While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American English and British English are the two variations most commonly referenced and the two variants we will be looking at today. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is “correct” or “better”; however, there are a number of differences between the two.
The three major differences between American and British English are:
Pronunciation – differences in both vowels and consonants, as well as stress and intonation
Vocabulary – differences in nouns and verbs, especially phrasal verb usage and the names of specific tools or items
Spelling – differences are generally found in certain prefix and suffix forms
There are also other differences such as preposition usage, past tense forms, and the use of auxiliaries and modals, which we will cover in a future post. Plus, let’s not get into the Oxford comma usage and open that floodgate!
So, without further ado, let’s get started.
Fortunately, there are very few grammar differences between American and British English. Generally speaking, we follow the same grammar rules, but as we dig deeper, we see that there are a few differences.
Use of the present perfect
Let’s take a look at these two sentences:
- I’ve lost my key. Can you help me look for it?
- I lost my key. Can you help me look for it?
In British English, the past simple would be considered incorrect as it would refer to a finished past action, rather than a past action with present consequences. However, both forms are generally accepted in standard American English.
The use of past participle
The past participle of “get” is another word that creates dissimilarities in American and British English. In British English, the Past Participle of “Get” is “Got” while Americans use “Gotten”. For example:
British English – she’s got a lot better at writing articles
American English – she’s gotten a lot better at writing articles
The use of preposition is different in British and American English. Propositions such as “on and at”, “through and to” and “than and to” are used differently in sentences with the same meaning. For example:
British English: Monday to Friday.
American English: Monday through Friday.
There are plenty more examples which could be included and many lists out there on the internet which are more comprehensive on the matter. Whether it is British English or American English that appeals to you the most, the best thing to consider is how to be consistent in your word choices in order to communicate effectively to your audience.
There are two forms to express possession in English: Have or Have got.
Do you have a car?
Have you got a car?
He hasn’t got any friends.
He doesn’t have any friends.
She has a beautiful new home.
She’s got a beautiful new home.
While both forms are correct (and accepted in both British and American English), have got (have you got, he hasn’t got, etc.) is generally the preferred form in British English while most speakers of American English employ the have (do you have, he doesn’t have etc.)
This is where the differences are the most notable. If you check the dictionary, you will find words that have different American and British spellings. Some spellings include:
|British English||American English|
Also worth mentioning are:
Words ending in -or (American) -our (British) color, colour, humor, humour, flavor, flavour etc.
Words ending in -ize (American) -ise (British) recognize, recognise, patronize, patronise etc.
For a fuller list of this, I would recommend checking out Spellzone’s post on this, which covers it in more detail.
There are also differences in British and American vocabulary, some British words have their own American version, which include:
|British English||American English|
I hope this quick overview has been helpful in highlighting some of the main differences between the two variants. There is plenty more which could be included and I’ve plans to create a much larger PDF detailing the differences in the future.
In a future post, we will look at other variations such as Australian and Canadian English.
Should you have any comments or questions, you can do so in the comments section below.