 'Dear Mr Smith' -> 'Yours sincerely' and 'Dear Sirs and Mesdames' -> 'Yours faithfully', they would close both with 'Sincerely' or 'Cordially', I believe.
  • I have never heard anyone here say "two-hundred and sixty-three". We write it this way on checks (cheques, haha) for historical reasons, but that's about it. Maybe the President would say a number that way for effect, but I would be truly surprised to hear anyone else use it.
The article does say that the 'and' is used in British English, but not in American.
Yes, it does, but that's still incorrect. American certainly do write numbers with the 'and' (and not just on checks...or cheques....) and careful speakers say it as well. In any case, this article isn't only about written English; if it were, there wouldn't be this tremendous spelled vs. spelt fight going on below. Oh, wait...I forgot...those are pronounced differently in Britain, too--oops! 23:08, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)
"Careful" users? You mean, "those who speak like you"? RickK 23:11, Jul 20, 2004 (UTC)
No, that is not what I meant at all. What makes you think I included myself? It's perfectly reasonable to make a distinction between 'careful' or 'formal' or 'edited' speech, writing...whatever...and that which is informal. Really, there's no need for such sarcasm. In case you misunderstood me, I did not mean to imply that such usage was incorrect, rather that saying that Americans never used 'and' was incorrect. Quill 00:40, 21 Jul 2004 (UTC)
  • I do not believe that Americans often say "she resigned Thursday". Indeed, this usage will probably become ungrammatical in the near future as a result of the language favoring ever more complex noun phrases. One could say that, and it would be understood, but it strikes me (and others I have just asked) as a little stilted. In general, prepositions seem to be becoming more important as syntactic markers and as such are becoming more immune to deletion. However, one might read such a phrase in a newspaper, where paper space is limited and style favors brevity. This idea is corroborated by "I'll be here December" which strikes me as almost ungrammatical. This sentence would not occur in a newspaper, whereas "Dr. Public resigned Thursday amid controversy surrounding..." would be expected in a newspaper.
This usage is even now ungrammatical in British English.
  • "They suggested that he applied for the job" is right out. = ) I can't imagine anyone saying this here, and such a construction is completely alien to my verbal experience.
I agree – I have only ever heard the standard construction, viz '... that he should apply for the job'. The subjunctive-equivalents, as far as I know them, are should, shall, might and may.
  • As for the have/do substitution, I might expand on that with an explanation of what's going on. It's technically incorrect as-is, but this particular alternation in AE is not a strictly syntactic process.

Comments on any of that? I have grown up in the southwest US, where the English is alleged to be generic and people think "accents" are cool, so I think the items above reflect the "standard" usages fairly well (to whatever extent language is ever standard). It's all more complex than it seems; the above list is not meant as criticism but as food for thought. Jeeves 03:38, 18 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Sinuhe 08:29, 18 Jul 2004 (UTC)
The trouble with the internal commenting is that further comments would make it confusing as to who was saying what, so I'll put my comments here in a numbered list. I'm an American in NYC, and my comments refer to American usage as I'm familiar with it.
  1. try to/try and: I would consider "try and", if having the same meaning as "try to", to be colloquial -- common in speech, not unknown in writing by sloppy writers, to be avoided in formal writing.
  2. Letters: I was taught as Jeeves was. Most of the business letters I've seen used a colon after the salutation and a comma after the "Sincerely" or "Yours truly" or however they chose to end.
  3. Numbers: Unlike Jeeves, I've heard "two hundred and sixty-three" used in the U.S., although "two hundred sixty-three" or even just "two sixty-three" would be more common here.
  4. Prepositions: I don't know how often is "often" but the form "she resigned Thursday" isn't at all uncommon in my experience. It's less common for months unless modified -- I've never heard "she resigned May", but "she resigned last May" wouldn't seem at all jarring.
  5. Subjunctives: I agree with Jeeves that "They suggested that he applied for the job" would be unheard-of and unacceptable as a subjunctive substitute, i.e., if it meant "They suggested that he apply for the job" or "that he should apply for the job." If I read "They suggested that he applied for the job", I would take it as meaning that we weren't sure of the facts of what had happened and they were introducing their view. "The Democrats suggested that Bush ignored intelligence reports" means they're criticizing Bush for actually having done that, not that they're recommending he should do it.
  6. have/do: The current text about American usage looks right to me. JamesMLane 04:44, 19 Jul 2004 (UTC)
I'll second all James's comments here. Quill 23:08, 20 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Snipped Self-Ref

