American vs. British English may technically be the same language, but there are so many differences that it can warrant an entire article. And that's why we're here today. In today's blog, you'll learn everything you need to know about the differences between American and British English and how to ensure you're getting it right.
The differences between American and British English are:
Read on to learn more.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
American and British English are the same language, right? So why are there so many differences? It turns out there's a good reason for that.
This warrants a little history lesson.
Originally the English language was brought to the U.S. by British settlers, and once spelling standards were established, Americans and Brits spelled their words the same. That is, with a lot of influence from the languages they came from, mainly French and German. That's why sometimes you might look at a word and think it doesn't make sense to be spelled the way it is.
Like the following:
But then, lexicographer Noah Webster decided that Americans should spell their words differently to assert their independence. He set out to write 'An American Dictionary of the English Language,' in which he reformed a number of spellings.
As you may have noticed, he didn't change all of them. No, he just wanted to change the ones that weren't spelled the way they sounded. The way he saw it, spelling should be kept simple and to the point.
This is a handy trick if you want to tell apart an American spelling from a British one:
Here are some examples; try and figure out which spelling is the American one:
Did you guess? In each of these examples, the first word is the American spelling. No frills, no added letters, just the word as it sounds.
But spelling isn't the only way American English differs from British English. There are also differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Let's dive in.
Note! The American English version is always shown first in all the examples, followed by the British English version.
We've touched on the differences between American and British spellings, but we will look at this in a little more depth. Did you know there are general rules that mark the differences between the two? They don't apply one hundred percent of the time, but they're good guidelines.
Usually, words containing the digraph' ou' in British English lose the 'u' in American to just become 'o.'
Case in point:
Words that end with 'ize' or 'yze' in American end with 'ise' or 'yse' in British English.
And as a general rule, Americans use 'z' where Brits use 's,' even if there's no 'e' after it, like in 'organization' vs' organisation.'
British English often doubles an 'l,' especially if there's a vowel right before it. American English doesn't, though.
Sometimes Brits spell words with the double vowels 'ae' and 'oe.' These are nowhere to be found in American.
Some words ending in 'ense' in American English are spelled with 'ense' in British English
The Americans prefer' Og' while Brits favor the 'ogue' spelling.
Often, the digraph' er' is translated to 're' in British English spellings:
As you're probably aware, there are many differences between the vocabulary used by Americans and that used by Brits. This can lead to some confusion because not only might someone have never heard of the word you're using, but some words actually exist in both languages but have entirely different meanings. Take the word' football,' for example. It exists in both forms of the language but represents two different sports.
Here's a list of American words and their corresponding British word. Prepare to have your mind blown!
There are many more, of course, and listing them all here would be impossible, so I'll leave it at that for now. However, I do want to mention slang as it isn't exempt from the American vs British dichotomy.
Here are some common ones:
Believe it or not, even grammar rules can differ between the United States and the United Kingdom. Overall, grammar is the same across the two, but some key differences exist. Let's check them out.
The past participle tense contains one key difference: in American English, the verbs in this tense end in 't,' while in British English, they end in 'ed.'
Americans still use 'gotten' whereas the British have dropped it in favor of 'got:'
You've gotten so big since I last saw you! (AmEn)
You've got so big since I last saw you! (BrEn)
Americans use 'have' whereas the British use 'have got:'
He has beautiful eyes. (AmEn)
He has got beautiful eyes. (BrEn)
They have to run it by us first. (AmEn)
They have got to run it by us first. (AmEn)
Often, where Americans use 'take,' British English uses 'have:'
I'm just going to take a shower. (AmEn)
I'm just going to have a shower. (BrEn)
Some prepositions are used differently.
Here are some examples:
Let's hang out on the weekend. (AmEn)
Let's hang out at the weekend. (BrEn)
I haven't seen you in years (AmEn)
I haven't seen you for years (BrEn)
We're waiting on Sam. (AmEn)
We're waiting for Sam. (BrEn)
You'll work in the office Monday through Friday. (AmEn)
You'll work in the office Monday to Friday. (BrEn)
Some adverbs are just more common on one side of the pond than on the other. For example, the adverb 'real' is preferred by Americans, while the British use 'really.'
That's real cool, Tommy, real cool. (AmEn)
That's really cool, Tommy, really cool. (BrEn)
In terms of nouns, in American English, collective nouns are considered singular, while in British English, they can be either singular or plural, but they prefer to pluralize them.
The band is playing. (AmEn)
The band are playing. (BrEn)
The jury is coming to a verdict. (AmEn)
The jury are coming to a verdict. (BrEn)
The French army was defeated. (AmEn)
The French army were defeated. (AmEn)
You might be thinking, well, duh, they pronounce words differently: they have different accents! And you'd be correct. And the difference in accents definitely causes the Americans and the Brits to pronounce words differently. But I'm talking about something more here.
With some words, the accent might be placed on a different syllable, or a letter might be pronounced differently.
Here are some examples:
And here are some examples where the stress is on a different syllable (the one underlined is the one you should stress):
There are, of course, many more differences between Americans and Brits, such as the metric system most commonly used and the fact that Americans are more outgoing and the British say 'sorry' a lot. Still, these are more cultural than to do with writing. If you're interested, I encourage you to explore these more.
In the meantime, is it the end of the world if you mistakingly use a British spelling of an American one? Or if you use a word more commonly used in the U.K. when you're based in the U.S.? The answer is it depends. If you're writing professionally for an American publication, such as a newspaper, you probably want to try to stick to the American spelling, although your editor should catch that. But I wouldn't think it should matter too much if you're writing in a personal context, such as an email with friends or texting. Heck, they might not even notice!
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you enjoyed this article, we've got lots more where this came from in our Grammar Book. It's a free online database of grammar articles just like this one. Check it out!