I’ve been reading an article on the difference between British English and American English in terms of academic language. I came across this paragraph which I have no idea what the writer is talking about. It reads

“In Britain students read/do/study a subject. In the US they study or major in a subject (the latter as the main part of a two-part degree).” -“In Britain a thesis is the paper submitted for a PhD. This is called a dissertation in the US. (In the UK a dissertation may be written for a Master’s degree).” -Excerpt From Academic Writing: A Handbook for International Students Stephen Bailey

I know it has to do with the structure of writing one’s degree but the language is rather vague for me.

Can you please give me an example for each?

  • Hello Ali. Welcome to ELL. You have written what is called as a well-framed question describing your problem. That's a good practice around here. Do you mind also including the name of the article, or perhaps a link to the same if you read it on net? It will be helpful for other users as well. I hope someone answers your question. – Dhanishtha Ghosh Nov 17 '20 at 15:15
  • Sure thing @DhanishthaGhosh! – Ali Ghorbani Nov 17 '20 at 15:41

This paragraph is telling you about the verbs used in British and American English when talking about which subject you are involved with at university. The subject that you will gain a degree in when you finish your course. (Note: I am a British English speaker)

Example: If I am currently at university and plan on receiving a degree in Physics when I finish successfully then, in British English, I would say:

"I study Physics (at X university)" or "I am studying Physics"

"I do Physics" or "I am doing Physics" (Less formal. Probably most common for casual conversation amongst university age speakers)

"I read Physics" or "I am reading Physics" (This one to me sounds very posh. I have not heard it used much at all even while at university, mostly I have heard it from older speakers and from the game show University Challenge. Maybe it is used more at places like Oxford and Cambridge university. I would generally avoid this usage unless you're sure it will be appropriate and use 'study' if you don't want to use the informal 'do'.

For American English, I would say:

"I study Physics" or "I am studying Physics"

"I major in Physics" "I am majoring in Physics"

My knowledge of specific usages in American English is limited so I don't know if either of these sound more natural or have more specific usage. (Perhaps someone can clarify in the comments). I believe you can also say "I am minoring in Physics" if physics is the lesser part of your 2 part degree.

Note: In American English, they would usually refer to a university as a college.

  • 1
    Wow thanks! Everything’s clear now. – Ali Ghorbani Nov 17 '20 at 15:35
  • 1
    I'm an American, never been to the UK. But here, if you say, "I am majoring in physics", that means that you are in college or university and you are working toward a degree in physics. It is common to say "I am studying physics" to mean the same thing. But you could also say "I am studying physics" if you are not working on a physics degree. Like I have a computer science degree but I took classes in other subjects, and so I would say "I am studying music this weekend" (or whatever). People often use "study" outside of the context of any sort of formal education, like you might say ... – Jay Nov 17 '20 at 15:45
  • 1
    ... "I am studying physics" meaning that you got curious about the subject and have read several books about it, with no implication that you are in college or are part of any formal education program. – Jay Nov 17 '20 at 15:45
  • 1
    Traditionally in America, a "college" was a place that offered bachelor's degrees, i.e. 4 year degrees, while a "university" offered masters and doctoral degrees, i.e. degrees requiring longer study. But there's no law about this and as far as I know no rule that is enforced by anyone, so it is my understanding that there are exceptions. I'll gladly yield on this point to someone with greater knowledge. – Jay Nov 17 '20 at 15:47
  • 1
    In British English, too, 'studying Physics' doesn't necessarily mean that you are working towards a degree in it - but that's the word we would most likely use in the context of undergraduate students. – Kate Bunting Nov 17 '20 at 16:10

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.