Differences Between American and British English

American English (AmE) is the form of English used in the United States. It includes all English dialects used within the United States of America. British English (BrE) is the form of English used in the United Kingdom. It includes all English dialects used within the United Kingdom.

Nouns In BrE, collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is, respectively, on the body as a whole or on the individual members; compare a committee was appointed with the committee were unable to agree. The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasise the principle of collective responsibility. Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army are on their way / Oliver's Army is here to stay. Some of these nouns, for example staff, actually combine with plural verbs most of the time. In AmE, collective nouns are usually singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree. AmE, however, may use plural pronouns in agreement with collective nouns: the team take their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. The rule of thumb is that a group acting as a unit is considered singular and a group of "individuals acting separately" is considered plural. However, such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats. Despite exceptions such as usage in the New York Times, the names of sports teams are usually treated as plurals even if the form of the name is singular. The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example, where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,

BrE: The Clash are a well-known band; AmE: The Clash is a wellknown band. BrE: Spain are the champions; AmE: Spain is the champion. Proper nouns that are plural in form take a plural verb in both AmE and BrE; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Saints are the champions.

Verb morphology

The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell, burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). In BrE, both irregular and regular forms are current, but for some words (such as smelt and leapt) there is a strong tendency towards the irregular forms, especially by users of Received Pronunciation. For other words (such as dreamed, leaned and learned) the regular forms are somewhat more common. In AmE, the irregular forms are never or rarely used (except for burnt and leapt). The t endings may be encountered frequently in older American texts. Usage may vary when the past participles are used as adjectives, as in burnt toast. (The two-syllable form learnèd /ˈlɜrnɪd/, usually written without the grave, is used as an adjective to mean "educated" or to refer to academic institutions, in both BrE and AmE.) Finally, the past tense and past participle of dwell and kneel are more commonly dwelt and knelt in both standards, with dwelled and kneeled as common variants in the US but not in the UK. Lit as the past tense of light is more common than lighted in the UK; the regular form is used more in the US, but is nonetheless less common than lit. Conversely, fit as the past tense of fit is more widely used in AmE than BrE, which generally favours fitted. The past tense of spit "expectorate" is spat in BrE, spit or spat in AmE.[18] AmE typically has spat in figurative contexts, e.g. "He spat out the name with a sneer", or in the context of expectoration of an object that is not saliva, e.g. "He spat out the foul-tasting fish" but spit for "expectorated" when it refers only to the expulsion of saliva.

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The past participle of saw is normally sawn in BrE and sawed in AmE (as in sawn-off/sawed-off shotgun). The past participle gotten is never used in modern BrE, which generally uses got, except in old expressions such as illgotten gains. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "The form gotten is not used in British English but is very common in North American English, though even there it is often regarded as non-standard." In AmE, gotten emphasizes the action of acquiring and got tends to indicate simple possession (for example, Have you gotten it? versus Have you got it?). Gotten is also typically used in AmE as the past participle for phrasal verbs using get, such as get off, get on, get into, get up, and get around: If you hadn't gotten up so late, you might not have gotten into this mess. Interestingly, AmE, but not BrE, has forgot as a less common alternative to forgotten for the past participle of forget. In BrE, the past participle proved is strongly preferred to proven; in AmE, proven is now about as common as proved. (Both dialects use proven as an adjective, and in formulas such as not proven). AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove) or sneak (snuck), and often mixes the preterit and past participle forms (spring–sprang, US also sprung–sprung), sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrank–shrunk) to have a further form, thus shrunk–shrunken. These uses are often considered nonstandard; the AP Stylebook in AmE treats some irregular verbs as colloquialisms, insisting on the regular forms for the past tense of dive, plead and sneak. Dove and snuck are usually considered nonstandard in Britain, although dove exists in some British dialects and snuck is occasionally found in British speech. By extension of the irregular verb pattern, verbs with irregular preterits in some variants of colloquial AmE also have a separate past participle, for example, "to buy": past tense bought spawns boughten. Such formations are highly irregular from speaker to speaker, or even within idiolects. This phenomenon is found chiefly in the northern US and other areas where immigrants of German descent are predominant, and may have developed as a result of German influence. Even in areas where the feature predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as standard usage.

