What is the Difference Between Crisps and Chips?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The difference between crisps and chips is quite varied, depending on where in the English speaking world one is located. The varying definitions which have emerged for these two terms illustrate the immense divergence of the English language, and in the way in which concepts disseminate between English speakers and nations which use English. Of course, for the person puzzling over the packaging in the snack foods aisle, the distinction between the two may be less academic in nature.

Potato crisps have a distinctive "saddle" shape.
Potato crisps have a distinctive "saddle" shape.

In the United States, thin slices of potato which are fried and served cold are known as potato chips, while slices or wedges of potatoes which are fried and served hot are known as fries or French fries. A “crisp” in American parlance is a fruit dessert with a sweet crumb topping, and has absolutely nothing at all to do with potato products. Canadians also use the potato chip and French fry terminology, as do some Europeans.

Potato chips, or crisps.
Potato chips, or crisps.

Great Britain and Ireland refer to potato chips as “crisps,” and fries as “chips.” In some areas, speakers of British English may talk about “chips” when they refer to thick potato wedges, and “fries” when they refer to thin potato strips, sometimes known as “shoestring potatoes” in the United States. One way to remember the distinction between crisps and chips in Britain is to recall one of the most famous dishes of this region: fish and chips, which is made with pieces of battered fried fish and potatoes, all served hot.

Potato chips.
Potato chips.

In New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and other regions with a recent and active British influence, people have various ways of talking about crisps and chips. In some areas, “crisps” is used as a blanket term for all fried potato products, hot or cold, and people may talk about “packet crisps” when they want to refer specifically to cold fried potato slices. “Chips” may be used to discuss things like corn or tortilla chips, which are made from materials other than potatoes.

Thick potato wedges are referred to as "chips" in some places.
Thick potato wedges are referred to as "chips" in some places.

Potato snacks are popular in many regions of the world, as the plethora of flavors available indicates. Visitors to regions with unfamiliar terminology may find themselves accidentally ordering the wrong thing, or they may be quite confused over the labeling on supermarket shelves and in restaurants. People who are uncertain about the distinction between crisps and chips in the nations they visit should definitely not be afraid to ask for clarification from a native.

In Great Britain, French fries are "chips."
In Great Britain, French fries are "chips."
Snacks that are made using potatoes are popular in most regions of the world.
Snacks that are made using potatoes are popular in most regions of the world.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


In Great Britain we have crisps, fries and chips. Crisps are the snack you buy in a bag available in many many flavors. Chips and fries are different due to how thick the potato has been cut. So at McDonalds and Burger King they sell fries (we call them French fries) as they are cut very thin and long. The fish and chip shops sell chips; these are cut much thicker.


The only “crisp” I've ever eaten is apple crisp with cinnamon and sugar. If someone had offered me potato crisp, I would have thought they had made a strange dessert!


@StreamFinder – I used to think the same thing about fish and chips! I heard this dish mentioned as a child, and I envisioned a basket filled with fried fish and potato chips.

I thought it a strange combination. I would have much rather eaten French fries with my fish than potato chips, which I thought of as the perfect partner to a sandwich or a burger.

I was surprised as a child when my dad ordered the fish and chips and out came some fries. I was delighted, though, because that's what I really wanted, and I had been upset that the restaurant didn't have fries on the menu!


I thought that potato crisps were like potato chips but airier. I've had several types of chips called crisps that had air bubbles in them, and they were much lighter than regular chips. You could tell that by holding the bag.

This is what I think of when anyone mentions potato crisps. I prefer them to chips, because their texture is very satisfying. I also feel like I'm eating fewer calories and less fat, since the crisp is mostly air!


I love potatoes in all forms. I would not be disappointed with what came to the table, even if it wasn't what I expected.

If I'm craving fries, chips will satisfy the urge just as well. Potato wedges will do the same.


There is no 'immense divergence' between American English and British English. They are virtually identical - most differences apparently stemming from the influence of the German language of many of the original settlers e.g., "If you would have helped we would have done it quicker," which is a translation from German instead of "If you had helped we would have done it quicker." Also (mainly in California) "It must not have been true," from the German instead of "It can't have been true." Many AmE speakers cannot/do not distinguish well between the verbs 'bring' and 'take.' American grammar books, however, conform to the British English way of doing things in almost all cases.

When it comes to spelling, differences between the two are quite deliberate. Webster famously set out to create differences from British English to help forge a sense of American identity, but seemed to take it out on the French by respelling "theatre" -- a word deriving from French as "theater," for example. This was not a very grateful response to the assistance the French gave the Americans in the war of independence. There are also some simplifications of words coming from Greek. Almost all words are spelled the same, however.

The extraordinary thing about AmE and BrE is how similar they are. Compare the Spanish of Spain with that of Latin America, the Portuguese of Portugal and that of Brazil, the French of France and that of Quebec, or the German of Germany and that of Switzerland or the German settlements in Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and Argentina and you will see much greater differences.

The main difference between America and Britain is cultural. America is deeply conservative (in every sense) and religious while Britain is far more progressive and secular. I could say more but better shut up now!


Potato chips were invented in Saratoga Springs, New York in the USA by a Native American named George Crum. He was cutting his potatoes really thin, and his customers were so pleased that they begged for more of Crum's Potato chips. In the USA they are still called potato chips. --Alyssa


I used to get so confused about the difference between those two -- thanks for writing such a clear article to spell it out. The examples were really helpful too.

But one other question -- how would you tell what someone was talking about if they only mentioned a brand? For example, if someone was saying "Ruffles chips" -- I'm pretty sure that Ruffles makes what American people call fries as well as potato chips, so how would you tell the difference in that situation? Is it just a context thing?


Wow, that's complicated! I'm glad I read this article before I traveled abroad; I would have never thought that something as simple as a potato chip could have so many different names.

And I know this may sound silly, but I honestly thought that fish and chips came with potato chips -- like Lays.

Are there any other food terms that I should know? For instance, what do people in other countries call things like low carb chips, or veggie chips? Do you just replace the chips part with crisps, or what?

And are there any other different food names that are really common? I'd really like to know. Thanks.

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