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shivver13 in dw_britglish

A few questions

Hi there! I have a few questions about British language, customs, and geography for some fanfics I'm working on that I hope you can answer. Thank you in advance for any assistance!

1. I'm really fuzzy on the British school system and how grades (years) are referred to. I have a character saying that she's known another character since the year of school in which they were around 12-13 years old. In America, that would be 6th or 7th grade. What would it be for a British student?

2. If you're moving from one town to another and paying a company to move your belongings and furniture, what do you refer to them as? And what kind of vehicle would the items be moved in? In America, we'd call them movers, and they usually use a semi to move multiple clients' belongings in bulk, but it doesn't seem like Britain has semis. (I can't imagine they'd be able to navigate the narrow roads.)

3. Is there a somewhat posh neighborhood near Chiswick that I can locate a family? The family is not super rich, but both parents work and have good jobs - definitely upper middle class. Even if there isn't a named neighborhood, a location would be helpful, so I can look on Google Earth to get a feel for what the buildings and houses look like.

4. Is a "flat" an apartment, meaning a single residence in a building of multiple single residence? Or does the term have multiple meanings? For example, in America, when a person refers to his "flat", it could mean a house - in this sense, it simply means "where I live".

5. When I was in Britain last year, I noticed that a lot of the towns had houses that were individual residences, usually two floors, all connected together in a long row. What is that type of house called? Row house?



1. It depends a lot on the character, especially how old they are, as this changed in 1991. Also where they went to school (it's different in Scotland particularly, but some areas do have a middle school/high school system, though it's rare, and posh (public) schools may possibly do different things). Anyway, up to 1991, for Primary School (ages 4-11 years), it was much less fixed and we had "1st year infants", "second year juniors" (with three years in the infants (4-7) and 4 years in the juniors (7-11). Probably someone who's known someone since primary school will simply say that, or since I was 4/7/11 whatever, rather than a year, although you might say "since infants/juniors" but less likely, I think? If they knew them even earlier, then it would be via a nursery or playgroup.

Secondary school is more fixed and up till about 1991 tended to start again, so 11 year olds are first years, the top year are fifth years (15-16s) - unless the school also has a sixth form (16-18, because sixth form covers two years, rather than being sixth & seventh forms). After 1991, it changed to being more fixed, as follows:

Reception (4-5)
Year 1 (5-6) etc.
Year 6 (10-11) - last year of Primary.

Year 7 (11-12) - Year 11 (15-16)

If they stay on (now mandatory, but not until the last couple of years), then it will either be in sixth form (even if the school official calls it something else, it's still referred to as sixth form) or the local college (which is not a university). University would be just university or uni, if the character had known them since then & back to 1st, 2nd, 3rd years etc. (Although first years are referred to as "freshers" but not usually freshmen in full).

So, an older character would be likely to refer to it differently to a younger character - the younger character would say "since Year 8", the older one probably "since second year at secondary" (or depending how old, at grammar school, or wherever they would have gone, if they're wealthy/upper class enough to go to a public school).

2. Removal men/people in a removal van. (Which is nearer a lorry size, but that's what it gets called).

4. Yes, a flat is an apartment; no, you wouldn't use it for a house.

5. The row is called a terrace and the houses are terraced houses. They're usually at the cheapest end, often built in the 19th C to accommodate factory and mine workers, or as part of council housing in the 20th C. (Two houses together are semi-detached - if you referred to a semi in Britain, that's what we'd think you were talking about.)

Edited at 2015-04-09 07:56 am (UTC)
Just a sidelight on the ambiguity of 'sixth-form' covering two years.

It's a hang over from Public Schools (posh private, for American readers). Our grammar school, back in the fifties/sixties used the old Public School Terms, which assumed that you started at six and did twelve years at school. I know public schools don't actually do this now, but forms were two years. So Lower First, Upper First, Lower Second, Upper Second etc. Our school started at 11 in the Third Form, and we progressed through Lower Fourth (LIV), UIV, LV, UV where we took O-Levels at the age of 16. The Sixth form follows quite naturally, with Lower Sixth, and Upper Sixth (and Third Year Sixth, for those wanting to go to Oxbridge).