Use of tenses

Traditionally, BrE uses the present perfect tense to talk about an event in the recent past and with the words already, just, and yet. In American usage, these meanings can be expressed with the present perfect (to express a fact[citation needed] ) or the simple past (to imply an expectation[citation needed]). This American style has become widespread only in the past 20 to 30 years; the British style is still in common use as well. Recently, the American use of just with simple past has made inroads into BrE, most visibly in advertising slogans and headlines such as "Cable broadband just got faster". o "I've just arrived home." / "I just arrived home." o "I've already eaten." / "I already ate." Similarly, AmE occasionally replaces the past perfect tense with the simple past.[citation needed] In BrE, have got or have can be used for possession and have got to and have to can be used for the modal of necessity. The forms that include ‘‘got’’ are usually used in informal contexts and the forms without got in contexts that are more formal. In American speech the form without got is used more than in the UK, although the form with got is often used for emphasis. Colloquial AmE informally uses got as a verb for these meanings – for example, I got two cars, I got to go. In conditional sentences, US spoken usage often substitutes would and would have (usually shortened to [I]'d and [I]'d have) for the simple past and for the pluperfect (If you'd leave now, you'd be on time. / If I would have [I'd've] cooked the pie we could have [could've] had it for lunch). This tends to be avoided in writing because it is often still considered nonstandard although such use of would is widespread in spoken US English in all sectors of society. Some reliable sources now label this usage as acceptable US English and no longer label it as colloquial. (There are, of course, situations where would is used in British English too in seemingly counterfactual conditions, but these can usually be interpreted as a modal use of would: If you would listen to me once in a while, you might learn something. In cases in which the action in the if clause takes place after that in the main clause, use of would

in counterfactual conditions is however considered standard and correct usage in even formal UK and US usage: If it would make Bill happy, I'd [I would] give him the money. The subjunctive mood (morphologically identical with the bare infinitive) is regularly used in AmE in mandative clauses (as in They suggested that he apply for the job). In BrE, this usage declined in the 20th century, in favour of constructions such as They suggested that he should apply for the job (or even, more ambiguously, They suggested that he applied for the job). Apparently, however, the mandative subjunctive has recently started to come back into use in BrE.

Verbal auxiliaries

Shall (as opposed to will) is more commonly used by the British than by Americans. Shan't is almost never used in AmE (almost invariably replaced by won't or am not going to), and is increasingly rare in BrE as well. American grammar also tends to ignore some traditional distinctions between should and would[; however, expressions like I should be happy are rather formal even in BrE. The periphrastic future (be going to) is about twice as frequent in AmE as in BrE.

Phrasal verbs

In the US, forms are usually but not invariably filled out, but in Britain they can also be filled in. However, in reference to individual parts of a form, Americans may also use in (fill in the blanks). In AmE the direction fill it all in (referring to the form as a collection of blanks, perhaps) is as common as fill it all out. Britons facing extortionate prices may have no option but to fork out, whereas Americans are more likely to fork (it) over or sometimes up; the out usage is however found in both dialects. In both countries, thugs will beat up their victim; AmE also allows beat on (as both would for an inanimate object, such as a drum) or beat up on, which are often considered slang. When an outdoor event is postponed or interrupted by rain, it is rained off in the UK and rained out in the US.

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.


Full stops/Periods in abbreviations: Americans tend to write Mr., Mrs., St., Dr., while the British will most often write Mr, Mrs, St, Dr, following the rule that a full stop/period is used only when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the complete word. This kind of abbreviation is known as a contraction in the UK. Still, many British writers would also tend to write other abbreviations without a full stop, such as Prof, etc, eg, and so forth (as recommended by OED). The use of periods after most abbreviations can also be found in the UK, although publications generally tend to eschew the use of American punctuation. Unit symbols such as kg and Hz are never punctuated. Both styles hyphenate multiple-word adjectives (e.g. "a firstclass ticket"), but some British writers omit the hyphen when no ambiguity would arise.

Quoting: Americans begin their quotations with double quotation marks (") and use single quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations. BrE usage varies, with some authoritative sources such as The Economist and The Times recommending the same usage as in the U.S , whereas other authoritative sources, such as The King's English, recommend single quotation marks. In journals and newspapers, quotation mark double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style Quotation marks with periods and commas: Americans always place commas and periods inside quotation marks. Exceptions are made only for parenthetical citation and cases in which the addition of a period or comma could create confusion, such as the quotation of web addresses or certain types of data strings. In both styles, question marks and exclamation points are placed inside the quotation marks if they belong to the quotation and outside otherwise. With narration of direct speech, both styles retain punctuation inside the quotation marks, with a full stop changing into a comma if followed by explanatory text, also known as a dialogue tag. o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety." (American style) o Carefree means "free from care or anxiety". (British style) o "Hello, John," I said. (Both styles) o Did you say, "I'm shot"? No, I said, "Why not?" (Both styles) o To insert a long dash, type "—". (Both styles) The American style was established for typographical reasons, a historical legacy from the use of the handset printing press. It is used by most American newspapers, publishing houses, and style guides in the United States and Canada (including the Modern Language Association's MLA Style Manual, the American Psychological Association's APA Publication Manual, the University of Chicago's Chicago Manual of Style, the American Institute of Physics's AIP Style Manual, the American Medical Association's AMA Manual of Style, the American Political Science Association's APSA Style Manual, the

