In this weekly post, we bring more useful content from the Macmillan Dictionary to English language learners. These tips are based on areas of English which learners often find difficult, e.g. spelling, grammar, collocation, synonyms, etc.
This week we focus on American English, and today’s post highlights some key differences between American and British English terms:
college / university
In the U.S., a college refers to a place where people study for their bachelor’s degree (=first degree), whether the institution is a college, which offers only bachelor’s degrees, or a university, which offers both bachelor’s degrees and advanced degrees. When British speakers use the word college, they usually mean a place where students over 18 are trained in a particular subject or skill, earning a qualification that is not usually an academic degree. Students in the U.K. who are studying for an academic degree go to a university.
class / course / lesson
In both the U.S. and the U.K., a class is usually a group of students who are learning together: Jill and I were in the same class in fifth grade. In the U.S., you can also use class to mean a group of students who all finished high school or college in a particular year: Tim was in the class of 1998. In the U.S., class is also used to mean a course of instruction in a particular subject: a class in business administration. The usual British word for this is course: a course in business administration. Class can also mean one of the periods in the school day when a group of students are taught: What time is your next class? British speakers usually use lesson in this meaning, but American speakers do not.
student / pupil / graduate / postgraduate
In the U.S., a student is anyone who is studying at an elementary school, secondary school, or college. In the U.K., student means someone who is studying at a college or university. A child in elementary school in the U.K. is usually called a pupil. American speakers often use graduate student to refer to someone who has finished their bachelor’s degree (=first degree) and is studying for an advanced degree. In the U.K., you would call this person a postgraduate.
+ the ‘trickiest word in American’: quite
When American speakers say quite, they usually mean “very”: We’ve examined the figures quite thoroughly. In British English quite usually means “fairly”: The movie was quite enjoyable, although some of the acting was weak. Speakers of British English sometimes use quite to mean “very,” but only before words with an extreme meaning: The whole experience was quite amazing.
More language tips
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