I snipped the following para:

The Wikipedia:Manual of Style accepts both British and American spelling, although recommending American spelling for American subjects and vice versa. Direct quotations and proper names – for example 'Pearl Harbor' or 'Sydney Harbour' – should go as written.

See Wikipedia:Avoid self-references.

chocolateboy 11:40, 19 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Spelled v Spelt

See /Spelled v Spelt. The discussion there ought to be refactored. [[User:Poccil|Peter O. (Talk)]] 23:02, Jul 25, 2004 (UTC)


Well, apparently my previous edit didn't get the entire 'summary' line through, so I suppose it's best to ask here. Is it really sensible to list both IPA as well as SAMPA here? IPA is, in my opinion at least, much more readable and comprehensible. Certainly it may be somewhat more difficult to type in, but if we're doing it anyway, we may as well drop SAMPA. Or is there a particular reason for including both? —Sinuhe 11:01, 13 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I think that the idea is that though IPA is more readable it may not be supported by as many browsers. Since nearly all modern browsers do seem to support IPA characters, maybe the SAMPA is unimportant. I would be reluctant to remove it though because it might be necessary for some "accessibility" (Braille) browsers and therefore very important to the small number of affected users. -- Chris Q 12:00, 13 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Do you think it would make sense to list only the IPA in the 'miscellaneous pronunciation differences' table and have an additional page with the same table using SAMPA? Or we could simply have the same table twice, once in IPA and once in SAMPA. I think that mainly having two phonetic transcriptions for each brand of English in the same table is what is making it more difficult to understand both in the article and especially in the edit box (the Wiki table code is much more confusing than HTML).
Alternatively, it might be sensible to have the Wiki software translate SAMPA into IPA and vice versa; we could have a tag such as <IPA> </IPA> and <SAMPA> </SAMPA> in the articles, and the software could convert them to the user preference on-the-fly, much like the dates. Of course it could probably only do X-SAMPA, not any language-specific SAMPA.
Still, even text-only browsers such as Lynx are able to display Unicode properly (at least mine does), and it is a popular browser to use for screen-reading. Do you happen to know in which browser it does not function properly? Why would accessibility browsers have more difficulty representing IPA than SAMPA? Do dictionaries for the blind use SAMPA? Can text-to-speech applications not make use of phonetic transcription? It should be even easier than converting real text! —Sinuhe 12:45, 13 Aug 2004 (UTC)
I really don't know which browsers have problems with IPA shows that there is a braille representation for IPA, I don't have time to see how closely it resembes SAMPA, so in theory braille devices could render IPA. I don't know whether any acually do though. -- Chris Q 13:38, 13 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Oh, that zero

