Differences between A m e r ic a n E n g l is h a n d B r it is h E n g l is h

Zdeněk Benedikt
The English language, whether it be spoken in North America, the British Isles, Australia or any other place in the whole world, is one language and its different varieties “equal” siblings. Although the size of the territory where the varieties are used and the number of people living there are not always comparable, linguistically, however, they enjoy equal status, and therefore it would be wrong to say that one of them is the sole representative of correct English with the others representing substandard forms. I would like to stress the fact that even after four hundred years of physical separation, the American and British varieties of the English language, which we will primarily be focusing on, have maintained a great deal of sameness or similarity and that although there will be many individual differences discussed and pointed out between these two most frequently encountered varieties, we need to keep in mind that these have been purposefully dug out and presented in detail, while the everyday communication between Englishmen and Americans is not hampered to such an extent as may be the false impression resulting from the long list of differences presented to you in this research paper. This material is based on my own personal experience of an English teacher and a speaker of predominantly American English, as well as on research carried out using and exploiting different materials of both academic and non-academic nature. (see bibliography)


• a word or one of its meanings, which is currently used in American English and has a different equivalent in the British variety (elevator – lift, gasoline – petrol) • a word which refers to sth exclusively characteristic of American realia (convention, caucus, fraternity, bayou) • a word which originated in American English but has since spread to other varieties of English, even British English (bike, bulldozer, boom, boost, boss) • a word or an expression which originated in British English but is no longer used among the Brits, i.e. is extinct in the English of the British Isles, but is still used on the North American continent (apartment, baggage, bug, rooster, fall, gotten, guess, sick) American English maintains certain features of old British English, which it comes from. So does Canadian French carry with itself a certain air of old 17th century French, as it was spoken before the French revolution. (We have gotten a new car since you last saw us.)
Dnešní americká výslovnost odráží stav jihoanglické výslovnosti v době vypuknutí roztržky mezi mateřskou zemí a 13 koloniemi, tj. kolem roku 1770. (Peprník, str.15)

In many cases, when speaking about American and British equivalents, the distinction is not really a matter of one nation having one word/expression which the other variety is not familiar with and vice versa. It’s more a matter of one of the expressions being prevalent and most widely used in one of the varieties, while the majority of speakers using the other variety of the two are more familiar and comfortable with the other, if the equivalents form a pair, which is not always the case. (fall is the most frequently used term for one of the four seasons of the year but autumn, which is considered a purely British expression, can also be found in the writing of American authors, mainly when striving for a higher stylistic form) One word/phrase often has different connotations/meanings in the two varieties. (mudguard – BrE blatník auta, AmE blatník bicyklu; suspenders – BrE podvazky, AmE šle) Sometimes the two connotations carry totally opposite meanings. (“I am through”, when given to a partner in a telephone conversation, would mean a totally different thing to a Brit than to an American. The Brit would think it means “We’ve made the connection, we can talk.”, whereas the American would suppose the phone call is over as the Brit is apparently implying “I am finished, it’s over.”; another example is the adjective “inflammable", which in American English means that it is not possible to set the material on fire, while in British English it means Watch out! This material can go ablaze very easily) Here are a few examples of “Briticisms” (a term not as common as Americanism) which have entered and were absorbed by American English: A-level, au-pair girl, back bencher, bank holiday, redbrick university, terraced houses, bloody, bobby, dustman, headmaster, fortnight, pram, mackintosh, ring sb up, Establishment, posh, postman, shop, tabloid, luggage On the other hand, a great many Americanisms have been adopted by Britons and can be commonly heard on both sides of the Atlantic. These are more plentiful as American English seems to affect all the other varieties of English more than any other form, mostly

