Have you noticed that Americans and Brits pronounce words quite differently?
You might be able to hear that some vowel sounds are completely different. After all, vowel sounds do vary quite a lot between regional dialects.
And you might notice different consonants, especially when we’re talking about the American “r” versus the British pronunciation of “r,” or the American flap “t” versus the British clear pronunciation of the “t” sound.
But as far as I’m concerned, the most noticeable difference between the two accents has to do with the way certain words are stressed, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.
You’ll learn 30 words that are stressed differently in American and British English.
Word Stress in British and American English
When trying to identify differences between the American and British pronunciations of certain words, pay attention to the placement of the primary stressed syllable.
Remember, when we stress a word, we make one syllable longer, louder and higher in pitch. This also makes the vowel sound in this word extremely clear and easy to hear.
If you stress the wrong syllable, the word will sound off and be a little hard to understand, even if you pronounce the rest of the word correctly.
For more on this topic, review these articles:
This means if you’re stressing a word the British way, it may confuse an American who’s not that familiar with British English.
Believe me, I understand how frustrating it can be to have to choose an accent when you’re trying to learn a language, but you want to make sure you focus on the pronunciation and the stress that is most related to your life.
In the video, I share both the American and British stress patterns. But as you’ll notice, I don’t really pronounce the words the way a native speaker of British English would say them!
The other thing I want to point out is that many of these words have roots in French. They’re what we call loanwords from French.
The British version of these words is pronounced the way it would be according to English spelling.
The American version is a pronunciation that sounds more French, even though it is still Anglicised, or converted into American English pronunciation.
I know my French friends will probably be cringing at the way we pronounce these words, but that’s how it is. 😉
So let’s get started!
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Words That Americans and Brits Stress Differently:
- ice cream
- weekend (oops… I guess there were 31 words!)
The first word we’re going to look at today is the word “address.”
In British English, the word would be pronounced AD-dress, with stress on the second syllable: AD-dress, AD-dress.
In American English, the word will be pronounced ad-DRESS, ad-DRESS, with stress on the first syllable.
I have to point out that you will hear Americans as well as Brits use both pronunciations of this word, but it’s more common in British English to say AD-dress and it’s more common in American English to say address.
In the US, the stress on the word will change depending on whether it’s a noun or a verb.
If we’re talking about someone’s address on an envelope (noun), we’re going to stress the first syllable. If we are going to take the action to address an envelope (verb), we’re going to stress the second syllable.
However, it is more common that you’ll hear Americans say ad-dRESS.
Next, let’s talk about the word “adult.” In British English, this word is pronounced a-DULT.
In American English, this word is generally pronounced A-dult, A-dult.
However, like the previous example, you will hear people use both pronunciations of that word. In fact, I tend to use a-DULT more than A-dult!
The reason I mix the pronunciations of “adult” and “adult” may have to do with the fact that I’m from the New England/Boston area, and we have closer ties to the Brits. That’s just a possible explanation!
So once again, the American version of this word is A-dult, A-dult.
Next, let’s look at a word that is so different in American English and British English. I’m talking about the word “advertisement.”
In British English, this word would be pronounced ad-VER-tise-ment, ad-VER-tise-ment.
In American English, we pronounce it AD-ver-tise-ment, AD-ver-tise-ment.
(Please note that you may also hear Americans pronounce it ad-ver-TISE-ment, ad-ver-TISE-ment, with secondary stress on the first syllable.)
As you can hear, the stress in the American version is on the first syllable. In the British version, the stress is on the second syllable, and it really changes the way the word sounds.
Like I said at the beginning, when we change the stress of a word, it can really change the way the vowel sound is understood.
That’s why word stress really brings out those differences between the pronunciation of vowels in British and American English.
Next, let’s look at a word that we’ve taken from French: ballet.
In British English, the word would be pronounced BAL-let, BAL-let, with stress on the first syllable.
Americans would pronounce the word bal-LET, bal-LET. Like I said earlier, we make the words sound a little more French by stressing it on the second syllable: ballet, ballet.
Obviously it’s still an American version of a French word, but it’s pronounced a little closer to the French than the British version.
Here’s another example: brochure.
In British English, this word would be pronounced BRO-chure, BRO-chure.
In American English, the word would be pronounced bro-CHURE, bro-ChURE. As you can hear, once again the stress is on the second syllable.
Here’s another French inspired word: buffet.
In British English, the word would be pronounced BUF-fet, BUF-fet, with stress on the first syllable.
In American English, the word would be stressed on the second syllable: buf-FET, buf-FET.
Can you hear the difference between the stress patterns on these words?
Next, let’s look at the word “caffeine,” everybody’s favorite if you like drinking tea or coffee!
In British English, the word would be stressed on the first syllable: CAF-feine, CAF-feine.
In American English, the word is stressed on the second syllable: caf-FEINE, caf-FEINE.
You can clearly hear the difference between the two pronunciations!
That’s a word that really confuses me when I hear it pronounced in the British English version. I’m so used to hearing people talk about needing caffeine!
