Inglish (Indian English) and American English

By Thayumanasamy Somasundaram | Tallahassee, Florida, USA

Part 1 (Aug 15, 2010)

On my very first trip to the United States more than two decades ago, I ran into a small problem at the London Heathrow airport. Instead of directly flying to Boston, Massachusetts, USA, I wanted to break my journey and stay in London for few days. But the airline luggage handlers thought otherwise and almost loaded my luggage into the next flight to Boston. So, when I didn’t find my suitcase at the appropriate luggage carrousel, I approached the airline staff and inquired about my missing suitcase. They asked me to describe the suitcase and I told them, “It is a cement-colored VIP case” (By the way, VIP stands for a brand of luggage made in India). None of them understood what I was talking about. Then I realized that I am no longer in rural India but in a Western country’s airline counter. Then, I told them that “It is a gray suitcase”. Soon they were able to identify and bring my suitcase. This incident shows how some English words commonly used in India (Indian English; here I refer to it as Inglish) don’t make any sense to a Westerner; occasionally may even refer to different a meaning in America where the Queen’s English is not spoken widely. So, here I have compiled some words and phrases that I frequently used and show them in a context as used in India and their rough equivalent in America. As you see, many of them refer to the same object, action, or procedure but the words used to express the meaning are different. Enjoy!

In the following table, the part that is italicized and under-lined are words or phrases that are different in India and America but refer to the same thing.

Inglish (Indian English)


Over-take a vehicle

Pass a vehicle

Dickey of a car

Trunk of a car

Close van’s bonnet

Close van’s engine compartment

Post a cover

Mail an envelope

I like my cycle

I like my bike

The aero plane came late

The flight arrived late

There was a big queue at the movie theater

There was a big line at the movie theater

He threatened his neighbour

He intimidated his neighbor

She was sent to jail

She was incarcerated

Can you give me your mobile number?

Can you give me your cell phone number?

How many marks did you get in science?

What grade did you get in science?

She passed first class in math and distinction in science.

She got all A’s in math and was in honor-roll in science.

The lift didn’t stop on the fifth floor.

The elevator didn’t stop on the fifth floor.

My eye doctor asked me to get new specs.

My eye doctor asked me to get new pair of glasses.

My elder sister is going to a city.

My older sister is moving to a city.

Common usage: “Pardon me!”

Common usage: “Excuse me!

Common usage after a “Thanks!”; “No mention

Common usage after a “Thanks!”; “You are welcome

The petrol station was crowded.

The gas station was crowded.

He made a trunk-call to his cousin.

She made a long-distance call to her cousin.

Tamil is my mother tongue.

Tamil is first language.

He used a torch light since it was dark

He used a flash light since it was dark

Wear cooling glasses during sunny days

Wear sun glasses during sunny days

They elected a new Principal for the college

They elected a new President for the college

Table 1 Words that are different but convey the same meaning

In the following table the part that is italicized and under-lined are words or phrases that are same in India and America but refer to the different thing.

Usage in India

Different Meaning in America

Ground-floor of a building

Possibly a basement of a building

First-floor of a shopping mall

Second-floor of a shopping mall

Switch flipped down is in “ON” position

Switch flipped up is in “ON” position

Cut portion of a key faces the ground inside a lock

Cut portion of the key faces sky inside a lock

People drive to the left in India

People drive to the right in America

In India you can take a free-left, almost any time!

In America, you can take a free-right, if safe

Coffee usually refers to coffee + milk + sugar

Coffee means black coffee (nothing added)

“Lady’s finger” is a vegetable (Okra)

A lady’s finger

“Drum stick” is a vegetable (Moringa Oleifera)

The stick used to beat a drum

Cousin brother / Cousin sister


Father’s/Mother’s older or younger brothers (two separate names)


Father’s/Mother’s older or younger sisters (two separate names)


Table 2 Words that are same but may convey different meaning or action

Last updated: Friday, August 27, 2010

Document name: Indian English (Inglish) and American English

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