Lieutenant vs. Leftenant — What's the Difference?
By Tayyaba Rehman — Updated on November 6, 2023
Lieutenant is a military rank below captain, and "Leftenant" is simply the British English pronunciation of "lieutenant."
Difference Between Lieutenant and Leftenant
Table of Contents
Lieutenant is a rank in various military and naval forces, below the rank of captain. In the United States, the word is pronounced as 'loo-tenant,' which is the standard American English pronunciation. On the other hand, Leftenant is not a separate rank or word but the British English pronunciation of the same word, 'lieutenant,' pronounced as 'lef-tenant.'
The role of a lieutenant typically involves acting as a subordinate to a higher-ranking officer and taking on leadership responsibilities. In contrast, the pronunciation "leftenant" does not imply a different role or set of responsibilities; it merely reflects the phonetic difference in British English speech.
Lieutenant is commonly abbreviated as "Lt." or "LT" in written form, particularly in the United States. British English also uses the same abbreviations, but when spoken, it still adheres to the "leftenant" pronunciation. This difference in pronunciation is one of the many examples of the variations between American and British English.
In historical contexts, the term lieutenant has been used for centuries, with the British English pronunciation "leftenant" being the older form. American English adopted the "lieutenant" pronunciation following different phonetic development post-independence. Despite the different pronunciations, the rank is equivalent in NATO countries.
While the rank of lieutenant is the same in the militaries of English-speaking countries, the pronunciation is a clear indicator of whether the speaker is using American or British English. This distinction is also found in other English words with different American and British pronunciations but retains the same meaning.
Usage by Country
United States, and others where American English is used
United Kingdom and countries with British English influence
Lieutenant (pronounced as Leftenant)
Lt., LT (pronounced as Leftenant)
Compare with Definitions
A commissioned officer in the armed forces, below a captain.
The lieutenant gave the orders to advance.
The British English pronunciation of "lieutenant," a military rank.
The leftenant stood at attention during the inspection.
In the navy, a rank below lieutenant commander.
The lieutenant oversaw the ship's daily operations.
In British English, a deputy or subordinate leader.
The leftenant organized the platoon's defenses.
A deputy or assistant to a superior officer.
She served as the general's lieutenant during the campaign.
A British naval officer rank below lieutenant commander.
The leftenant navigated the turbulent seas with skill.
In non-military use, a person who acts for a superior.
He became the CEO's lieutenant for corporate negotiations.
A title for certain deputy or assistant officers in British English.
He was promoted to leftenant of the ambulance service.
A lieutenant (UK: lef-TEN-ənt or US: loo-TEN-ənt abbreviated Lt., Lt, LT, Lieut and similar) is a junior commissioned officer in the armed forces, fire services, police and other organizations of many nations. The meaning of lieutenant differs in different militaries (see comparative military ranks), but is often subdivided into senior (first lieutenant) and junior (second lieutenant and even third lieutenant) ranks.
A British term for a personal assistant in non-military contexts.
As the director's leftenant, she managed all his appointments.
A deputy or substitute acting for a superior
One of the Prime Minister's most trusted lieutenants
Archaic form of lieutenant
A commissioned rank in the US Navy or Coast Guard that is above lieutenant junior grade and below lieutenant commander.
Misspelling of lieutenant
A first lieutenant.
A second lieutenant.
One who holds any of these ranks or a similar rank in another military organization.
(lĕf-tĕnənt) A commissioned officer in the British and Canadian navies ranking just below a lieutenant commander.
An officer in a police or fire department ranking below a captain.
One who acts in place of or represents a superior; an assistant or deputy
The organized crime figure and his lieutenants.
(military) The lowest Junior Commissioned Officer rank(s) in many military forces, often Army and Marines.
In the US Army, Air Force and Marines, holding the rank above Second Lieutenant and below Captain. Both ranks may be referred to as "Lieutenant" or as the complete forms of the ranks.
A naval officer whose rank is above that of Ensign in the United States Navy and below that of a Lieutenant Commander. There are two ranks of lieutenant: Lieutenant Junior Grade and Lieutenant.
A Commissioned Officer in the United States Coast Guard, Public Health Service, or National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration whose rank is above that of Ensign and below Lieutenant Commander. There are two ranks of lieutenant: Lieutenant Junior Grade and lieutenant.
A Commissioned Officer in the British Army and Royal Marines, holding the rank above Second Lieutenant and below Captain. Both ranks may be referred to as "Lieutenant," however "Second Lieutenant" is to specify that the officer is not yet a full Lieutenant.
A naval officer whose rank is above that of Sub-Lieutenant in the British Navy and below that of a Lieutenant Commander.
A naval Commissioned Officer who holds the rank above Sub-Lieutenant and below Lieutenant Commander.
A person who manages or executes the plans and directives of another, more senior person - i.e. a manager to his director.
The second-in-command (2IC) of a group.
A military grade that is junior to the grade the adjective modifies: lieutenant colonel, lieutenant general, lieutenant commander.
An officer who supplies the place of a superior in his absence; a representative of, or substitute for, another in the performance of any duty.
The lawful magistrate, who is the vicegerent or lieutenant of God.
A commissioned officer in the army, next below a captain.
A commissioned military officer
An officer in a police force
An assistant with power to act when his superior is absent
An officer holding a commissioned rank in the United States Navy or the United States Coast Guard; below lieutenant commander and above lieutenant junior grade
Used in titles for officers serving as deputies or assistants.
The fire department appointed him as lieutenant of the rescue squad.
What is a lieutenant?
A lieutenant is a military officer ranked below a captain.
What is a leftenant?
"Leftenant" is the British English pronunciation of "lieutenant."
Is there a difference in rank between a lieutenant and a leftenant?
No, the rank is the same; the difference is in pronunciation.
How is 'lieutenant' pronounced in British English?
In British English, it's pronounced 'lef-tenant.'
Why is 'lieutenant' pronounced differently in British English?
Historical linguistic evolution in British English led to the 'lef-tenant' pronunciation.
Can I use 'leftenant' in American English?
It's not standard and would likely cause confusion due to pronunciation.
Is the spelling different for lieutenant and leftenant?
No, they are spelled the same way, "lieutenant."
How do you pronounce 'lieutenant' in American English?
In American English, it's pronounced 'loo-tenant.'
Does the navy also use the rank of lieutenant?
Yes, it's a rank in many navies, positioned below lieutenant commander.
Can 'lieutenant' refer to non-military positions?
Yes, it can also refer to a deputy or assistant in civilian organizations.
What does a lieutenant do?
A lieutenant leads troops, assists captains, and handles various administrative duties.
Will using 'leftenant' in the UK be understood as 'lieutenant'?
Yes, in the UK, 'leftenant' is the recognized pronunciation for 'lieutenant.'
Where did the term 'lieutenant' originate?
It originated from the French language, meaning 'place holder.'
What is the abbreviation for lieutenant?
It is abbreviated as "Lt." or "LT."
Are the roles of a lieutenant and a leftenant different?
No, the roles are identical; only the pronunciation differs.
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Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to askdifference.com. As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.