Similarly, let’s talk about the word “café.”
In British English, the word is stressed on the first syllable: CA-fé, CA-fé.
In American English, the word is stressed on the second syllable: ca-FÉ, ca-FÉ.
You can remember the American English version because we usually include a little accent mark on the “e”: café.
Pay attention to this stress pattern on words coming from French. This will help you remember to stress these words correctly when you’re speaking American English.
Next, let’s look at the word “chauffeur.”
In British English, the word is said CHAUF-feur, CHAUF-feur.
In American English, the word is pronounced chauf-FEUR, chauf-FEUR.
As you can see, we’re shifting the stress to the end of the word: chauf-FEUR. Big difference, right?
Let’s move on to “cliché,” which is obviously another loanword that we’ve taken from French!
The British pronounce it CLI-ché, CLI-ché. Americans pronounce it cli-CHÉ, cli-CHÉ.
Once again, you can use the accent mark at the end of the word in order to remind you where the stress should be.
Next, let’s talk about a word that I find really confusing with the British English pronunciation: debris.
In British English, this word would be pronounced DE-bris, DE-bris.
When I first heard this word, I didn’t really understand what it meant in British English, because we pronounce it de-BRIS, de-BRIS
As you can hear, it’s completely different, because we use the schwa in the American version, and the British pronounce the “de” really clearly, so that it sounds like the word “day.”
Once again, the American version is de-BRIS. We’re stressing the word on the second syllable.
Now we can look at the word , debut. In British English, the word would be stressed on the first syllable: DE-but, DE-but.
In American English, the stress would be on the second syllable: de-BUT, de-BUT.
Once again, this is another loanword from French and you can hear Americans stress that second syllable.
Listening for this stress pattern will help you recognize and pronounce words that appear to have similar roots.
Moving on, let’s talk about decor, décor.
In British English, the word would be pronounced DE-cor, DE-cor.
In American English, the word is pronounced de-COR, de-COR.
You’ll sometimes hear some Americans who know that it comes from French say “décor,” with a clear vowel sound on the unstressed syllable, but they’ll still stress that second syllable.
However, I usually reduce the “de” to a schwa sound: de-COR.
Moving on, let’s look at the word “detail.”
In British English, they tend to pronounce it DE-tail, DE-tail. In American English, we tend to pronounce itde-TAIL, de-TAIL.
However, like other words in these examples, you will hear both pronunciations.
I tend to use “DE-tail,” and that may have to do, like I said, with the fact that I’m from New England, and we have closer ties to our British friends.
Similarly, you may hear the same person use a different pronunciation depending on whether the part of speech is a noun or verb.
Next, let’s look at the word “donate.”
In British English, the word would be pronounced do-NATE, do-NATE. In American English, we pronounce the word DO-nate, DO-nate.
In this case, the stress is on the first syllable: DO-nate.
Next, let’s talk about the word fiancé, or fiancée.
In British English, they tend to stress the second syllable and pronounce it with a much better French accent: fi-AN-cé(e), fi-AN-cé(e).
In American English, we tend to stress the last syllable: fi-an-CÉ, fi-an-CÉE.
I have to say I tend to pronounce it with stress on the second syllable: fi-AN-cé. Once again, that may have to do with my New England background!
You will find that there are different regional pronunciations of words, and that people have strong opinions about their preferred pronunciation!
Learn in my video on 10 Words I Have Trouble Pronouncing in English.
Up next is a word that is very hard for me to pronounce in British English because it’s very different than the American version: the word “garage.”
The British stress this word on the first syllable, and they tend to really emphasize the difference in sound: GA-rage, GA-rage.
In American English, we say ga-RAGE, ga-RAGE.
And if you hear an actual Brit pronounce the word, you’ll probably notice a BI difference between how Americans pronounce the “r” and how British pronounce the “r.”
That one’s really hard for me to understand when I hear a Brit say it.
A similar example is the word “massage,” which I don’t mention in the video, but whose British pronunciation sounds really strange to American ears!
Moving on, let’s talk about some food: gourmet.
In British English, the word will be stressed on the first syllable: GOUR-met, GOUR-met. In American English, the word will be stressed on the second syllable: gour-MET, gour-MET.
Once again, this is a loanword from French, and you can hear that Americans stress that second syllable at the end of the word: gour-MET.
19. ice cream
When I learned this next difference, it was really surprising to me, because it’s one of my favorite things to eat in the summer: ice cream.
In British English, they stress the word “cream”: ice CREAM, ice CREAM. In American English, we stress the first syllable: ICE cream, ICE cream.
This difference is really interesting to me because compound nouns have such a predictable stress pattern in English, where we usually stress that first syllable: ICE cream.
Next, let’s talk about the word “magazine.”
In British English, the word would be stressed on the last syllable: ma-ga-ZINE, ma-ga-ZINE.
In American English, the word will be stressed on the first syllable: MA-ga-zine, MA-ga-zine.
However, because of the influence from British English, you will also hear people stress it on the last syllable.
