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American English vs British English: What are the differences?

Wed, 27 Jan 2021

When we learn to read and write in English, we’d probably think that there is nothing more to it than it already is. But then, two possibilities appeared in the form of American and British English. Watching the wizard-themed movie ‘Harry Potter’, you might’ve noticed the considerable distinction in the spoken accent and diction, compared to American movies. Your mind subsequently begins to spiral in wonder. Both the American and British are speaking the same language, but apparently there are also some distinguishable features as well.



Before we start comparing, let’s discuss the brief history of the two languages. English was initially introduced to the Americans in the 17th century when the British reached the soil by sea. As the first means of spelling and writing systems, dictionaries were then arranged and made. In the UK, the first dictionaries were compiled and written by scholars based in London. While a lexicographer by the name Noah Webster compiled his own version of the American dictionary in order to show cultural independence.



The differences between the American and British accents took place after the first settlers arrived in American land. They spoke in rhotic speech, which means that the sounds of ‘r’ are pronounced clearly in words. Whereas the people in the UK advanced on a different path by softening their pronunciation of ‘r’ sounds. Eventually, this speech pattern became a common thing for speaking in England.



So, do American and British English only hold distinctive variations in speech and diction? Not quite. Scroll through this blog to see the other differences that occurred between American English and British English.



Spelling

The distinctive spelling of words in British English was pioneered by famous English writer, Samuel Johnson. Along with six assistants, Johnson was able to publish the most popular British English dictionary A Dictionary of the English Language with about 40,000 words in 1755. Similarly, Noah Webster first arranged the American English Dictionary A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1806. 22 years later, he followed up the original dictionary with his ‘An American Dictionary of the English Language’ which had over 70,000 words with distinctive spelling apart from the British English ones.


Here are several common differences of special between American English and British English in the table below.


American English


British English


Description


color


colour


A number of words in British English usually end in –our, while American English words end in –or.


behavior


behaviour


theater


theatre


A number of words in British English usually end in -re while American English words change it into –er.



meter


metre


realize


realise


Verbs in British English always end with –se, while American English verbs usually end with –ze.


organize


organise


defense


defence


Some British English words that end with-ence are written as –ense in American English.


license


licence


canceled


cancelled


British English words insert another ‘L’ after verbs ending in vowel plus ‘L’.


traveled


travelled



Vocabulary

Once again, American English and British English share another different aspects. Each form of English has their own words as seen in the table below.


American English


British English


pants


trousers


apartment


flat


hood


bonnet


truck


lorry


the movies


the cinema


sweater


jumper


soccer


football



Grammar

In addition to spelling and vocabulary, British English and American English also have differences in the grammar systems. The list below will show you which grammar systems are commonly used by either British English or American English.


Past Simple vs Present Perfect


To describe an event that occurred not too long ago, American English tends to use past simple, while British English uses present perfect.


American English


British English


I lived in Brooklyn since 1998.


I have lived in Brooklyn since 1998.


We ate steak last night.


We have eaten steak.


Did you get the note?


Have you gotten the note?



Preposition

British English usually uses ‘at’ in relation to time and place. Meanwhile, American English uses ‘on’ to indicate time and ‘in’ for place.


American English


British English


I’m heading to party on Christmas.


I’m heading to a party at Christmas.


She has English lesson on 18.00.


She has English lesson at 18.00.


I’m meeting a friend in the library.


I’m meeting a friend at the library.



Get vs Gotten

The past participle of ‘get’ in the UK has changed to 'got', after abandoning ‘gotten’. Whereas American English still choose to retain ‘gotten’.


American English


Get-Got-Gotten


I’ve gotten the cold.


British English


Get-Got-Got


I got the cold.



Collective nouns are singular or plural?

In British English, a collective noun is considered plural, as it emphasizes every member in a group. However, American English considers collective nouns as singular, as it emphasizes the group as one entity.


American English


The government is in full support of the people.


My team is on a winning streak.


British English


The government are in full support of the people.


My team are on a winning streak.



Which English do you often use?

As the worldwide dominating language, English had to adapt through various circumstances. The example can be seen through American English and British English. Although the two contain differentiating features, the fact is they still hold more common similarities. Regardless of which English you use, you can sharpen both sides with LingoTalk. You’ll be able to master both American English and British English in no time!



American English

British English

Language

Grammar

Vocabulary

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