The section on "Numbers" states that Britons woud sometimes use "oh" for zero, but that "Americans use the term 'zero' almost exclusively...." It previously referred to an exception for the use of "oh" in sports scores ("after the second inning, it was oh-and-two"), but Poccil now edited that our. In my experience, we Americans use "oh" in such cases quite often. In fact, it wouldn't be strictly for sports; someone going through his second unpleasant divorce might report sadly that he was "oh-for-two in the marriage department" (zero successes in two attempts). Or am I overgeneralizing from New York City usage? JamesMLane 08:25, 15 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Checking in from CA, "oh" is very commonly used. Elf | Talk 20:32, 16 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Also checking in from WI, "oh" is used very heavily, but never alone (only as part of a larger sequence of symbols or part of a non-zero number), where "zero" is used exclusively. 02:56, 21 Aug 2004 (CDT)
I think a more interesting article would be "Differences between American and American." ;-) AdmN 08:22, 21 Aug 2004 (UTC)
Standard practice in directory assistance applications, when reading the phone number, is to use "oh", not "zero". Nohat 06:48, 10 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Speaking as an American who's lived for many years in OH (Midwest), TX (Southwest), and VA (Mid-Atlantic/South), I would say that Americans do not use "zero" almost exclusively. In fact, "oh" is quite common:
  • Apartment #302 is usually said "three-oh-two".
  • Phone number 555-1207 would typically be "one-two-oh-seven" or "twelve-oh-seven".
  • San Francisco had a major earthquake in "nineteen-oh-six", or "aught-six".
  • A gas pump attendant charging $12.09 might say "that'll be twelve-oh-nine, sir", but never "twelve-zero-nine".
  • The CIA calls James Bond "double-oh seven" just like MI6 does, although for wood or ammunition, "00" would more commonly be pronounced "double-aught".
In fact, I'd suggest that the primary American uses for "zero" are:
  • Scientific and mathematical speech.
  • Transmitted speech, especially for transportation and military (e.g., "three-zero-niner").
  • Emphasis on failure. ("He has zero personality!")
  • In sports, as in a "15-zero" game. But, extending the sports example above, there are so many other ways that "zero" is avoided: "15-nothing", "15-zip", "15-love", etc.
Face it, "zero" is frequently replaced with "oh" (or some other nada term) everywhere in America. — Jeff Q 10:38, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Nine Nine Nine

With regard to telephone numbers, I think that the example of 999 as an example of the treble- construction is wrong. Certainly in the South East (RP and Estuary), I've only ever heard 999 pronounced Nine nine nine. Similarly for the new directory enquiries services e.g. 118 500 is pronounced ONE one eight five HUNdred. However, within a longer number the construction is used, e.g. 07700 900 333 would be pronounced OH double SEVEN double OH, NINE double OH treble THREE. Acanon 15:43, 7 Sep 2004 (UTC)

Yes, I agree. It's always "nine-nine-nine", never ever "treble nine". For your other example, though, I'd probably say "oh double seven double oh nine hundred three three three", which proves that these things can never be standardised. -- Necrothesp 16:22, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Or even OH double SEVEN double OH, NINE double OH double THREE, THREE. This seems to be used in phone numbers in a lot of TV adverts. -- Chris Q 06:15, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)


This section needs a little attention: "British speakers are most likely to follow the American model for words ending in -rary, where in careful speech some may feel obliged to distinguish the two r's. Thus secretary would sound /"sEkr@t@rI/ rather than /"sEkr@trI/."

Firstly, my RP pronunciation dictionary does not even mention the American pronunciations of words ending in -rary, and secondly, the word secretary isn't even an example of such a word! I have only heard this pronounced by British speakers as "seck-ra-tree". Livajo 10:15, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Well, the 'secretary' bit was corrected shortly after the original went in; in fact, before your comment was posted even.
The pronunciations of words in -rary are not American per se, but use the two-vowel approach described before in the text and termed American there. Thus, in careful speech, one wouldn't say library as /"laIbri/, but rather as /"laIbr@ri/ (although both pronunciations are acceptable). Some words only have the 'long' version, including the current example given (arbitrary). —Sinuhe 13:37, 18 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In my experience as a Brit. arbitrary is frequently pronounced in the short form as arbit'ry as well as long form Mintguy (T)

I removed the following since the preceding syllable is stressed so the stated rule does not apply. That's not to say it can't be amended. Joestynes 03:10, 19 Aug 2004 (UTC)

On the other hand, the word library can be pronounced as either /ˈlaɪbri/ or /ˈlaɪbrəri/.
In American, library is never pronounced /"laIbr@ri/, always /"laIbrEri/. [[User:Poccil|Peter O. (Talk)]] 07:35, Aug 19, 2004 (UTC)
I've always heard it as /"lAIbreri/ myself. Of course, in practice this wouldn't matter if one speaks a Mary/merry/marry-merged variant of American English, thanks to /er/, /Er/, and /{r/ all merging to /er/, in the first place. 03:50, 21 Aug 2004 (CDT)


