I have read that saying British English is too specific, and that I should say English English.

Is that true?

When I say British English, what do people think I am referring to?

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    Isn't Scotland part of Britain? What would you call their variant of English? – mmyers Aug 17 '10 at 18:00
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    Unintelligible? (I jest, I jest.) Scottish English does have some variations from "English English" -- if I were speaking specifically of Scottish English, that's what I would call it. – J.T. Grimes Aug 17 '10 at 18:12
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    @ukayer: Neither Scots nor Scottish (Gàidhlig) is English. – Jon Purdy Feb 23 '11 at 6:46
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    @Aequitarum Custos: Actually, Great Britain doesn't include Ireland (not even the Northern Ireland); to include Northern Ireland, you should say United Kingdom. British Isles includes the United Kingdom and some smaller islands. – kiamlaluno Feb 23 '11 at 22:49
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    @kiamlaluno Interesting, just looked it up and there is an en_IE for Ireland. Never knew that, thanks! – Brett Allen Feb 24 '11 at 16:05

11 Answers 11


There is no standard term to describe the English spoken throughout the United Kingdom, because the English spoken in Northern Ireland is so different from the English spoken in Great Britain that it is usually included with Irish English (or Hiberno-English). The term British English is generally used to refer to the English spoken in Great Britain, including Scotland, England, and Wales. Welsh English and Scottish English are the terms for the specific dialects spoken in those countries, and the term English English is used sometimes to describe the English specifically spoken in England. Often British English is used to refer to English English in contrast to Scottish, Welsh or other varieties of English.

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    Where does "Queen's English" and "King's English" fit? – oosterwal Feb 23 '11 at 21:57
  • For an AmE speaker, 'English English' refers to the English language spoken by -real- English people which, contrary to the usage there, means everybody in the UK (Scots, Irish, Welsh, and of course the Little England English. See The difference between British and English. – Mitch Jul 19 '12 at 19:36

I think most English speakers would understand the term "British English" and know that you don't mean the dialect spoken primarily in America. No English speaker would use "English English" to denote that dialect.

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    “English English” is in fact a term of art used in linguistics to describe the dialect of English spoken in England. – nohat Aug 17 '10 at 18:28
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    @nohat - good term of art, but not something you are likely to hear a Brit use. We're more likely to use "English", you know, the original, old skool one:-) – ukayer Feb 23 '11 at 3:48
  • "English English" ... does not exist exist in common usage – hawbsl Feb 23 '11 at 11:03
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    @English English is also pointless, Cockney-Yorkshire-Scouse-Geordie has a much bigger variation than between BritishEnglish and AmericanEnglish – mgb Nov 9 '11 at 0:51
  • @mgb An extremely important point. We all love convenient labels (and I'm certainly not an exception), but 'British English' is a term that is used to describe a disparate agglomeration. We should be very wary of using 'BrE' and 'AmE'; there are doubtless as many ideolects as there are us learners trying to tame the beast that is 'English'. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 20 '19 at 11:51

I have read that saying British English is too specific,

British English is less specific than English-English (I've never come across this before). Even inside England there are regional dialects, so where would you stop?


As an Englishman I think it should be just 'English'.

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    Or Proper English ? – mgb Apr 19 '11 at 1:26
  • Agreed. English English = just 'English' as distinct from US English, Caribbean English, Indian English, Australian English etc. etc. – 5arx Feb 27 '12 at 11:22
  • And do you think even throughout London the language is the same? – GEdgar Jul 19 '12 at 18:59
  • No. "English" refers to the whole family of dialects, including American English and all the other Englishes. How do you propose that somebody should say "I speak American English, not British English" in your proposed terminology? "I speak American English, not English" is contradictory; "I speak American, not English" makes it sound like they're two completely unrelated languages. – David Richerby Aug 13 '14 at 8:09

"British English" is only too specific if you're trying to speak of "English as spoken by everyone except Americans and Canadians." I might call that "Commonwealth English" but I'm not sure. I think that "English English" is the term that's too specific, since it leaves out the Scots and the Welsh.

