My goal is to learn British English because I'm going to study there. I've found a good book about English phrases. However, the book is originally from the US.

Is there a difference between American and British phrases ?

The book contains such phrases as:
- We don't see eye to eye
- what if
- look something up
- don't mention it
- play it by ear
- I'm positive
, etc.

Update: meaning that, if I learn those phrases from the American book, I will not be able to use them in the UK?

  • I'm neither American nor Briton but I think there are phrases that are shared and phrases that aren't. But I could imagine that it is hard to narrow down exactly which American phrases aren't used in England.
    – Em1
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:50
  • 2
    Just watch out for the well-known faux amis like Don't knock me up, please. In BrE it means something like Don't knock on my door and wake me up, please, but in AmE it means something like Don't get me pregnant, please.
    – user21497
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 8:16
  • 1
    Also, you will learn much more by living there than by any book you can read beforehand.
    – Mr Lister
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 8:20
  • 1
    @BillFranke Are you sure? I would think that any British person is aware of "knock me up" meaning "get me pregnant". There are certainly other faux amis though.
    – user16269
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 8:39
  • Yeah, but the OP wants to learn BrE. I'm not aware of the other ones he or she should look out for. It was just an illustration to let the OP know that there are some phrases that have radically different meanings even though most AmE idiomatic phrases will either be instantly understood or similar enough to BrE idiomatic phrases to give no trouble. And Remember the Alamo isn't very popular now that Fess Parker's no longer vital (DOD: 2010).
    – user21497
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 9:20

2 Answers 2


All of the phrases that you've listed above will be frequently used by British people and understood by British people. Moreover, because American television and films are so widespread, I doubt whether there are any American phrases that would not be understood in Britain. The only exceptions might be references to American history or geography, such as "remember the Alamo", "49th parallel" and "Benedict Arnold". So go ahead and learn the phrases in your American book. They will stand you in good stead in the UK.


Yes. In fact, American English (AmE) is substantially different from British English (BrE).

Words, word-usage, spellings, pronunciation and above all, idioms vary widely across geographies and what is generally accepted as AmE relies more on the American usage and idiom.

The fact that the book was probably published in the US doesn't mean it is AmE; it could be standard English generally understood world-wide. It is most likely not BrE, though.

As you are focused on learning British English, it would be prudent to consult an authentic British publication or at least a standard International edition.

  • I'm asking only about the phrases not about the language.
    – Larida
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:11
  • @Larida The answer to that is in the first part: 'Yes.' If you wanted to know beyond that, you may ask specifically what else/ more you'd like to know.
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:16
  • I have updated my text.
    – Larida
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:23
  • 2
    But let's be reasonable, I know many Americans who've been to England and none of them came back saying that nobody understood them over there. If you learn English (AmE or BrE) you'll be just fine, and you'll pick up the local lingo as you go.
    – Jim
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:40
  • Quoting the OP: "My goal is to learn British English"
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 31, 2012 at 7:44

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