Unexplainable differences

Today I gave a lesson to a student who already has the book English Grammar in Use from Cambridge. This book is in UK English. In my bag, I had Grammar in Use - Intermediate, also from Cambridge. It is the US version of the other book. The grammar exercises were almost completely the same, so it was easy for us to work together, but it was interesting to see what had been changed for the US.

The changes you would expect were there: “To the cinema” was changed to “to the movies”, etc. The strange thing to me, though was how many things that didn’t have to change were changed. “Examination” for the UK was replaced with “exam” for the US, even though we also say “examination”. Another strange thing was that people’s names changed for seemingly no reason. The name Sharon was replaced with Debbie, even though there are plenty of Sharons in the US. The strangest one was when they replaced the man’s name Don with Dave. There are just as many Dons in the US as there are Daves. Now, if there were someone named Nigel or Liam in the UK book, I would definitely change him to Don or Dave, but why change Don to Dave?

I’m not criticizing either book. They’re both really excellent. I just think it’s odd that they changed names and words that are perfectly normal for us. Maybe it was just based on some person’s taste.

Hi Jamie (K),
Thank you for your post. I also use those grammar books and the differences you mentioned impressed me as well. I use the NEW HEADWAY student’s books as well and I’ll take the opportunity to ask you about two words I recently encountered in one of these books, namely cleanness and cleanliness. According to the explanation the difference is BrE vs AmE. The sentences which are supposed to be BrE contain the word cleanness and those, supposed to be AmE use cleanliness. I do have some doubts about this and hope you can enlighten me.
Thanks for your time.

I have looked in two American dictionaries and one British one. They all contain both cleanness and cleanliness, and none of them say that one is British and the other is American. So the explanation in Headway is bogus.

The dictionaries all indicate that cleanness is derived from the word clean, and that cleanliness is derived from cleanly.

I don’t think the two words mean exactly the same thing. When I hear them, I think that cleanness usually indicates that something is designed or decorated without any extra fancy elements. You might say you like the cleanness of a car’s body countours. I think you can also talk about the cleanness of someone’s language, if he never curses.

When I hear cleanliness, I think that the person is talking about the habit of being or staying clean. We have the expression, “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” on both sides of the ocean. We might say that we are impressed by someone’s cleanliness, meaning that he keeps very clean, or that we like the cleanliness of a building, meaning how well it is maintained.

Overall, I would not be surprised if someone used cleanness to mean cleanliness, but it wouldn’t sound right if someone used cleanliness to mean cleanness. “I admire the cleanliness of that car’s design,” doesn’t sound right to me.

But now we really need Alan for a UK explanation.


Perhaps I should come clean (ho ho) about British Eng and American Eng. and admit scholarly investgations into whether a word is American or British in its origin don’t do a lot for me. There is no mistaking and indeed delighting in the way in which American English can sometimes grab your mind and make you look at an idea in an entirely different way and you feel that’s got to be an American construction. In an entirely different way you come across something that is quintessentally British English. I suppose in that respect English is lucky that it has at its disposal these twin elements. But I must avoid banging the English drum too much and come to the point.

To my mind cleanness is usually the state of being clean with reference to the inanimate. Cleanliness I believe refers usually to the same idea of being clean in a moral or spiritual sense with reference to people and is the noun from the adjective cleanly used with that meaning according to the Oxford English in the late 17th century.

There is perhaps some use in comparing two nouns from the adjectives good and goodly becoming goodness and goodliness. In this case goodly and goodliness originate from a similar period and describe a person’s appearance.

These are my thoughts at this ungodly hour!


I’m not a fan of those “British English” versus “American English” lists that show up in ESL textbooks and other places. Many of the comparisons are bogus.

They claim that the British say autumn but that we say fall. This has never been true. Americans have always said both autumn and fall. In the time the British first came to America, they also said both words, but with time the use of fall diminished in the UK. A Google search shows that it hasn’t completely died out, though.

These lists say that Americans say mail and the British say post. Then why do Americans say they’re going to the post office? We call the man who delivers mail either a mailman or a postman. (This can be a woman now, so we often say mail carrier or postal carrier.) We mail a letter, and don’t post it, but otherwise post is a completely normal word.

One ridiculous one I’ve seen in various lists claims that Americans say sausage, but the British say banger. Do a Google search for UK sites with the word sausage, and you get more than 3 million hits.

Americans use both can and tin, as do the British, from what I’ve seen.

There is some vocabulary that does vary from one side of the ocean to the other, but these simplistic lists do more to confuse people than to enlighten them.

I laughed my a… off… :lol:

Alan, can you give us an example of one of these? It sounds like you’re getting the same enjoyment from American English that I get from the English of US southerners or some creole speakers.