Is it correct to say "British English" or "English English" or simply "British" when taking about the language used in the UK?

I've seen people write English English too somewhere. Do they refer to England when they say that or UK?

3 Answers 3


You call it British English. People do that on this site all the time.


the native language of most inhabitants of England; especially : English characteristic of England and clearly distinguishable from that used elsewhere (as in the U.S. or Australia)

  • 1
    I have had this argument many times on this site, but I believe there is no single system of English spoken in Britain, widespread enough for it to be described as "British English", conveniently written by some as BrE, to rhyme with AmE, or AusE, or IndE. Oh, that it were that simple! In fact many of the dialects spoken in the British Isles, such as Scots, Geordie, Scouse etc can differ as much from the English of the BBC as does American or Australian English. Whenever I refer to English as spoken in Britain, I often qualify it in some way. American English is far more standardised.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:01
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    @WS2 Point well taken. But I would note that the spectrum of dialects in the U.S. is likewise quite wide. From Bostin Brahmin to Texan, and also across ethnicities. Maybe my perspective is biased as someone from the U.S. Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:06
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    John Lawler, an American professor emeritus of linguistics, and frequent contributor to this site has said that nothing about dialect variation quite prepared him for what he found when he first came to Britain. If I drive from where I live to Edinburgh, a distance of 400 miles, I could encounter six or seven completely different accents. The other odd thing is that this dialect variation is greater than you find in other European countries. A Russian specialist has told me that in that vast country they have nothing like the variation which Britain has. And nobody really knows why!
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:16
  • @WS2 Interesting, I've learned something new. I would have guessed that it had something to do with the length of time English has existed on the British Isles compared to its presence in the U.S. or elsewhere, but if it stands out even among other European languages, then I guess it's an anomaly indeed. Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:23
  • And another odd thing is that the children of migrants who come in from places like India, quickly adopt the local dialect of where they live. My own grandson, born in Manchester, spoke classic Mancunian. For the last two years (now aged 12) he has been living in the Birmingham area. And now you wouldn't think he had had a day of his life outside the West Midlands. He speaks Brummie to perfection. Older people tend to retain their original accents.
    – WS2
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 20:37

There are parts of Scotland, Ireland and even Wales where equating British English with the native language of most inhabitants of England could be offensive enough to get you sent to Coventry; perhaps much worse.

Even within Great Britain, let alone throughout the British Isles, the very idea that British English exists except as a hugely over-generalised contrast to however many other varieties thrive in the wild is simply risible. Even WS2 is pushing it, citing Scots as a dialect at all, let alone of English.

Many believe the best English in the world is that spoken in Edinburgh but that can be at least as different from, say, Glasgow English as Maxwell Q Klinger’s is from Charles Emerson Winchester III’s. Scots might overlap English but if it’s a dialect, that’s rather stretching the definition… in which many a Scrabble player exults.

It’s strange, today, to speak of the English of the BBC. Even 50 years ago, audiences were starting to notice first other accents and then other dialects infiltrating the BBC. Despite endless complaints and possibly even attempted counter-attacks they won, and quite easily and quickly, at least 30 years ago.

  • When the BBC was founded in the 1920s, some people thought it would lead to a merging of the dialects across the country, so that everyone eventually spoke in the same way. Nothing could have been further from the truth of what happened. Regional dialects are alive and well in the 21st century, though they have undoubtedly undergone change.
    – WS2
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 22:26
  • Yes… perhaps the thing was that the media was largely silent until the BBC allowed everyone to hear at least the correspondents and presenters… and to conclude If that's how they sound, I think I'll keep the English I was born with, thank you very much… Perhaps Hollywood had a different effect because while crystal set and silver screen each brought Britain glamorous actors in memorable roles Hollywood did little else, and through enchanting picture palaces. By contrast BBC radio was heard at home, and had to speak through correspondents and presenters bringing bad as well as good news. Commented May 17, 2017 at 21:01

The term British English is standardly used in contrast to American English. That is its conceptual home. For use in the contexts that revolve around that contrast, it is far better established than any of the alternatives suggested by the OP. Its usefulness in these contexts is not diminished by its being too crude for some other purposes, nor by its being debatable what precisely its boundaries are.

The term stands for English that is spoken in Great Britain, as distinct from English spoken in the United States. The term does not imply that this is the only language spoken in Great Britain, nor does its use preclude one from appreciating the differences among its versions.

The term British English is analogous to Iberian Spanish. The latter does not imply that this is the only language spoken on the Iberian peninsula (it isn't), nor does its use preclude one from appreciating the differences among its versions. The term stands for Spanish that is spoken on the Iberian Peninsula, as distinct from Spanish spoken in Latin America, and is used in the contexts that revolve around that contrast.

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