bar. putting BrE reduces the secondary stress more than AmE. after. blurb. bird. nazalizace a intonace. the movies. Oh. Naopak Američanovi se zdá jihoanglická výslovnost usekaná (clipped). top secret. fertile. there are many areas. especially around metropolitan New York. where the r’s would be sounded pretty much like they are in General American. její nazalizace mu připadá vulgární. no! Některé z rysů obecné americké angličtiny působí nelibě na britské ucho. n is pronounced [æ] (ask.S. clear. baggage in connection with traveling on a ship. commuter. doctor. popular music) as well as the economic and political influence of the United States around the world. On the other hand. (Peprník. Here are the most well-known examples: talk with sb. car. Lancashire or Ireland. – eg. plant. For example. more like [d] latter. secretary. příliš zjemnělá a afektovaná. necessary Suffix -ile is pronounced [-?l] in AmE and [-ail] in BrE. fear. etc. blizzard. n is pronounced [u:].2 due to the impact of show business (ie. Main differences in PRONUNCIATION Br [a:] before -f. in Eastern New England or in the coastal south of the United States. g?’ra:dž] lever [li:v?] [lev?r] can’t [ka:nt] [kænt] record [reko:d] [rek?rd] advertisement [?d’v?:tism?nt] [ædv?r’taizm?nt] . str. college. duty. secondary. in Great Britain. eg.K. sample) Br [o] in words such as not. rock in the sense of stone. -S. America is often pronounced [?] Br [a] in but. -s. cross. than in the U. poor Br [ju:] after consonants d. Brit vyrostlý v jihoanglickém standardu vnímá americkou výslovnost jako příliš robustní. gæridž] [g?’ra:ž. 15) Sounding or not sounding the r’s is not a clear-cut matter which would distinguish the two varieties from each other. BrE AmE shine – shone [šon] shine – shone [šoun/ša:n] eat – ate [et] eat – ate [eit] Here are a few examples of words which are pronounced differently in the U. stop. which does not exist in BrE at all. editorial. hostile. half. a vowel and a voiced consonant or vowels is pron. mobile The British diphthong [?u] is replaced by [ou]. m. new Br [t] betw. such as Scotland. drsnou až hrubou. here. BrE AmE resource [ri’zo:s] [ri:so:s] figure [fig?] [figj?r] leisure [lež?] [li:ž?r] either [aið?] [i:ð?r] research [ri’s?:č] [ri:s?:rč] glacier [glæsi?] [gleiš?r] schedule [šedju?l] [skedž?l] clothes [kl?uðz] [klouz] twenty [twenti] [twenđi] Asia [eiša] [eiž?] garage [gæra:ž. double talk. many Americans would tend to leave the r sound out. chance. eg. I wouldn’t know. path. tune. zejména retroflexní [r]. the letter ‘r’ The past tense forms of the two following verbs are pronounced differently. neredukování nepřízvučných slabik. beer. t. block. comedy is pronounced [a:] Br [i] in timid. get the hang of sth. hurry is pronounced closer to [?] AmE does not leave out the r-sounds in better. agile. eg. perceive. be on the air. eg.

I insist that he go with us.3 Main differences in GRAMMAR BrE half an hour half a bottle pneumonia tuberculosis five cents a copy five dollars a pair in hospital at university administration are council are crew are crowd are jury are team are government are company are plenty of time a couple of months half of the world break the news to him carry her things for her pays no attention to me need it badly mightily dangerous really hard drive slowly now here have you got…? I haven’t got… don’t let’s Have you ever heard…? I have just got here. Have you eaten yet? AmE a half hour a half bottle the pneumonia the tuberculosis (five cents the copy) (five dollars the pair) in the hospital at the university administration is council is crew is crowd is jury is team is government is company is plenty time a couple months half the world break him the news carry her her things pays me no attention need it bad mighty dangerous real hard drive slow right now right here do you have…? I don’t have… let’s not Did you ever hear…? I just got here. I suggest we stay right here. . Did you eat yet? in AmE the use of subjunctive is more frequent: The President urges that we be patient.

