In the US words like class, subject, course are used to describe a university class, while in the UK, words like subject and course are used to describe the name of the whole university degree. Instead in the UK words like module or unit are used to describe a university class.

Is there a word that will be understood by both British English speakers and American English speakers?

UPDATE: by university class I meant a series of lectures on a topic e.g. "Economics 101" or "Introduction to Statistics".

  • great question!
    – Fattie
    May 20 '14 at 19:05
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    As a Brit, I found it hard to understand your question, because I didn't know what a class meant. We don't usually use that word at all in connection with college or university, but only school (which means high school or elementary school), and it refers to a single session with a teacher. From your question, I deduce that to you it means a series of sessions on a subject - what I would call a course. In answer to your question, I doubt it.
    – Colin Fine
    May 20 '14 at 19:08
  • Colin Fine, it's worth making another point for the benefit of non-British people reading your comment. In the UK, the terms high school and elementary school are not normally, used. They are called secondary school and primary school.
    – Tristan r
    May 20 '14 at 19:51
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    Here to confirm that course also works in Canadian English. It seems to be rather universal term, perhaps the best one to answer this question.
    – Anonym
    Jun 6 '14 at 19:38

After a bit of research I came to a conclusion that it's hard to use a single word to explain the concept to both UK people and US people.

I found that among UK universities the word module is widely used to describe a series of university lectures on a topic e.g. "Economics 101" or "Introduction to Statistics". Although there are a few universities that interchangeably use both module and unit.

In the US however, I found that word course is used by universities to describe a series of university lectures on a topic. In contrast, UK universities use word course as well as word subject to describe degree names e.g.: A 3-year course in Anthropology or A table of subjects provided at university.

As such, I'd recommend using word module in the UK and word course in the US to describe a series of university lectures on a topic.

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    Module works just fine among Americans too, although there may be some expectation that a course contains more than just one module. (Really, there will be no problem when module=course, but the connotation may be that "this module was so important it was given its own entire course")
    – Ben Voigt
    Jun 6 '14 at 21:08

Unit works for both US and UK. I work for an international company and do the LMS. The words course and unit are almost interchangeable. The only issue for US universities is sometimes they calculate hours in units, but that should almost help your language barrier.


Period, perhaps? If you mean each day's lesson rather than the subject as a whole.

Since Australian English is a mash-up of American and British English, I thought I'd add a bit to the comments above.

In high school (approx ages 12-18), the subject would be Maths or English and a class or period would be the 75-minute lesson for that day.

  • In university, say you were undertaking a Bachelor of Arts in Communication (Writing and Cultural Studies), that would be your degree.
  • Your courses are the one of three or four subjects you take each semester, e.g. Genre Studies.
  • Your classes are the day-to-day lessons you attend for your subject/course, these can be either lectures or tutorials, but mostly in reference to tutorials as these take place generally in a classroom.
  • In my experience, modules are topics within your subject/course, e.g. a different genre of writing each module.
  • Then moving on to units, in Australia, these correspond to each subject and signify their weight to the overall number of units that need to be completed to finish your degree.

I know you weren't asking about Australia but I've often found that Australian systems are very similar to UK and US ones. Hope it helped a bit!

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