Saturday, February 11, 2012


I know, I know. This blog post is about one of the most cliche topics you could possibly imagine:  Brit v American pronunciation (not to be confused with accents...)

For some strange reason, the past few weeks, the topic seems to be a constant source of commentary both from myself as well as my colleagues, friends, and, I thought it worth comment on my blog.  I know we're all aware of tomato/tomahto, but there are a few that keep cropping up that I don't remember hearing until I moved to London...
  • in the past tense of 'eat'.  Americans pronounce it like the number 'eight.'  Simon pronounces it 'et'...until quite literally a few hours ago, I thought this was the spelling of the word-and a new ***'British verb tense', but just learned that he is indeed saying the word 'ate.'
  • Rioja...Americans pronounce this  'Ree-o-ha.'  I presume this is due to the Mexican/Spanish pronunciation influence on us-ie 'j' is pronounced like 'h'.  Brits pronounce it 'Ree-ock-uh', which I think is a more Catalan/Spanish influence, as there's slightly more back of the throat sound on the letter 'j' from the Catalans.  Regardless, it's like nails on a chalkboard to me.  
  • in a turtle-like animal.  We pronounce this as 'tor-tuss'.  Brits say, 'tor-toy-ss'...which, given the spelling, makes perfect sense.  Plus, it just sounds really lovely to the ears.
  • Herbs..This one is probably a commonly known difference.  Americans say 'erbs'.  Brits pronounce the 'h'...sounds a bit funny, but let me ask you this: how do you say  'Herb' or 'Herbie' if in the context of a person's name?....I think the Brits get a point on this one.
  • Urinal...Ok. It's not like I utter this word daily, but I still remember the first time I heard Simon say this word-I actually had to stop and figure out what he was saying!  We pronounce this word, 'your-uh-nal'.  Brits say, 'your-I-nal.'  Cause for pause, no?
  • Oriented..this one isn't technically a grammar issue.  This is strictly a mis-pronunciation, that Simon called to my attention last year as one of his pet peeves, and it's since become mine.. Oriented to (most) Brits is said as 'oreintATed'...sigh.
***And, though not related to pronunciation, it's a major grammatical difference that I do hear all the time-and it's starting to creep into my vocabulary.....the word 'sat'. [Confession:  grammar was never my strong suit, so the British verb tense could be correct]. Brits will say, 'have sat' as in;  "I have sat the bag on the ground.'  I would say, 'I sat the bag on the ground' 'have.'  I don't ever recall hearing 'have sat' (in that verb tense) in the US, so this one is a bit of an enigma to me.

What else?  What are some of the more uncommon pronunciations that you've heard on either side of the pond?...


  1. I remember as a kid having a hard time remembering the spelling of 'ate' because I pronounced it 'et'.

  2. Buh-NON-uh (Banana)
    Pitt-a (Pita)
    Chor-ITZ-oh (Chorizo)
    GAIR-edge (Garage)

    I notice lots of Brits just make up their own pronunciation for foreign words (ie pita, chorizo) rather than say it correctly, which bugs the hell out of me...

    1. Whoever pronounced banana like that was having a laugh with you, I reckon. Never heard it pronounced like that before.

      I pronounce it as 'ba-nah-na'. Pretty much as its spelled. I'm curious to hear the American pronunciation now.

  3. oh my goodness, ur-EYE-nal kills me. I refuse to acknowledge it!

  4. Hi Kristina
    I've been reading your blog for a while and wanted to finally say hi! I am moving to the London area this fall from San Francisco to finally be with my British boyfriend and your blog has been a great source of info and wonderful stories. This post in particular really grabbed me because I think pronunciation differences on words present in both British and American English can be both funnier and more "forehead smacking" than vocab differences! And I cannot take the British pronunciation of urinal, it somehow makes the word *more* disgusting!
    Anyway, good luck with your move back to the states as I head in the other direction!

  5. Now that I'm working in a British office I have noticed so many differences!

    Hech as H

    And of course I'm drawing a blank right now. haha

  6. 'orientated' is not a mispronunciation. It's a word (so says the Merriam-Webster dictionary anyway.) But yes, it means the same thing as oriented :-)

  7. Thanks for the giggle. I'm sitting my my in-laws home reading, waiting for Sunday roast. I asked them all to say each of the words. :D I hadn't heard Ur-I-nal before! One that drives me crazy is Paella as pie-a-la.

  8. The pronunciation of the "z" sound seems different and strange to my ears. For example, in the US we've always called Ibiza "IbiZa" with a "z" sound but I see the British call it "Ibitha". There was another word I heard like that but I can't remember now for the life of me what it was...

    1. I think the 'Ibitha' thing is more to do with the Spanish pronunciation. It's an anomaly that's always struck me as odd too, and I'm English. We usually pronounce Z the same way as the Yanks.

  9. Aluminium!!! The US is the only place in the world to spell the word without that last "i." While my husband or I talk about aluminum foil or cans, the locals give us a funny look and have a lot of fun telling us we're saying it wrong, that the correct way is alumin-EEE-um!

  10. are SO right about the pronunciation of 'urinal!' I could never quite put my finger on it until you commented, but that's exactly the way I feel!
    @Almost American...I'll have to point my husband to Webster...nice one!

  11. This was a funny read. Obviously, being English, I think that it's the American pronunciations that sound funny!

    Typically, if an English person says the word 'erb, they're referring to the Caribbean slang for weed. So, it's always funny to hear an American say the word 'herb'.