CS Sealey

New Zealand-based sub-editor, writer and author

The difference between arse and ass

TLDR: You don’t really want to miss out on all the arse, do you? Just use arse, you ass.

I can’t believe I’m actually writing this one. Here is yet another of those amusing mixups. Though the usage of these terms depends on the country in which you live, there is actually a difference between the two words which, when accidentally swapped, can cause some awkward situations.

British use:

arse (noun)—a person’s buttocks

Sally slipped on the ice and landed on her arse.

I’ve been sitting on my arse all day, I want to go for a walk!’ John complained.

arse (verb)—to behave in a stupid manner

‘Stop arsing around, Ben! You’ll break something!’

arse (exclamation)—informal expression of frustration or anger, often substituting a cruder expression

I can’t believe I just missed my train. Arse!

ass (noun)—a donkey

The ass brayed loudly in the field.

ass (noun)—a donkey

The horse and the ass stood together in the middle of the field.

ass (noun)—an irritating or foolish individual

‘Oh, that Belinda is such an ass!

Don’t make an ass of yourself in front of all these people,’ he warned.

It is also common to pronounce this definition of ass as arse in many places in Britain and also Australia.

American exceptions:

ass (noun)—a person’s buttocks

‘My mother grabbed the wooden spoon and smacked me on the ass.

Get your ass into gear, corporal!

Stop looking at me like that, Jones, or I’ll bust your ass!

Since this is a country-specific issue, to avoid any mixups, it all boils down to consistency. If you live in Britain, don’t let Americanisms bleed into your usage of English, as you could amusingly be caught watching TV sitting on a donkey instead of your bottom!

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