Key Differences Between American and British English

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There is a famous quote thatAmerica and Britain are two nations divided by a common language.”

American and British English seem quite alike but are very different. There are a lot of differences between these two. From vocabulary to grammar to spelling to pronunciation, everything is poles apart. 

Many people may be asking themselves what’s the difference between American and British English. If you are one of them, then this post is for you. 

1. Pronunciation

It’s not difficult to identify distinctions between British and US pronunciations. These differences took place after the first settlers reached America. These people used to speak what is known as rhotic speech, where the words with “r” sounds are pronounced aggressively. 

However, upper classes in the United Kingdom wanted to differentiate their speaking from the common people. Therefore, they started to soften their pronunciation of the “R” sounds. As elite people were considered the norm for being elegant, everyone started to copy their way of speaking.

Let’s take a look at the general rule about the letter “R” in British and American English.

In British English, the letter “R” is only pronounced when it comes after a vowel (a,e, I,o, u). However, this is not the case with American English. Americans pronounce this letter always.

2. Vocabulary

Numerous common words in British and American English have entirely different meanings. For example, when you search for a caretaker in England, you come across cleaners for cleaning a house. On the other hand, in America, the caretaker is a person who takes care of someone like an elderly, child, or sick person. 

Apart from this, there are a few everyday objects that have different names in both dialects. Have a look at the below table.

British EnglishAmerican English
AutumnFall
ChipsFries
HandbagPurse
HolidayVacation
FlatApartment
footballsoccer
UniversityCollege 
Lift elevator
Biscuitcookie
Car park Parking lot

 

3. Spellings

Even though Americans and the British speak the same language, they do not use the same spelling. The differences in spelling date back to the time when spelling standard was not yet developed. 

The key difference is that British English uses the spelling of words adopted from languages, primarily French and German. In contrast, American English spellings are based majorly on how a word sounds when it is spoken. 

For instance, Americans write “color” while the British spelling for the same word is “colour.”

Below are a few major ways in which American and British spellings are distinct.

  1. British English words which end in “re” usually end in “er” in American English:

British English vs American English

  1. Verbs in British English that are spelled with “ise” at the end are spelled with “ize” at the end in American English:

British English vs American English

  • organise vs organize
  • recognise vs recognize
  • capitalise vs capitalize
  1. Most words ending in “our” in British English are spelled without the “u” in American English:

British English vs American English

  • humour vs humor
  • behaviour vs behavior
  1. Verbs ending in a vowel plus “l” in British English double the “l”. This is not the case with American English.

British English vs American English

  1. In British English, nouns that end with “ence” are written “ense” in American English.

British English vs American English

  • licence vs license
  • pretence vs pretense

4. Grammar

Besides vocabulary and spelling differences, there are specific grammatical contrasts between American and British English. These variations are usually due to the influence of different cultures adopted by these two nations. British people prefer to use formal speech, while Americans prefer more informal speech.

Let’s understand the fundamental grammar differences between British and American English.

1. Prepositions

Americans and British people use prepositions differently. In American English, “on” is used when talking about weekend while in British English “at” is used for time expression.

US

We are going to a party on the weekend.

British

We are going to a party at the weekend.

2. The past participle of “get”

In British English, “got” is the past participle form of “get” while Americans use the word “gotten” as the past participle.

US

I haven’t gotten any email from you.

British

I haven’t got any email from you.

3. Past Simple vs. Present Perfect

Americans are more likely to use the past simple when referring to something that happened in the recent past. On the contrary, British people tend to use the present perfect tense. 

Check out the following example.

US

She ate too much.

British

She has eaten too much.

4. Use of collective nouns

A collective noun such as a team, government, etc. in the US English is always singular as Americans consider the group as one whole entity. On the other hand, a collective noun in British English usually tends toward plural.

US

Our team is doing everything possible to boost business.

British

Our team are doing everything possible to boost business.

5. Regular or irregular verbs

Since this is a minor difference, it is often overlooked in speech. However, it is much more evident in the written form. In British English, many verbs that are irregular in the past tense are made regular in American English.

 British vs American English

  • Burnt vs Burned
  • Learnt vs Learned
  • Dreamt vs Dreamed
  • Leapt vs Leaped

Final Thoughts

Learning English is essential, not only because it is a global language, but also for the fact that it has turned into the language of the internet, media, business, science, and more. 

Though there are numerous varieties of English language, British and American English are two prominent varieties which are taught in most English learning programs. In this post, we made you familiar with some key differences between British and American English in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, spellings, and grammar. Hopefully, it helps you get a better understanding of the differences between these two.

 


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