Associated Press' The AP Guide to Punctuation, and the Canadian Public Works' The Canadian Style). It also makes the process of copy editing easier, eliminating the need to decide whether a period or comma belongs to the quotation. Hart's Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" quoting. It is also similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch, and German). A few U.S. professional societies whose professions frequently employ various non-word characters, such as chemistry and computer programming, use the British form in their style guides (see ACS Style Guide). According to the Jargon File, American hackers switched to what they later discovered to be the British quotation system because placing a period inside a quotation mark can change the meaning of data strings that are meant to be typed character-for-character. (It may be noted that the current American system places periods and commas outside the quotes in these cases anyway.)

Parentheses/brackets: In British English, "( )" marks are referred to as brackets. In American English, "( )" marks are parentheses (singular parenthesis), whereas "[ ]" are called brackets. In both countries, standard usage is to place punctuation inside or outside parentheses/brackets according to the stop:
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"I am going to the store. (I hope it is still open.)" "I am going to the shop (if it is still open)."

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.

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 / a'dres || a'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.

Most of the differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English are in connection with concepts originating from the 19th century to the mid 20th century, when new words were coined independently. Almost the entire vocabularies of the car/automobile and railway/railroad industries (see Rail terminology) are different between the UK and US, for example. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms, where frequent new coinage occurs, and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations, even within the US or the UK, can create the same problems. It is not a straightforward matter to classify differences of vocabulary. David Crystal identifies some of the problems of classification on the facing page to his list of American English/British English lexical variation, and states "this should be enough to suggest caution when working through an apparently simple list of equivalents" Words and phrases which have their origins in BrE Some speakers of AmE are aware of some BrE terms, although they might not generally use them, or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). They will be able to guess approximately what some others, such as “driving licence,” mean. However, use of many other British words such as naff (unstylish, though commonly used to mean "not very good"), risks rendering a sentence incomprehensible to most Americans.

Words and phrases which have their origins in AmE Speakers of BrE are likely to understand most AmE terms, examples such as 'sidewalk', 'gas (gasoline/petrol)', 'counterclockwise', or 'elevator (lift)', without any problem. Certain terms which are heard less frequently, eg. 'copacetic (satisfactory)', are unlikely to be understood by most BrE speakers. Divergence Words and phrases with different meanings Words such as bill (AmE "paper money", BrE and AmE "invoice") and biscuit (AmE: BrE's "scone", BrE: AmE's "cookie") are used regularly in both AmE and BrE, but mean different things in each form. As chronicled by Winston Churchill, the opposite meanings of the verb to table created a misunderstanding during a meeting of the Allied forces. in BrE to table an item on an agenda means to open it up for discussion, whereas in AmE, it means to remove it from discussion. The word "football" in BrE refers to Association football, also known as soccer. In AmE, "football" means American football. Similarly, the word "hockey" in BrE refers to field hockey, while in AmE "hockey" means ice hockey Other ambiguity (complex cases) Words with completely different meanings are relatively few; most of the time, there are either (1) words with one or more shared meanings and one or more meanings unique to one variety (e.g. bathroom and toilet) or (2) words whose meanings are actually common to both BrE and AmE, but which show differences in frequency, connotation, or denotation (e.g. smart, clever, mad). Some differences in usage and/or meaning can cause confusion or embarrassment. For example, the word fanny is a slang word for vulva in BrE, but means buttocks in AmE – the AmE phrase fanny pack is bum bag in BrE. In AmE the word fag (short for faggot) is a highly offensive term for a gay male, but in BrE it is also a normal and well-used term for a cigarette, or for hard work or a chore. In

AmE the word pissed means being annoyed, whereas in BrE it is a coarse word for being drunk (in both varieties, pissed off means irritated). Sometimes the confusion is more subtle. In AmE the word quite used as a qualifier is generally a reinforcement: e.g. "I'm quite hungry" means "I'm very hungry". In BrE quite (which is much more common in conversation) can have this meaning, as in "quite right" or "quite mad", but it more commonly means "somewhat", so that in BrE "I'm quite hungry" can mean "I'm somewhat hungry". This divergence of use can lead to misunderstanding.


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