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British English vs. American English

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

British English and American English are two variants of the English language that have several differences in spelling, vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. In this blog, we will explore some of the most common differences between these two versions of English.

Spelling

While the spelling differences between British English and American English can be confusing, they're an important part of understanding the nuances of the English language.

Some common examples include:

  • Words ending in "-our" in British English end in "-or" in American English, such as "colour" (British) and "color" (American).

  • Words ending in "-re" in British English end in "-er" in American English, such as "centre" (British) and "center" (American).

  • Words ending in "-ise" in British English end in "-ize" in American English, such as "realise" (British) and "realize" (American).

  • Words ending in "-yse" in British English end in "-yze" in American English, such as "analyse" (British) and "analyze" (American).

  • Some words have entirely different spellings between the two dialects, such as "tyre" (British) and "tire" (American) for the rubber casing on a wheel.

Vocabulary

Another significant difference between British and American English is the vocabulary, which can sometimes lead to confusion and misunderstandings, especially for learners of the language.

Here are some common examples:

  • Food

In British English, "biscuits" are a type of cookie, while in American English, "biscuits" are a type of fluffy bread. Similarly, "chips" in British English are what Americans call "French fries", while "crisps" in British English are what Americans call "potato chips".

  • Transport

In British English, the "boot" of a car is what Americans call the "trunk," while the "bonnet" is the "hood." Additionally, "petrol" is what Americans call "gasoline."

  • Clothing

In British English, "trousers" are what Americans call "pants", while "pants" in British English refers to underwear. Similarly, "jumper" in British English is what Americans call a "sweater".

  • Household items

In British English, "bin" is what Americans call a "trash can" or "garbage can," while "lorry" is what Americans call a "truck."

  • Miscellaneous

In British English, "holiday" refers to what Americans call a "vacation", while "torch" is what Americans call a "flashlight".

It's important to be aware of these differences if you're learning English, as they can affect your ability to communicate effectively with people from different parts of the world.

Grammar

While British English and American English are very similar in terms of grammar, there are still some important differences to be aware of.

Here are a few examples:

  • Verb agreement

Collective nouns in British English, such as "team," "government," and "family," may take either a singular or plural verb depending on whether the group is thought of as one idea or as individual members of the group.

In American English, these nouns are treated as singular and take singular verbs. For example, in British English, you might say "The team are performing well", while in American English, you would say "The team is performing well".

Note: The collective noun "police" is always followed by a plural verb.

  • Prepositions

In some cases, British English and American English use different prepositions. For example, in British English, you might say "I'll meet you at the weekend", while in American English, you would say "I'll meet you on the weekend".

  • Past tense

Some irregular verbs have different past tense forms in British English and American English. For example, the past tense of "get" in British English is "got", while in American English it is often "gotten".

  • Use of "have got"

In British English, it is common to use the phrase "have got" to mean "have." For example, you might say, "I've got a headache." In American English, it is more common to simply say, "I have a headache."

Pronunciation

The main difference between British English and American English pronunciation lies in the way some sounds are pronounced. For example, in American English, the "r" sound is usually pronounced strongly, while in British English, it is often not pronounced in words where it's not followed by a vowel sound. Additionally, in American English, the "t" sound in words like "butter" and "water" is pronounced like a soft "d," while in British English, it is pronounced more strongly. Some vowel sounds are also pronounced differently, and the stress and intonation patterns of words and sentences differ between the two dialects. Although these pronunciation variations make learning English a little more challenging, they contribute to the diversity and richness of the English language.

Here are some examples:

  • Tomato: In British English, it is pronounced with a short "a" sound, like "tuh-MAH-toh," while in US English, it's pronounced with a long "a" sound, like "tuh-MAY-toh."

  • Mobile: In British English, it is pronounced with the stress on the second syllable, like "MO-bile," while in US English, it's pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, like "MO-bile."

  • Privacy: In British English, it is pronounced with a short "i" sound, like "PRI-vuh-see," while in US English, it's pronounced with a long "i" sound, like "PRY-vuh-see."

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It is worth noting that while these are some of the most common differences, there are many others as well. These differences are mostly minor, but they can sometimes confuse learners of English. Ultimately, both British English and American English are acceptable and correct, and it is up to the speaker to choose which one to use.

It is also worth noting that both are considered standard dialects of English, and neither is inherently "better" or "more correct" than the other. The choice between them depends on the learner's personal preference and needs, as well as their intended audience and context for using the language.

Which is easier to learn?

The difficulty of learning either British English or American English depends on a variety of factors, such as the learner's native language, their exposure to the language, and their learning style. However, since both are mutually intelligible, meaning that speakers of either language can understand each other, the difference in difficulty between them may be minimal for many learners.

That being said, some learners may find one variant easier to learn than the other, depending on their familiarity with the specific vocabulary, spelling, grammar rules, and pronunciation. For example, learners who have been exposed to British literature and culture may find British English easier to learn, while those who have been exposed to American media and culture may find American English easier to learn.


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