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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.