I'd say it was just coincidence that the Lower Sixth is also your sixth year in Secondary School. But probably it wouldn't have hung on generally if it had been as inaccurate as Third Form.
Kids these days seem more keen to use year 12/13; but we still have "sixth form colleges" (some schools do not have sixth forms - this mostly varies by area and type of school). NB that some areas do "middle school" which is years 5-8 (but not many any more).

How far up the nice-ness/expense scale one finds terraced houses and flats/apartments depends a lot on where you are - central city locations are more crowded than rural ones.
Thank you so much for all the information! It's kind of hard to process (especially all the school stuff). I probably should have just named the characters, to make it all easier. It's Nerys talking about Donna, so it's very much pre-1991. I guess she would say, "I've known her since secondary", or "I've known her since first year at secondary".

I started secondary school in 1991 and back then it was still 'year 1' instead of 'year 7' - the numbers reset when you got to secondary. I'd be more inclined to say "I've known her since we were 11" though than giving a school year. Occasionally I'd say of my best friend "I've known her since the first year of secondary school" but normally I think of it in age terms.

2. Firm of removers in their Removal van/lorry. Generally a fair sized articulated lorry and a couple of lifters to help shift and pack furniture. It's possible to hire a van oneself and do a DIY job.

3. Parts of Chiwick are pretty posh! If they have serious money, by the river. River-front housing ups the price like crazy! Nearby are Barnes, Kew [famous for the large botanical gardens] and Richmond upon Thames [housing there = $$$$!!!].

4. It's a block [if tall, a tower block] of flats. A flat = an apartment, pretty much.

5. I live in one of those! That would be a terrace. If the terrace is curved and tending to Georgian, a crescent [puts up the price!]. Sometimes four terraces are built to form a square [quite a few of those in London]. Here is part of one side of the famous Berkeley Square [https://sp.yimg.com/ib/th?id=HN.608028826883918350&pid=15.1&P=0 ].

I think I will go with Chiswick. From Google Earth, it looks nice, with lots of terraced houses that look posh.

1) You start school at age 5 in year 1, and you must stay at school until year 11 (age 16) although quite a lot of kids also do years 12 and 13. So age 12-13 is year 8.

2) A removal company and they use a removal van. We don't have 'semis', we have vans and lorries and sometimes trucks. Lorries are the big ones. Vans are smaller.

3) Chiswick itself is posh enough for your needs.

4) Yes, a flat is a single home in a building - it could be a house divided into two or three flats, or a bigger block of flats. Rose lives in a council flat.

5) A row of houses all linked together is a terrace and the houses are terrace houses. If only two houses are linked together they're semi-detached. A house on its own is detached.
Thank you!

From what I'm reading elsewhere, council estates are supplied by the government, and I suppose that implies the occupants are low-income? Does Clara also live in a council flat? I know that much has been made about the fact that they used the same block of flats in Cardiff for filming both Rose and Clara, but I wasn't sure if Clara was really meant to either live in council housing or actually live at the Powell Estate.
Clara definitely doesn't seem to live on the Powell estate, and probably doesn't live in council housing (although the standard really varies - the Powell state is at the lower end).
Council estates can be mixed occupancy though. I live in a council-owned block - but I own my flat within that block. My neighbours are a mixture of other owners, people renting, and council tenants. Council tenants do tend to be lower-income as that's why they need the support.

I've never been particularly clear on where Clara lives - that house in the Christmas special was definitely not a council flat!!
Council estates can be mixed occupancy though. I live in a council-owned block - but I own my flat within that block. My neighbours are a mixture of other owners, people renting, and council tenants.

That's because under one of the Thatcher governments in the 1990s council tenants were given the right to buy their houses or flats, and at a discount rate. Some subsequently sold them, so you'd now find people living in what was once council housing who definitely wouldn't qualify for council housing on income grounds.
1. That's Year 8 in England (note that Scotland and Wales have their own systems, but since you're talking about London and Chiswick, I've assumed English school). See the nifty graphic at this website: http://www.school-in-uk.com/education.html

2. Removal firm, with a removal van. I don't know how large a 'semi' is, but we don't just have tiny narrow twisty roads, you know. Four lane motorways are not just a US phenomenon, and our road network copes with big haulage vehicles with ease.

