Ground floor – First floor:

  • In British English, the floor of a building which is level with the ground is called the ground floor. The floor above it is called the first floor, the floor above that is the second floor, and so on.

  • In American English, the floor which is level with the ground is called the first floor, the floor above it is the second floor, and so on.

(Collins COBUILD English Usage)

Though there are exceptions to the above-mentioned usage,( and exceptions are not the issue here) in public buildings in the U.S., for instance, it’s also possible to call the street-level floor the ground floor, like in Britain, but how come that in the UK and Europe the ground level floor and the first floor are respectively referred to as the first floor and the second floor in the U.S. (and so on for higher floors). Was it a custom imported into the U.S. from a different culture?

Related:"Ground floor" vs. "first floor".


3 Answers 3


You can read this article and make your own assumption about why Americans use such a system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storey#Numbering

In my opinion, when you use the word "floor", you should start from 1 (on the ground). Because you have a floor (surface) there, don't you? This is logical.

  • So your answer is that it is because Americans just adopted a more logical numbering system compared to the rest of the world?
    – user66974
    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:11
  • I like the wiki link. It's interesting.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 10, 2015 at 10:27
  • 2
    My answer is that European system is just a historical legacy. Although as a programmer I can understand counting floors starting with 0.
    – user82734
    Apr 15, 2015 at 9:01
  • 4
    Actually if you want to be logical, ground should be zero, because then the levels below ground (basement and beyond) start from -1. Every floor's number tells you how many stories you are away from ground level, and in what direction, which is mathematically consistent.
    – JBentley
    Feb 17, 2019 at 14:46
  • @JBentley if you live on floor on ground. If inside house- 1st floor. You go out of house- 0. Basment just basement or call -1 if need number for just one basement.
    – Kangarooo
    Mar 12, 2019 at 14:33

The American convention is that the floor inside a building which is on the ground, is called the first floor and the floor above that is called the second floor and so forth.

Why the difference?

This is my theory: The term ground doesn't need to be qualified, there is no such thing as a ‘second ground’ whereas any building can have one or more floors or storeys. Neverless in many hotels, the first floor is often referred to as a lobby

First Floor/ Ground Floor
In the US, the first floor of a building is also the ground floor, but in Europe the first floor is the floor above the ground floor, and the second floor is the one above that. This is important information for novice American travelers trying to find their hotel rooms.
Paul Brians’ Common Errors in English Usage

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Images from English Club.com

An American native speaker on Word Reference writes

We use "ground floor" and "first floor" interchangeably. If you walk up a flight of stairs, you reach the second floor, whether you call the floor you started on the ground floor or the first.

Similarly on a different English language forum, a native speaker confirms

In the US, “ground floor” and “first floor” mean the same thing and are used interchangeably. Usually elevator buttons marked ‘B1’, ‘B2’ etc. do indeed refer to “basement”. Sometimes they will say ‘LL1’, ‘LL2’, which stands for “lower level” (but still means “basement”.)

  • Yes, but from a more basic perspective, what we in Europe call ground floor, basically the floor at ground/street level, is what Americans would naturally call first floor. There are many exceptions and complications with big buildings but still the distintcion remains, and it is something typical of the U.S.
    – user66974
    Apr 10, 2015 at 9:50
  • @Josh61 yes, but Americans have a knack for simplifying things, and there will always be exceptions, especially where language is concerned. But as for "why", the ground is the ground, you can't go up a ground, but you can go up a level/floor/storey.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 10, 2015 at 10:02
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    @Mari-LouA India and most of Asia (perhaps not China and Japan) use the European system, as do most former British administered countries such as those who drive on the left. Australia has tried to be clever and abandoned the word floor. They talk about Level 1 (ground), Level 2 (First floor) etc. All this is fine until you go to the massive new Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which is built on two levels. What is the Ground on one side is the first on the other. And their numbering system's a nightmare!
    – WS2
    Apr 10, 2015 at 11:00
  • 1
    Once buildings are going down as well as up, I'd say that zero for ground-level is the most logical. I've worked in buildings where the buttons in the lifts/elevators are numbered 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, -1, -2. What could be neater? Apr 10, 2015 at 15:11
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA, yes, I'm a Brit, who'll admit that where there's a Brit/Us divide, it's more often the US word that's most logical [sidewalk and thumbtack say what they mean, unlike pavement and drawing-pin], but the mathematician in me likes ground-level = zero. Apr 10, 2015 at 15:42

I was taught (Anglo New Zealander with 20 years in Europe) that

a) a building has a floor on the ground, the ground floor

b) an additional floor is added and it's the first [extra] floor. BTW this will have to have a proper structure rather than beaten earth which many ground floors used to be when animals lived on the ground floor and the people lived above. So "first" would also refer to the first separate structure of a floor.

Just as logical as any other numbering system.