I note the use of the word "Gotten" in American dialect to mean "to have got". Is this colloquial slang or a geniuine word in US Emglish? Dainamo 14:29, 21 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Americans use gotten instead of got as the past participle of to get in the sense of obtaining (but not possessing). 'I have got a toy' (= 'I own a toy') is the same in British as well as American English, but if one wishes to say that one has come to possess a toy, one would say 'I have gotten a toy' in American English. In British English, a more specific verb is usually used in such cases unless the meaning is understood from the context. As mentioned in the article, the expression "ill-gotten gains" retains the archaic form 'gotten' in British English. Sinuhe 16:21, 21 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In addition, Americans use get in a sense of become, as in "Let's not get ridiculous", and in some idiomatic expressions. Americans would say: "My old winter coat has gotten pretty threadbare, and I've gotten sick of it, but I haven't gotten around to buying a new one." In formal writing, I would use become instead of the first two instances of gotten in the preceding sentence, but even in formal writing I would use "gotten a toy" and "gotten around to" something. JamesMLane 04:33, 22 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Collective nouns

The article gives this example of different usage:

  • British English: "The Beatles are a well-known band."
  • American English: "The Beatles is a well-known band."

As an American, I think "are" would be much more common here. For example, a book about Beatlemania in America was titled The Beatles Are Coming. Also William F. Buckley, Jr.: "The Beatles are not merely awful. They are so unbelievably horrible, so appallingly unmusical, so dogmatically insensitive to the magic of the art, that they qualify as crowned heads of antimusic." [4] When the band name is singular in form, though, it can go either way; I wouldn't be surprised to hear either "Korn is awful" or "Korn are awful". Furthermore, many Americans will even use plural forms when talking about a corporation: "Ford is discontinuing that model because it doesn't fit into their plans." I personally consider this usage substandard but it's dismayingly common here. JamesMLane 14:58, 27 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I was the one who added that example. I should have given more examples or clarified. For instance, I wouldn't say "The Beatles are a band", but I would say "The Beatles are awful", but not "Korn are awful". The last sentence "Ford is discontinuing..." wouldn't sound strange at all to me. (I'm an American in New England.) [[User:Poccil|Peter O. (Talk)]] 15:17, Aug 27, 2004 (UTC)

To some extent, I believe many of us are not recognizing that this isn't a page to discuss the differences in speech patterns and pronounciation throughout the U.S. The article starts off by saying "For the purposes of this article: American English is the language spoken by U.S. government officials, network newscasters...." For instance, the British contributors aren't pointing out differences between Cockney and American English. I think one would be hard pressed to find an example of Peter Jennings or Tom Browkaw saying "The Beatles is a well-known band."

Actually, the suggestion that "U.S. government officials" may be used as a barometer for some sort of "standard" U.S. English is also questionable, (I offer the speech of the current president as example). It seems to me that it is only among our national broadcasters that one can find anything even remotely resembling the British notion of a received pronunciation. AdmN 16:16, 27 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I agree with AdmN that this article can't get into regional differences within the United States, and I'm one of those who needs that reminder. As for the specifics here, I'd expect a national newscaster to say "The Beatles are a well-known band"; I'd be very surprised to hear such a newscaster say "The Beatles is a well-known band"; neither construction as to Korn would surprise me. As for corporations, I believe that the use of "they" to refer to Ford is substandard, and I'd expect a national newscast or a formal government report to avoid it, but it's so common these days that I wouldn't be astounded if it appeared even in one of those sources. To return to the differences that are the subject of the article, I'm not convinced there's any UK-US difference in band references, but maybe the corporations thing should be mentioned, if no Commonwealth speakers would ever employ this usage. (In the U.S. it surfaces with regard to other large institutions, too, like universities or government agencies.) JamesMLane 09:32, 28 Aug 2004 (UTC)
In British English, pluralisation of collective nouns denotes the members of the referred unit as opposed to the unit as such. So because Ford is referring to the corporation, the sentence would read, in British English, 'Ford is discontinuing that model because it doesn't fit into its plans.' However, it would, according to Eric Partridge's Usage and Abusage: A Guide to Good English, be acceptable to say 'Ford are discontinuing that model because it doesn't fit into their plans.' (I should suspect that here a certain department and the management and so forth of Ford is what is warranting the plural, not the individual employees.) The mixing of the singular and the plural is nonstandard and, in my experience, not very common in British English. —Sinuhe 11:03, 28 Aug 2004 (UTC)

