The difference between British and American English

The difference between British and American English Since, most usually, some students ask about the difference between British and American English, ...
Author: Lee Skinner
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The difference between British and American English Since, most usually, some students ask about the difference between British and American English, I decided to prepare something brief in this regard. I made some searches through Internet and other sources, and very accidentally came across with a CD containing a version of Longman Dictionary. I noticed that there was a part allocating to describing the difference discussed. After reading it, I thought it could be quite useful for my students to mage use of too, especially for the reason that the information provided is something original and written by informed native speakers of the language. Introduction

Although English is generally the same all over the world, there are several differences between British and American English. Spelling Sometimes American and British English users spell things differently. Some of the main differences are: British words end in -our colour, labour, humour -tre theatre, centre, metre -nce defence, offence, licence -elled, -elling travelled, cancelling American words end in -or color, labor, humor -ter theater, center, meter -nse defense, offense, license -eled, -eling traveled, canceling In British English, words that end in -ize or -ization can often also be spelled -ise or -isation, for example both organization and organisation are correct in British English, but the letter z is the correct American spelling. However, the word advertise is always spelt with an s.

Vocabulary Some words for the same things are different in British and American English. Here are some examples: British American tap faucet cooker stove petrol gas toilet bathroom trousers pants railwayrailroad wash up do the dishes wash your hands wash up jug pitcher campsite campground Sometimes words are neither specifically British or American, but a British or American speaker is more likely to use one word than another. For example, the word angry is correct in British and American English, but Americans usually use the word mad. The phrase a bit is also acceptable in both, but Americans are more likely to say a little. Similarly, British speakers are more likely to use the noun and verb post instead of mail, although mail is correct in both British and American English. Grammar

There are also some grammatical differences between British and American English, for example when you are choosing the correct preposition to use. Here are some examples: British You can phone us on 0800 123123. He looked round the corner. Her accent is different from/to mine. American You can phone us at 01 800 555. He looked around the corner. Her accent is different from/than mine. Sometimes, Americans can miss out a preposition when British people would always use one, for example with the verb protest. British speakers would always use the preposition about: Some students were protesting about the war, but the preposition can be missed out in American English: Some students were protesting the war. Pronunciation

This dictionary shows the standard British English pronunciation, then the standard American English pronunciation after two lines (like this ||). Some words are stressed in different ways in British English and American English. Look at the entry for address1. 

address1 / @'dres Û @'dres, 'ædres / n [C] 1 the details of where someone lives or works, including the number of the building, name of the street, town etc: I forgot to give Damien my new address. 2 a formal speech: the Gettysburg Address Speakers of American English often say ADDress, whereas speakers of British English always say addRESS.

Differences between American and British English Extracted from: While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most ESL/EFL programs. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage. If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling (i.e. The color of the orange is also its flavour - color is American spelling and flavour is British), this is of course not always easy - or possible. The following guide is meant to point out the principal differences between these two varieties of English. Use of the Present Perfect In British English the present perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. For example: I've lost my key. Can you help me look for it? In American English the following is also possible: I lost my key. Can you help me look for it? In British English the above would be considered incorrect. However, both forms are generally accepted in standard American English. Other differences involving the use of the present perfect in British English and simple past in American English include already, just and yet. British English: I've just had lunch I've already seen that film Have you finished your homework yet?

American English: I just had lunch OR I've just had lunch I've already seen that film OR I already saw that film. Have your finished your homework yet? OR Did you finish your homework yet? Possession 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.) The Verb Get The past participle of the verb get is gotten in American English. Example He's gotten much better at playing tennis. British English - He's got much better at playing tennis. Vocabulary Probably the major differences between British and American English lies in the choice of vocabulary. Some words mean different things in the two varieties for example: Mean: (American English - angry, bad humored, British English - not generous, tight fisted) Rubber: (American English - condom, British English - tool used to erase pencil markings) There are many more examples (too many for me to list here). If there is a difference in usage, your dictionary will note the different meanings in its definition of the term. Many vocabulary items are also used in one form and not in the other. One of the best examples of this is the terminology used for automobiles. American English hood

British English bonnet

American English trunk

British English - boot

American English truck

British English - lorry

Once again, your dictionary should list whether the term is used in British English or American English. For a more complete list of the vocabulary differences between British and American English use this British vs. American English vocabulary tool. Prepositions There are also a few differences in preposition use including the following: American English - on British English - at the the weekend weekend American English - on British English - in a a team team American English please write me soon

British English please write to me soon

Past Simple/Past Participles The following verbs have two acceptable forms of the past simple/past participle in both American and British English, however, the irregular form is generally more common in British English (the first form of the two) and the regular form is more common to American English. Burn

Burnt OR burned


dreamt OR dreamed


leant OR leaned


learnt OR learned


smelt OR smelled


spelt OR spelled


spilt OR spilled


spoilt OR spoiled

Spelling Here are some general differences between British and American spellings: 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. The best way to make sure that you are being consistent in your spelling is to use the spell check on your word processor (if you are using the computer of course) and choose which variety of English you would like. As you can see, there are really very few differences between standard British English and standard American English. However, the largest difference is probably that of the choice of vocabulary and pronunciation. For further information concerning these areas please refer to the following links below. 

British vs. American English vocabulary tool Check British to American English or American to British English with this interactive tool. American-British/British-American Dictionary An impressive resource for reference information concerning the differences in vocabulary use between American and British English. American Vs. British English An exhaustive study by the University of Tampere on the differences between American and British English and the geo-political reasons behind these differences. English Around The World An excllent link page to information, recordings, and vocabulary examples of English as it is used in many different countries around the world. United Kingdom English for the American Novice An amusing (some might find patronizing) instructive site dedicated to helping Americans understand United Kingdom English.

American and British vocabulary There are differences between British and American English - but there are also regional differences in British and American dialects. If you spot something that you think is strange, or if you have an alternative for any of the words, please let us know!

In the list below, the first expression is always British English.

Houses Washing up liquid = Dish soap Hoover = Vacuum cleaner Washing powder = Laundry soap Clothes peg = Clothes pin Fridge = Fridge / Refrigerator Living room / lounge = Living room / Den Chest of drawers = Bureau Wardrobe = Closet Armchair = Easy chair Larder / pantry = Pantry Oven = Oven / stove

Cars Mirror = Rear view mirror Wing mirror = Side mirror Indicators = Blinkers Bonnet = Hood Boot = Trunk Windscreen = Windshield Put your foot down = Step on the gas (To drive fast) Motor / wheels = Wheels (Informal expressions for your car)

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