The difference between the meanings of the word "pavement" in British and American English is quite stark: in British English it usually means sidewalk, whereas in American English it usually refers to the asphalt on the road.

Since I learned of this difference, I've always imagined it could be dangerous in a peculiar emergency. For example, an American family adopts a British child, and one day the child is walking on the street and there's a car coming. His parents yell "Get off the pavement!" and he stands there confused. "But I'm not on the pavement," he thinks, and while pondering this he gets hit by the car.

Is there any example in literature where something like this is described?

I've added the ODO definition of pavement:


1A raised paved or asphalted path for pedestrians at the side of a road. ‘he fell and hit his head on the pavement’

as modifier ‘a pavement cafe’

1.1 Any paved area or surface. ‘the pavements and columns of these ancient ruins provided the material for more recent structures’

1.2 North American [mass noun]

The hard surface of a road or street. ...

For perhaps a better example (from the comments), we could imagine an American tourist about to get hit by a car that for some reason is on the sidewalk in London, and someone shouts at them something appropriate; the equivalent of "Watch out, there's a car on the pavement!" And the American is not on the pavement as far as they are concerned, so they figure they don't need to worry about the car and they wonder instead why someone should be urgently pointing out something commonplace like that.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2017 at 14:54

1 Answer 1


The ODO definition of the U.S. meaning ("the hard surface of a road or street") is wrong.

Looking at U.S. dictionaries, the dictionary definition of pavement is:

a paved surface (Merriam-Webster),

A hard smooth surface, especially of a public area or thoroughfare, that will bear travel (American Heritage Dictionary).

Judging from the comments, which have now been moved to chat, some Americans seem to think pavement just means concrete, and some agree with the dictionary definition: that it's an umbrella term that covers both concrete and asphalt.

Either way, pavement would not just mean street; it would apply to all of streets, sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots, depending on what they were made out of; and it seems very unlikely to me that an American would yell get off the pavement when they mean get out of the street.

It does seem vaguely possible to me that if somebody was on a parking lot, and there was a car coming, they might yell get off the pavement.

  • 1
    Some folks may not be aware that the pavement which they call blacktop is the same thing that others call asphalt.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2017 at 18:23
  • 1
    @tchrist: it's been years since I've heard the word blacktop. I'm pretty sure it was used all the time when I was growing up in Washington D.C., but it seems to be nearly non-existent in New England. Jun 18, 2017 at 18:24
  • Blacktop was the only word I grew up knowing it as in southeast Wisconsin. Most sidewalks were of hard (white) cement not of soft blacktop like residential streets and driveways were. I was never sure whether asphalt mean cement or concrete or blacktop, or just how many things those all really were. However, there actually are wheelchair-accessible sidewalks in the national parks of the American West and Southwest which are paved with blacktop instead of being laid with cement.
    – tchrist
    Jun 18, 2017 at 18:26
  • @tchrist Blacktop sidewalks are actually rather common in New Jersey. These would be in the closest things NJ has to rural areas: areas with open fields and farms that are nonetheless 5 minutes away from Stop and Shop. Jun 18, 2017 at 18:49

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