Differences between the British and American English

LEXIKA Ciferník22.05.2018 About Translations Reading time: 4 min.
British vs. american english, flags

English is the second most widely spoken mother tongue and an official language in 53 countries. It developed in Britain–or, to be more precise, in the British Isles, but the majority of its speakers live in the US. English is the main language of communication throughout the world and the most popular language among foreign language learners.

Like any other language, English is divided into various varieties. The best-known English 'varieties' are British and American English. Can you tell them apart? Take a look at our comparison.

Spelling differences (UK vs US)

While writing a text, you may have encountered a situation when your text editor marked the spelling of a word you had written as incorrect. When you checked it in a dictionary, it turned out that the word was indeed correct. This situation may be accounted for by the differences between British and American English.

The key spelling difference between British and American English is the letter omission characteristic of American English. In writing, the British keep those letters, which accounts for the spelling differences, for instance between these words:

differences in writing in british and american english

The spelling differences between British and American English also include letter change and letter reversal:

spelling differences in british and american english

Interestingly enough, in British English, no period is used after honorifics, for instance Mr Bean, Mrs Smith, House, M.D. The Americans normally use them.

Pronunciation differences (UK vs US)

British English and American English differ even more in terms of their pronunciation. You can immediately tell the difference between British and American accent when heard.

Whereas the ‘r’ sound is consequently pronounced in American English, it remains silent in British English unless it occupies an initial syllable position. For example:

pronunciation differences in british and american english

The stress can fall on different syllables as well:

British pronunciation American pronunciation
A-dult a-DULT
week-END WEEK-end

The Americans sometimes make the pronunciation easier for themselves by altering or omitting some vowel sounds:

British pronunciation American pronunciation
waw-tah wa-der
moun-tin moun-nn

Grammatical differences (UK vs US)

When it comes to grammar, the differences between British and American English become slightly more complicated. The differences are small but quite significant.

Take the verb to have, for instance. To talk about possession, the British use the verb to have got (I have got a book.), whereas the Americans merely use to have (I have a book.). Important: the verb have got is also used in American English but mostly to indicate obligation (I have got to go.).

The usage of the present perfect tense differs as well. The British normally use the verb to have (I have just arrived.) in this tense, whereas in the US, this verb is usually omitted. The sentences sound simpler as a result: I just arrived.

Other differences concern the usage of prepositions:

gramatical differences in british and american english

The grammatical differences also include differences in irregular verbs, for instance:

British English American English
spill, spilt, spilt spill, spilled, spilled
dive, dived, dived dive, dove, dived

The usage of collective nouns is different as well. The words team and committee can be singular or plural in British English, with the plural being used more frequently, pointing to the fact that the group consists of multiple individuals. In the US, the group is thought of as a single entity, consequently, these words are always considered to be singular.

Vocabulary differences (UK vs US)

Speaking about the differences between British and American English, the vocabulary is no less tricky. British and American English sometimes use different words to refer to the same thing.

word differences between american and british english

These words can sometimes be used only in one variety. A problem arises when a word is used in both varieties but with a totally different meaning, for example:

differences in vocabulary in british and american english
Because of these differences, it is recommended to specify which language variety should be used by the translator in your English translations.

And what about you? Which variety of English do you normally use? Do you prefer the sound of the British or American English?


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