I think we tend to shift the stress based on the way the word is used in the sentence, and the words that appear around it.
If you listen carefully, you’ll probably hear Americans use both pronunciations, but in American English it’s generally pronounced MA-ga-zine, with stress on that first syllable.
Next up: matinee. In this word, you’re going to hear a big difference between the British and American pronunciation, because I tend to change that “t” into a glottal “t”: matinee.
In British English, it would be MA-ti-nee, MA-ti-nee, and they would pronounce that “t” sound much better than I do as an American.
In American English, the word will be ma-ti-NEE, ma-ti-NEE, with a glottal “t.”
If you’re in California, or a region where you pronounce the “t” more clearly, you’ll hear people pronounce the “t” sound, but I would drop it. You can definitely hear my regional accent in that word!
Next, let’s talk about the word “migrate.”
In British English, the word would be stressed on the second syllable: mi-GRATE, mi-GRATE.
In American English, the word is stressed on the first syllable: MI-grate, MI-grate.
It’s so interesting how there are some words that are stressed on the first syllable in British English, and then they switch to the second syllable in American English, and other words are stressed on the second syllable in British English, and they switch to the first syllable in American English.
I’m not really sure why, but it’s quite interesting to consider.
Next we have the word “montage.”
In British English, this word tends to be stressed on the first syllable: MON-tage, MON-tage.
In American English, we tend to stress it on the second syllable: mon-TAGE, mon-TAGE.
That said, you’ll hear Americans pronounce it both ways. Once again, the variation in pronunciation has to do with whether we’re using the noun or verb version of the word.
If it’s being used as a noun, a lot of Americans would say MON-tage, but we say the verb version as monTAGE.
Language is fun, isn’t it?
Next, we have a word that Americans definitely try to pronounce the French way: nonchalant.
In British English, it would be stressed on the first syllable: NON-cha-lant, NON-cha-lant.
In American English, we would pronounce it on the last syllable: non-cha-LANT, non-cha-LANT.
You can probably hear that this gives us a little bit of an affectation. We’re trying to sound a little more French.
And it really makes me wonder if it has to do with the French support of Americans in the earliest history of our nation!
Another word we’re going to look at is “premature.”
In British English, the word would be stressed on the first syllable: PRE-mature, PRE-mature.
In American English, the word would be stressed on the second syllable: pre-ma-TURE, pre-ma-TURE.
Here’s another word that sounds really funny to me when I hear it pronounced the British way, and of course given the news recently, we hear it pronounced the British way quite a lot: princess.
The British pronounce the word prin-CESS, prin-CESS.
I first heard this version in a movie called Ever After, and I was really surprised because that’s not the way I grew up hearing the word!
In American English, the word would be pronounced PRIN-cess, PRIN-cess.
The British stress the second syllable. Isn’t that interesting?
Next we have the word “rotate.” This one really surprised me when I heard there’s a British version.
The British would stress the second syllable: ro-TATE, ro-TATE.
Americans stress the first syllable: RO-tate, RO-tate.
Next, we have another obviously French word: sachet.
The British would pronounce the word SA-chet, SA-chet.
Americans pronounce it sa-CHET, sa-CHET, with stress on the second syllable.
Another common word that we use is “salon.”
The British will stress it on the first syllable: SA-lon, SA-lon, with a different vowel sound.
The Americans would stress it on the second syllable: sa-LON, sa-LON.
You can hear that the word sounds a little more foreign when we stress it on the second syllable: sa-LON.
Here’s another one: vaccine.
The British stress the first syllable: VAC-cine, VAC-cine. Americans say vac-CINE, vac-CINE.
Can you hear the difference?
And for our last word today, it’s a word that really confuses me: weekend.
The British pronounce it week-END, week-END, which probably has to do with the roots of the word.
Americans pronounce it WEEK-end, WEEK-end, with stress on the first syllable.
Word Stress Patterns Are Usually Consistent in American and British English
How do you feel after learning these 30 words that are stressed differently in British and American English?
Even if you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed right now, I want to reassure you!
For the most part, the word stress patterns that we follow in English are the same between British and American English.
That’s right: despite these examples, word stress is usually consistent between the two dialects.
This helps simplify your work if you choose to study stress, which I really encourage you to do!
Even if you have other characteristics of a non-native accent, stressing words correctly will make it so much easier for a native English speaker to understand you, even if you’re speaking American English to a Brit, or British English to an American.
Of course, these words that are stressed differently between British and American English may cause a little bit of confusion, but these probably aren’t the words that you’re using most frequently in everyday speech.
Be sure to focus your attention on stress when you’re learning how to pronounce a word. It will truly help people understand you!
Now that you’ve learned the words that are stressed differently between British and American English, I want to know if you’ve heard of any other examples. Leave a comment and share below!
Which words did you find surprising? Which words do you find really challenging to stress correctly?
I’m happy to help you find the right stress in American English!
For more guidance on why stress is so important, sign up for the Stress Starter Kit. In this five-day course, you’ll start working on English rhythm and create good accent reduction habits.