3. Chiswick is pretty upmarket in itself. Why not use that?
Also, just to strike a cautious note, the whole issue of 'class' here is very different. Upper middle class here is not two people in good jobs. This is going to be quite hard to get across, but I'll try. It has connotations of impressive wealth, large houses, private education for their children at the very best schools (Eton, Harrow, Winchester, Cheltenham Ladies etc), designer clothes shopping - but also the crumbling 500 year old manor house in Suffolk, slopping about in wellies and an old Barbour, horses, Country Life on subscription. And you can still be Upper middle, and be genteely hard up. It's a way of life, a status, not dependent on what your job is.

4. A flat is an apartment in a multi-occupancy building, never a house. You wouldn't use it as a generic term for where you live.

5. Terraced house. Never a row house.
Thank you!

Ah, yes, I should remember that "class" has a different connotation in Britain. The family I'm envisioning isn't that high up, and that's not their way of life. They are common but well-off enough to afford a house in a nice area and live comfortably with two or three children.

A "semi" in the US is an eighteen-wheeler, a very big long truck. If you've seen any American movie in which there is a trucker, usually dressed in flannel talking on his CB radio, he's driving a semi. From what I've seen on my one visit to Britain, they'd be fine for commercial haulage, but would be very difficult to use on the narrow streets among terraces (such as in Bath, which amazed me with how cramped the whole town is).

Edited at 2015-04-09 08:24 pm (UTC)
From your description, they might be able to live in a fairly posh area of London but it probably wouldn't seem a particularly posh house to you. Try Google Map for "Netheravon Road".
These people sound just plain middle class to me. But they are not common, they are commoners. Common means 'lower class' - Rose Tyler is a bit common.

A semi in the UK is normally called an artic (short for articulated lorry) and is used entirely for commercial haulage. I can't imagine owning enough stuff to need an artic to move house.
Yes, that sounds about right - middle class commoners.

Ah, an artic. That's a good word to know, thanks. In the US, many moving companies (removal firms) that move people across country use semis, but they are usually transporting multiple households, not just one family's things.

Thank you!
1. When? This is crucial. Today that pupil would probably be in "year 8".

2. You pay a "removal company" (they can also be paid to pack). They probably use a "lorry" which might be called a "removal van" but it's actually a big lorry. Lorry drivers in the UK can handle UK roads, although if either house is up some twisty single-track un-paved lane then you might want to find a removal company with experience of that sort of work... if you are moving from a "town" to a "town" this problem will not arise. People with short-distance moves or little-stuff or little-money might just hire a van and DIY or hire a "man with a van" (might be a woman) to do the driving and do all the carrying themselves or with friends/family (most UK driving licenses cover at least some vans, but not everyone wants to try driving one)

4. A flat is one dwelling in a stack. It might be one floor of what was previously a house, or in a tower-block 20 stories high (quite rare!). It might actually be 2 (or more) floors (so not very flat then...). It is NOT a "house" if you have a whole house you say "house". You might say "home" which doesn't indicate what shape home is. Sometimes pricey flats are called "apartments" estate agents think that sounds nicer.

5. That is a "terrace" and the individual houses are "terraced houses" the ones on the end are "end terrace houses" and are slightly "nicer" (less neighbour-noise but higher heating bills). "Row house" is not usually used.
I got a discussion on the English system before and after 1991 from a different poster, but thank you! I also got an image of a removal van, which helped a lot - they are much shorter than the trucks that moving companies in the US use, probably because of crampedness of a lot of the residential areas in Britain.
I would say, as someone who used to live in the UK and now lives in North America, it's also because Brits in general don't have as much furniture! Houses are a lot smaller. We had a pretty large house, in British terms, in England, but our furniture from there, which was all shipped over here, probably only half-filled the house we have here.
On 2, a traditional removal lorry isn't an artic, but a pantechnicon


Edited at 2015-04-09 07:39 pm (UTC)
This is a typical modern one. That's a nationwide chain, but there are lots of local ones (who also do nationwide moves). This is one - they have an articulated lorry, though I agree that's more unusal: http://www.wardremovals.co.uk/

Edited at 2015-04-09 08:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the images! They helped quite a bit! This is exactly what I was looking for. The removal vans are smaller (shorter) than the trucks that moving companies in the US use, probably because in general, our streets are wider, even in the residential areas.
Also you need space to park the lorry, and with houses being smaller, most people's furniture and stuff fits into one standard lorry, maybe two for a large family house.

