Question:There is some difference between American English and British English in saying the number of floors.For example, ground floor(British English)=first floor(American English). I have a question.If I live in the ground floor and my brother lives on the third floor,the highest floor of the building.How many floors does the building have?Can we say "the building has four floors" or "the building has three floors"?
To be certain, you have to check with the inhabitants of the building. As you note, the count of the number of floors does vary. I have noticed that even within one country, there are different methods of counting. And, when I travel in different countries, I am never sure until I travel up and down in the elevator a couple of times.
The definition in the LDOCE of ‘first floor’ is this:
• the first floor British English: the floor of a building just above the one at the bottom level [↪ ground floor]:
a flat on the first floor
American English: the floor of a building at the bottom level:
Fire broke out on the first floor of the apartment building.
According to this definition, then, Lxguy, in England your building has four floors: the ground floor, plus floors 1, 2, and 3. But in the US, the ground floor might be equivalent to floor 1, and then would come floor 2 and floor 3, so the building could have three floors.
But, there is more to be considered. In the US, if the ground floor is inhabited, if it has apartments or shops, we usually count it as a floor. Your ground floor is inhabited, so that is floor one, or the first floor. The next floor would be floor two, or the second floor. Your brother lives on floor three, the third floor, so the building has three floors.
In the US, if the ground floor is a basement, or a parking garage, or used for mechanical equipment or storage, it won’t count as a habitable floor. If your ground floor were used for this purpose, Lxguy, we would say that you were living on the first floor, your brother would be on the third floor, and your building would still be known to have three floors. The ground floor is not a countable floor in this case.
Another factor: sometimes the lobby floor IS the first floor, or the ground floor, and the floors above it are numbered 2, 3, 4 etc. In this case, if you live on the lobby floor, the ground floor, and your brother is on the third floor, the highest, your building has three floors. Sometimes, though, the lobby floor is called the ground floor, and the first floor is the one above the lobby. In this case, if there are no apartments on the lobby/ground floor, you would be living on the first floor and your brother on the third. Then we might say that the building has four floors, if we count the lobby, or we might say three. It's a bit confusing, because the method of counting is not consistent.(http://www.171english.cn) _______
Here’s a definition of ‘ground floor’ from an architecture dictionary*:
• The floor of a building which is nearest the surrounding surface of the ground; usually the first floor in the US but sometimes a floor between a basement or cellar and the first floor.
This definition does not totally clarify the situation for us. What it does is note that the definition of ‘ground floor’ does not always mean the same thing. _______ While looking up something else on Google just now, I came across this in Wikipedia:
There are also variations in floor numbering between the US and UK. In most countries, including the UK, the "first floor" is one above the entrance level while the entrance level is the "ground floor". This is opposed to in the US, however, where the ground floor is considered the first floor. In a British lift, one would press the "G" or "0" button to return to the ground floor, whereas in an American elevator, one would push the "1", "G", or "L" (for Lobby) button to return to the ground floor. The "L" button in a British lift would take you to the lower ground floor (i.e. the floor below ground, the basement), which may also be numbered "-1" (minus one).
American (AmE) apartment buildings / (BrE) blocks of flats frequently are exceptions to this rule. The ground floor often contains the lobby and parking area for the tenants, while the numbered floors begin one level above and contain only the apartments themselves.
--By Rachel Spack Koch (Rachel Spack Koch has taught English to non-native speakers for more than 30 years, heading up the grammar component in the curriculum of the Intensive English Program at the University of Miami, and teaching grammar and TOEFL preparation at Harvard University and at community colleges.
She wrote grammar and writing questions for TOEFL for several years. A participant in and developer of interactive student activities on the Internet since the early 1990s, she designs and writes content for internet materials and ESL software, as well as for workbooks in print.
Rachel has a master’s degree in adult education with a specialty in English language teaching.)