For those of us who are reading this long after the discussion, I would make two closing points. First, the original example, using a band name containing a plural noun, was unfortunately ambiguous. Someone has since replaced "The Beatles" with "The Clash", which accurately demonstrates the point in the article. Second, to add to the confusion, the Ford example above introduced yet another variable by its use of "their" in a potentially singular context (i.e., when combined with any correct use of "Ford is"). This is not, however, a U.S. vs. UK issue. It is known as the singular they, and has a long history in both England (back at least as far as Shakespeare) and in the United States. Although most of us have probably learned the prescriptive formula that "the pronoun they is only used in a plural context", causing many (like myself) to cringe at its use in a singular context, it actually predates the Latinate and occasionally illogical 18th century formalism of Robert Lowth et al., and is widely accepted in writing and on Wikipedia. It is the subject of an ongoing and often acrimonious debate at Talk:Singular they. — Jeff Q 08:34, 15 Sep 2004 (UTC)


Does anyone know why user User:Wereon just replaced the wiki-style italic markup for the HTML tags <i></i>? That just makes articles harder to edit, doesn't it? func(talk) 14:07, 6 Sep 2004 (UTC)

UK vs. US billion in math & science

The current text of this article states:

Other European languages bar Greek favour the British version. In British English, a billion is the second and a trillion the third power of a million, as the prefixes bi- and tri- respectively would suggest. In American English, a billion is the third, and a trillion the fourth, power of a thousand. For this reason, the British system is prevalent in the natural sciences and mathematics generally, and arithmetic particularly.

That last sentence may sound logical, given its lead-in, but it doesn't reflect my own experience in primary and secondary education in the U.S., right up through my B.S. in Computer Science with minors in Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy, nor my Master's level work in Electrical Engineering or CompSci. I've never read any math or science text that used the so-called "long scale" or "European numbering system". To be fair, all my texts were published in the U.S., as far as I recall, but since the U.S. is the source of a not-inconsiderable number of such texts (and of research and papers in these topics), I think the above generalization is far too broad. I can't speak for the "natural" sciences, but I'd say that math and the hard sciences are quite comfortable with the so-called American system. Which is more prevalent worldwide is certainly far from obvious to me. Is the above statement perhaps a reflection of primarily European math and natural science preferences? I must admit ignorance in this area. In any case, I think the text needs a little adjustment, or at least justification. — Jeff Q 07:04, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)