(debugging) mid. resulting in a set phrase/compound noun cottonwood copperhead . American English seems to be have been more creative in the past couple of centuries. That is to say that when two university professors.S. one from the U. and the other from the U.K..(mid-January) semi.(semi-annual) New expressions combining two or more words. Suffixes -dom (bachelordom) -ee (retiree) -eer (racketeer) -ette (launderette) -ician (mortician) -itis (Americanitis) -ize (burglarize) -ster (gangster) -teria (cafeteria) Prefixes anti.4 get hit get rained on if he were not busy burn – burnt – burnt dream – dreamt – dreamt mow – mowed – mowed/mown shine – shone – shone learn – learnt – learnt bet – betted – betted dive – dived – dived pleaded – pleaded -pleaded get – got – got I have got (= bought/received) try to help them help me to stand up let’s go to see the film go and see if if he was not busy burn – burned – burned dream – dreamed – dreamed mow – mowed – mowed shine – shined – shined learn – learned – learned bet – bet – bet dive – dove – dived plead – pled – pled get – got – gotten I have gotten try help them help me stand up let’s go see the movie go see if Main differences in VOCABULARY The so called Standard American does not differ from the Standard British English nearly as much as do the individual substandard colloquial or dialectal spheres of the language. they have less difficulty understanding each other than if we had two uneducated speakers of different regional or even social dialects from the two countries having a conversation. Many new words have been coined based on otherwise well-known and commonly used vocabulary.(antiperspirant) be.(bespectacled) de. are speaking to each other.

however with different meanings. trash or rubbish) lumber (originally the word had the same meaning in AmE as it did in BrE but as the building timber stacked alongside the streets in American cities started to be in the way. otherwise called maize in BrE) bug – meaning any kind of insect corn (meaning grain in general) (bed) bug – very unpleasant kind of insect which is found in the beds of the poorest and dirtiest slums faucet – exists only in regional dialects of BrE – Standard BrE uses tap homely – pleasant faucet – standard AmE homely – not good looking List of equivalents in BrE in the left column and their counterparts in AmE on the right. BrE AmE grilled steak staff wireless auto parts saloon broiled steak faculty radio sedan . even one transported solely by the railroads) lumber (stuff which is in the way. people began calling this timber ’lumber’. freight freight (refers exclusively to a load transported (in AmE the meaning of freight has become broader across a body of water) and includes pretty much all kinds of cargo. corn (meaning one special kind of grain.5 log cabin ghost town disk jockey soap opera sweat shop rowing boat BrE sailing boat BrE sparking plug BrE rowboat AmE sailboat AmE spark plug AmE Phrasal verbs often take on an additional particle meet up with sb visit with sb write up on sth Expressions existing in both varieties. which even sounded similar.

6 windscreen gear lever boot bonnet hood dynamo mudguard sparking plug loo. in the square tin. tube in Franklin Street. on the square can (of coke). tinned meat washbasin cottage sweets biscuit windshield gear shift trunk hood top generator fender spark plug bathroom restrooms bring to a boil do the laundry résumé. canned meat sink cabin candy cookie . personal history the movies. the movie theater elevator shades apartment building truck sidewalk pavement cab (book)store garbage underpass subway on Franklin Street. toilet public toilets bring to the boil do the washing curriculum vitae the cinema lift sunglasses block of flats lorry pavement road surface taxi (book)shop rubbish subway underground.

7 mad angry chemist’s ground floor motorway headteacher. headmaster dustbin post maths trousers fanny OBSCENE!!! bumbag crisps return (ticket) timetable cooker holiday fill in a form stay at home meet sb. ten after two eraser backpack bar. visit with sb Monday thru Friday ten of eleven. visit sb Monday to Friday ten to eleven. tavern dessert diaper flashlight . ten past two rubber rucksack pub sweet nappy torch crazy mad drugstore first floor freeway principal garbage can mail math pants fanny (meaning buttocks) fanny pack potato chips round trip schedule stove vacation fill out a form stay home meet with sb.

dude wrench review on the weekend. gasoline liquor store railroad tracks stingy guy. different than fraternity . over the weekend give homework take an exam make a decision different from.8 chips tram zip tick smart (elegant) queue caravan diversion tea-towel toll motorway get a rise pram garden collect petrol off-licence railway line mean bloke. chap spanner revise at the weekend set homework sit (for) an exam take a decision different to club (for university students) French fries streetcar zipper check smart (intelligent) line trailer detour dish towel turnpike get a raise baby carriage yard pick up gas. buddy.