Moving within London can involve trying to get parking permits for movers, usually failing, then parking in a space yourselves and/or using dustbins to reserve space, and persuading new neighbours at the other end to do the same for you, in order than the movers don't need to be 50 yards down the street.
Oh, dear, what a mess! Well, the character needing the lorry is a single male, so it'll be a standard lorry. I'll let the removal people deal with the parking situation off-stage. :)
1. In most school systems (independent, i.e. fee-paying, schools may have different terminology, and a few areas of the country have first, middle and high school rather than the more usual primary and secondary school, which I think affects matters), 12-13 year olds will be in Year Eight, the second year of secondary school.

2. If you have a lot to move, you would probably use a removal/removals company, who would use a removal van or moving van.

4. Yes, a flat is a residence located in a building which includes other residences. It might not be purpose-built - a lot of houses are divided up into flats, rather than being intended as flats from the outset. I don't think people would ever use "flat" to refer to a whole house, although we do do the opposite - I live in a flat (part of a bigger house) and will refer to it as a house in casual conversation.

5. Row house is not a British term. Houses joined together are terraces, or semi-detatched houses if you just have sets of two joined together. Terraces can vary from very small two-up-two-down houses, traditionally where working-class people would live, to much larger and posher.
I did a Google search on "row house", and yes, that turns out to be an American term. I had no idea what that type of house was called in either the US or Britain. Now I know. :)

It seems to me that the two-up-two-down terrace house is similar to what Craig had in "The Lodger"? That's kind of what I have in mind in the story I'm working on.
I'm in the process of moving out of a two up two down, a very typical one: opens directly onto the pavement and each room is roughly 13 feet by 13 feet. I lived there on my own, but in the 950s the one next door was inhabited by 4 adults and 3 children.
Similar, yes, although Craig's is a larger house - it's definitely got more than just two rooms on each floor and looks fairly spacious inside. The sort I'm referring to looks more like this. But yes, both are terraced houses.

Edited at 2015-04-10 09:42 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, I see. I took a look at floor plans for terraced houses on the web, and the one I'm picturing is bigger than those. Basically it has a kitchen/dining room, a lounge (living room?), and a third room on the ground floor which could serve as a guest room, and then two bedrooms upstairs. Craig's definitely is larger downstairs (since there's the kitchen, the lounge, Craig's room, and the Doctor's room), but rather undefined upstairs (since the stairs goes directly into the door of the illusionary upstairs, but from the outside, the upstairs is the same size as the downstairs).
1. Age 4to 5 is reception, age 5 to 6 is year one and so on. Key stage 1 is reception to year 2, infant school or primary school, years 3 to 6 (keystage 2) are junior school, also primary school. (some areas will have one school for reception to year 6, other more populated areas might have separate school for , keystages 1 and 2. There will almost always be a transfer to secondary school at age 11 but the numbering carries on - years 7 to 11 or 7 to 13 depending on the school. GCSEs are the major public exams at the end of y11. Until last year you could legally leave school at that point. There is a two year course leading to A levels that a lot of people take, either in y12 or 13 in the school they are in (y12+13 also called 6th form - a more traditional term) or transfer to a 6th form of another school or a sixthform college or FE college.

2. Removal van
4. First meaning. Can also mean not very wrinkled. Not a general term for where I live.
5. Terrace houses.
You know, coming from the US, that whole things sounds so complicated, but you know, I bet we Americans are much worse. We have kindergarten at age 4, and then twelve years of schooling called "grades", but different areas do those twelve years differently. The first set of grades is called "elementary school" or "primary school", but that could mean grades 1-5 or grades 1-6. Then the next set of grades are called either "intermediate school" or "middle school" or "junior high school", and could be grades 6-8, 7-8, or 7-9. Then "high school" (very rarely "secondary school") is either grades 9-12 or 10-12. We don't have major exams like the GCSEs, but we do have college entrance exams like the SATs and the ACTs.