In my experience all serious science texts use scientific notation, and all serious engineering texts use SI prefixes. This is probably to avoid the ambiguity of the billion, etc. -- Chris Q 07:22, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC) (In England)
Please forgive my imprecision. I doubt anyone would disagree that the SI system is the recognized standard for scientific measurement, and that scientific notation is much more common in technical writing than terms like "billion" or "milliard". But even in scientific texts, prose often resorts to these words. I grabbed the first two books from my library that struck me as likely to use the word "billion" (or its British equivalent): Astronomy: A Cosmic Journey, 4th edition (by W. Hartmann; Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1982) and Introduction to Stellar Atmospheres and Interiors (by E. Novotny; Oxford University Press, 1973). The first is an entry-level college text; the second is a serious astrophysics text. Both make considerable use of the SI system and of ratios, which are frequently more meaningful that prose terms like "billion". However, the first occurrences I found in each text, randomly jumping around for likely sources of such prose, gave me the American "billion" (not "thousand million") in each case:
  • A sunlike star of 1 MSun stays on the main sequence about 9 billion years (9 x 109 y)…Astronomy, Hartmann, p. 380.
  • The stars at the lower end of the main sequence have scarcely evolved from their zero-age structures during the 5 billion years that the Sun has been in existence…Stellar Interiors, Novotny, p. 299.
What I meant to point out is that I never recall even once coming across a statement like "the Sun's age is 5 thousand million years" or "the human body has about 50 billiard cells". In fact, from what I read in the article on Billion, it would seem that only non-English speaking countries still use the échelle longue or "long scale" terms frequently, and they don't call it "the British system". Basically, I believe that there is no basis for making the claim that "the British system is prevalent in the natural sciences and mathematics generally, and arithmetic particularly", and I'm asking for evidence that refutes my belief. Otherwise, that statement should be removed, or, if possible, replaced with a more useful generalization or summation. — Jeff Q 10:06, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
That sentence is meant to contrast the statement above that in the UK, billion is used by the government and in the business world, which has since been deleted. This is to say, in British (and European) scientific and mathematical publications, it is usual for the European-style names to be used. —Sinuhe 12:08, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
As nearly as I can tell at fourth-hand, the truth is that the UK is experiencing a transition from the long scale to the short scale, that younger Brits are taught and accept the short scale, while older Brits display some resistance and conservatism. Americans who have grown up seeing the long scale identified as "British usage" in books and dictionaries believe it is still British usage. And books and dictionaries are only catching up to the new usage slowly.
In this regard, determining real usage is actually quite tricky. I asked User:Anthere, who is French, about current French usage with respect to "billion" and she replied that "billion" is not used at all and that everyone says "mille milliards." However, when I tried to confirm this with Google searches, I couldn't, so I don't know whether "mille milliards" is just casual colloquial usage, or what.... [[User:Dpbsmith|Dpbsmith (talk)]] 12:54, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
The short-scale billion is generally only used by media, government and big business in Britain. Since it's used by the media, it tends to get into everyday usage, but I suspect (and there is debate about this) that the natural inclination of most Britons, young and old, is still to define it as a million million. I think the comment about older Britons showing conservatism is therefore a little inaccurate. -- Necrothesp 15:18, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
I'm not British. And different people who are have made different assertions about this. That's why I said "determining real usage is tricky." I don't have any vested interest in this one way or another. Obviously, as with all matters involving usage change, it's a debated issue. Someone did assert that the short scale is currently taught in British schools, which if true would suggest that usage will shift with the demongraphics. Unless British kiddies have more sales resistance to their teachers than I did! What would you suggest as an NPOV way to determine state the situation as of 2004? [[User:Dpbsmith|Dpbsmith (talk)]] 15:51, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)
Not having been to school in a long time, I can't vouch for what is taught in British schools. Although I have to say that when I was at school we were never taught what a billion was - it was so large as never to be used in normal speech or even in maths. The best way to state the situation, in my view, is just to link to the billion article, which presents the differing viewpoints much more thoroughly than could be done here. It's one of these issues that seems to have irreconcilable views. -- Necrothesp 16:16, 14 Sep 2004 (UTC)

What's with the building floors thing?

Everytime I read this article, I see something new that makes no sense. ;-) I have been in numerous office, commerical, and residential (apartments, hotel) buildings throughout the cities of Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, etc., and I cannot ever recall seeing a first floor that was called the "first" floor. They are invariably referred to as the lobby-level, street-level, or ground floor. Perhaps the person who added this bit is referring to somewhere in the western part of the U.S.? If you're talking about someone's 2 or 3 story house, then yes, the first floor is the "first" floor, (it would hardly make sense for a home owner to refer to their "lobby"), but otherwise, buildings in general start their floor numbering on the second floor. I vote that we rename this article to What people seem to think are the differences between American and British English. ;-) func(talk) 02:54, 25 Sep 2004 (UTC)