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    As a Canadian, I would understand 'Commonwealth English' to include Canadian English. Canadian English is closer to American English than are, e.g., Australian and Indian English, but we do spell it 'colour.' – vanden Aug 17 '10 at 18:32
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    Because Canadian English is so similar to American English (aside from a little pronunciation, usage of "U"s and the word "zed"), I tend to presume that everyone knows that when I exclude Americans, I'm excluding Canadians too. Obviously, I'm wrong and I apologize for impugning your Commonwealthiness. – J.T. Grimes Aug 17 '10 at 19:33

British English is perfectly fine and is mainly used to mean "not American English". It is only used when you actually need to differentiate between the two.


I have read that saying British English is too specific, and that I should say English English. Is that true?

Hum, well, what do you mean by "British English" here? The question is a bit too vague to really answer.

The traditional term for the form of English pronunciation used in the south-east of England and the middle or upper classes was "received pronunciation". In the recent editions of the Cambridge pronunciation dictionary (was originally Daniel Jones's dictionary) this is now called BBC English.

What do people understand when I refer to British English?

I would guess that you were talking about spelling differences.

  • I would also add word usage differences as well when talking about British English, but in its written form the spelling differences are probably most noticable. – Colin Mackay Aug 18 '10 at 8:23

I would take 'British English' to refer to the varieties of English spoken in Great Britain, i.e., English, Welsh, and Scottish English, primarily. (I'm not clear on edge cases like the Isle of Man and Isle of Wight).

More loosely, it would also cover the English of Northern Ireland.

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    Wight. But I doubt there are significant differences between the English spoken there and in Bournemouth. – Peter Taylor Feb 23 '11 at 8:27
  • Certainly less than between Janner and Geordie. – bye Feb 23 '11 at 16:20

British English is misleading as a term. It gives the impression that there is somehow, just one form of English that is spoken exactly the same, all over the UK. It's really more of a collective term for the different forms of the language, within the UK. Covering what is literally English (the language used in England) and the other, non-English British forms.

  • Every thing is complex. 'British English' is an approximation for all the varieties you mention. Think of it as more accurately -excluding- varieties like AmE, AustE, etc. – Mitch Jul 19 '12 at 19:32
  • Yes, you're right. However, it doesn't do anything to distinguish the English used in England. It seems that there is not one, agreed-upon term for that. – Tristan Jul 19 '12 at 19:52
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    IN the linguistics/language literature, 'British English' is the one accepted term for it. There is a coherent concept with that label. Does anybody actually speak exactly that? Yes, and within the island of Britain it may not be a majority that do it without any local coloring, but it is a recognizable thing. – Mitch Jul 19 '12 at 20:30

Methinks English would be appropriate to refer to British English while other variants would be qualified with the corresponding type, like American English and so on.


I would call the English spoken in Great Britain just "British". I would similarly call the English spoken in America just "American". Linguistically, there are precedents for this: The Spanish spoken in Mexico is just called "Mexican" now, and so on (outside of academic contexts, etc.). So, as "Mexican" is understood to be short for "Mexican Spanish", so "British" is understood to be short for "British English", and "American" is short for "American English". Yes? And lest someone complain about the differences among speakers of British - think about the poor Americans! There, even when speakers from different parts of the country can understand each other, they're often offended or disgusted by what they hear! So, all Americans speak American (-English), but you wouldn't think so if you could hear some of those curious accents, twangs, and drawls!

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    'British English' is the term used by linguists to contrast the variety spoken in the UK with other varieties. – Barrie England Nov 8 '11 at 21:47
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    @Jone Dae - the term British is never used to describe the English language as spoken by British people. The language is called English - it has sub-variants that can be denoted by appending a qualifier, but you always need the language. Using your scheme, what would you call the variant of Spanish spoken by Americans? American as well? Similarly, the name used by the Irish, when speaking English, for the gaelic language spoken in Ireland is 'Irish'. But following your scheme, this name would have been taken up by Irish English. – tinyd Nov 10 '11 at 9:35

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