which sounds a little sub-standard luggage (esp. talk with sb the more British phrase is talk to I wouldn’t know. that is why most of the following expressions were first made up and used in American English: physically challenged colored person weight challenged acoustically challenged vision impaired literacy challenged sanitation engineer flight attendant (no wonder Brits often accuse Americans of long-wordedness) .9 knickers football secondary school basic school arsehole OBSCENE!!! panties soccer high school elementary school asshole OBSCENE!!! Words which have infiltrated the other variety and are now known in both of the Englishes. air travel) blurb used interchangeably with leading article editorial commuter rocks in the sense of stones which can be thrown be on the air top secret double talk A-level au-pair girl in AmE the expression governess is more common Establishment postman tabloid Expressions frequently found in American English but unacceptable even for Americans Annie and me anyways instead of anyway six mile down the road instead of using the plural … and I says “xxxxx" Political correctness has first become an issue in the United States. The arrow indicates where the word originated and who adopted it. blizzard used side by side with snowstorm get the hang of something dressing gown dinner jacket replaced tuxedo.

croissant Differences in SPELLING Major simplification of English spelling can be attributed to one of the most distinguished linguists of the 19th century America. labor. honour. around the city of New Orleans. From the plentiful examples of Spanish words used in English on daily basis let me name only the most well-known. moccasin. – squash. chocolate. centre. Just to illustrate the ancient roots of the Spanish element in Central and North America. The changes he had made (although many of the suggested changes have never been respected and were never used) reflected the practical/pragmatical and anti-elitist spirit of the American public. and in the St. not only its American variety. second only to the African-American community. the Spanish-speaking community. banana. was settled and run by Spaniards. rodeo. let me just mention the fact that Santa Fe. Laurence River area higher to the north.S. center. comprised of immigrants from Mexico. – Over twenty-six states within the Union have their official name taken from one of the Indian languages which were once spoken on their territory. one of the oldest cities to be founded on American soil. Some French vocabulary has infiltrated into General American. cockroach. sequoia. And. yucca Expressions characteristic mainly of American English would then be: – adobe (raw material brick). These have long dissipated but the linguistic influence can be tracked down even today. tornado. woodchuck. labour.. though (religious talk has its own rules and often uses grammar from the old times) caliber. tomato. patio. which was first published in 1828. barbecue. BrE colour. canceled. – bureau. rotisserie. Here are a few expressions that originated in one of the many Indian tongues but are now known by virtually all speakers of the English language. wigwam. pumpkin.A. cafeteria (canteen in BrE. theater traveled. neighbor behavior spelling of Saviour has not changed. moose. chute. crevasse. This man authored the first dictionary of American English. cache. marijuana. teepee. potato. fibre. pale face. cancelled. rapids. sierra Words adopted from French Especially in the South of the United States. canyon. Here are the most basic differences between British and American spelling patterns which you are sure to find when reading works originating on both sides of the Atlantic. fiber. constitute the second largest ethnic minority in the U. labelled . squaw. by the way. there were main strongholds of the French culture for a long time coexisting side by side with the predominantly English-speaking Americans. depot. skunk. raccoon. canteen in AmE means a special military-like drink bottle used for hiking). alfalfa (type of grain). bury the hatchet. mustang. iron horse The influence of Spanish The second most influential language to have infiltrated into American English would most probably be Spanish. neighbour behaviour AmE color. Central and South America or even Spain itself. Noah Webster. honor. powwow. prairie. Most of the following examples would be familiar among speakers of British English as well. potlatch. labeled calibre. – alligator. theatre travelled. saguaro.10 Words adopted by Americans from foreign languages Indian languages – there were over 300 Indian languages spoken in what is now called the United States of America when Europeans started to settle down in large numbers on the North American continent.

