I wonder if there are any clear distinctions regarding using formal words in British-English and in American-English. Do American and English people use different words when for instance asking a question or handling a formal situation?

  • 6
    Can you be a bit more specific or perhaps provide examples?
    – Dusty
    Nov 4, 2011 at 14:55
  • One example (not exactly "formal" language either side of the pond, I know) is that British arse is generally considered "more vulgar" than US ass. Nov 4, 2011 at 15:35
  • @FumbleFingers I'm uncertain if that is true, unless one is referring to donkeys (but speakers of American-English are a heterogeneous lot). "Lift" versus "elevator" is the sort of thing that comes to my mind. This question is rather broad. I can't think of any way to categorically answer it. Only a specific instance here and there. Nov 4, 2011 at 23:25
  • @Feral Oink: Well, that's the way of things in Britain. In speech, arse and donkey/ass are homophones for Northerners, but we Southerners can call someone a silly ass instead of a silly arse if we don't want to be too coarse. Nov 5, 2011 at 3:16

2 Answers 2


One formality that differs between American and English usage is that way a formal letter is signed off. Americans will use "Regards" while English will use "Yours sincerely" or "Your faithfully". Of course this is distinction is not absolute, but in general it is true.


English as a language does not work the same way as say, Korean or Japanese where there are all those honorifics to consider and even changes to the verbs: there were periods in history where this was true, but it never EVER went to the same extreme (for example, wives were once expected to address their husbands as milord or use a formal form of "you" when speaking to him. That practice has been extinct for almost 500 years.)

Normally, if respect or politeness must be shown (such as for a professional like a professor, a doctor, a member of Parliament or Congressman, and (at least for Anglicans and American Catholics) members of the clergy, the person is addressed by his or her title before his or her last name, so Stephen Hawking can also be addressed as Doctor Hawking, Barack Obama is also called President Obama, and titles like Your Grace or Your Eminence may be used for the Archbishop of New York or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Adults that do not know each other well or have to address their boss at work usually use Mr. Miss, Or Mrs. The last three are only directed at women, the difference being if a woman is married or not (the custom in all Western countries is that the wife changes her last name to her husband's, or sometimes hyphenates it with the name she had when she was not married, her father's.)

As far as cultural practice goes, however, Americans are more likely to want to be called by their first name in business and other settings unless they do not know you very well or they meet up with someone who deserves respect for his knowledge or higher rank.

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