There is an old saying that America and Britain are “two nations divided by a common language.” No one knows exactly who said this, but it reflects the way many Brits feel about American English.

Pronunciation

  • after (ˈæftər / ˈɑːftə)
  • common (ˈkɑː.mən / ˈkɒm.ən)
  • computer (kəmˈpjuːtər / kəmˈpjuːtə)
  • current (ˈkɜːrənt / ˈkʌrənt)
  • direct (daɪˈrekt / dəˈrekt)
  • either (ˈiːðər / ˈaɪðə)
  • example (ɪɡˈzæmpəl / ɪɡˈzɑːmpəl)
  • neither (ˈniːðər / ˈnaɪðə)
  • pass (pæs / pɑːs)
  • possible (ˈpɑːsəbəl / ˈpɒsəbəl)
  • telecom (ˈtel.ɪ.kɑːm / ˈtel.ɪ.kɒm)

Vocabulary

The most noticeable difference between American and British English is vocabulary. There are hundreds of everyday words that are different:

  • apartment / flat
  • cookie / biscuit
  • elevator / lift
  • french fries / chips
  • garbage / rubbish
  • hood / bonnet
  • line / queue
  • parking lot / car park
  • truck / lorry
  • silverware / cutlery
  • sweater / jumper
  • vacation / holiday or hols

Spelling

There are hundreds of minor spelling differences between British and American English. You can thank American lexicographer Noah Webster for this. Below are three rules you can follow:

  • -or / -our (Most words)
    • behavior / behaviour
    • color / colour
    • favor / favour
    • humor / humour
    • labor / labour
    • neighbor / neighbour
  • -er / -re (Most words)
    • center / centre
    • liter / litre
  • -ize / -ise (Many verbs)
    • organize / organise
    • realize / realise

Grammar

There are a few grammatical differences between the two varieties of English.

Collective nouns

Singular in American English, but in British English, it can be singular or plural.

  • The team is good / The team are(is) playing tonight

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs, also known as helping verbs, are verbs that help form a grammatical function. They “help” the main verb by adding information about time, modality and voice.

  • “I will go home now.” / “I shall go home now.”
  • “Should we go now?” / “Shall we go now?”
  • “You do not need to come to work today.” / “You needn’t come to work today.”

Past tense verbs

There are some small differences with past forms of irregular verbs.

Americans tend to use the –ed ending; Brits tend to use the -t ending:

  • burned / burned or burnt
  • dreamed / dreamed or dreamt
  • learned / learned or learnt

In the past participle form, Americans tend to use the –en ending for some irregular verbs. Americans use both got and gotten in the past participle. Brits only use got.

  • “I have never gotten caught.” / “I have never got caught.”

Tag questions

A tag question is a grammatical form that turns a statement into a question. For example, “The whole situation is unfortunate, isn’t it?” or, “You don’t like him, do you?”

The tag includes a pronoun and its matching form of the verb be, have or do. Tag questions encourage people to respond and agree with the speaker. Americans use tag questions, too, but less often than Brits.

References