characterise. monolog inquire. only 9 years before Shakespeare died. encase. but equally he made no attempt to conceal his surprise at being with an American girl that he could understand. He had the nerve to compliment her on her English and even went so far as to suppose that she must be unique among her . ) Professor Randolf Quirk of University College. judgement shy – shyer. enrollment defense. enrolment defence. nationalise. exercise) aging check kerb czar draft gray gipsy. sly – slyer catalogue. despise.11 kidnapped. gypsy jail jewelry mold pajamas plow program skeptic story (floor) tire vise wagon woolen worshiping miscellaneous: ageing cheque curb tsar draught grey gypsy gaol jewellery mould pyjamas plough programme sceptic storey tyre vice waggon woollen worshipping James Russell Lowell – 19th century man of letters in America – in response to a rather savage attack upon the American version of English. wilful. offense. of course). enclose authorise. dialog. subsidize (does not apply to comprise. offence. inquiry. nationalize. inclose authorize. the first permanent colony in Virginia was settled in 1607. monologue enquire. pretense abridgment. dialogue. willful. sly – slier catalog. incase. London: – on the sometimes ignorance-based attitudes and fallacies of Brits towards Americans professor Quirk reiterates a story: My own favourite (story) is one of the mid-nineteenth century when a fashionable Boston debutante was visiting London. colonize criticize.” (Jamestown. colonise. judgment shy – shier. criticise. She was at a society ball one night and was dancing with a young British Guards officer and he made no attempt to conceal his admiration for her (which was all right. subsidise kidnaped. enquiry. realise. disguise. pretence abridgement. worshiped skillful. realize. characterize. he commented that “It was a great pity that our American ancestors had nothing better to bring with them than the language of Shakespeare. worshipped skilful.

‘Oh. – Tht ain’t no blame. Praha 1982 Marckwardt A. she looked across the room and said (in what she clearly thought was a superior accent) “Can’t [ka:nt] you put us over there?” But a couple of moments later. there was an English missionary stationed near my tribe. – Quirk R.‘ This rests on the rather dubious existence of a tendency in England to use do in questions with the verb have only when habitual actions are referred to. Bibliography: Peprník. and Oklahomy folks says ‘em different. Marckwardt of Princeton University to the hesitant and confused teachers: “When foreign teachers are worried about which English they should teach – British or American – it seems to me that we’ve now arrived at the point where we can say without hesitation: Teach the form that you know and that you have the resources to teach. the young lady had the wit and presence of mind to reply. Professor H. when the waitress showed them a seat. an’ she said ‘em differentest of all. I heard her say “Is it half [hæf] past six yet?” It sounded ridiculous to hear her mix her forms of language.12 countrywomen in speaking English so well. ie. he was directed to the government bureau concerned with liquor licensing. And we seen a lady from Massachusetts. Washington 1965 Baker D. then there’s the one about the Englishman coming to New York and trying to buy a saloon. though certainly she thought that her [ka:nt] was better than her ordinary pronunciation as represented by [hæf]. ‘Do you have many children?‘ and the reply was. but then I had unique advantages. Professor Marckwardt: Well. Jaroslav: Slovník amerikanismů. Professor Quirk: Do you know that old one (joke) about the American lady who is supposed to have said to someone in England.000x Minuten-Training Amerian English. he is supposed to have wanted to open a bar. Couldn’ make out what she was sayin’. talking more naturally just to her husband. American English: Oklahoma man: I knowed you wasn’t Oklahoma Folk. only one every couple of years. Munich 2000 . Arkansas folks says ‘em different. you understan’? Arkansas woman: Ever’body says words different. because of course although he only wanted a car. To this.’ John Steinbeck. I’m glad to say.” Professor Marckwardt commenting on those who intentionally use British accent: … reminds me of a time I was sitting in a little lunch-room in the United States. Hans: 2. The Grapes of Wrath – the author points out the differences which exist even among speakers of one variety. Ostrava 1994 Dreher. ‘Oh no. yes. – Varandíková E.: A Common Language. a pub. and an American woman of some social pretensions came in with her husband.: A Book of American Slang and Conversation. You talk queer kinda.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful