Many people are aware that there are differences between British and American English, but very few could actually tell you what those differences are. This is because most people are only required to be aware of either British English or American English, and know how to use one of them thoroughly. But, what happens if you are part of a community online with members from both America and Britain?
You need to be aware of the differences between the language styles so you can understand what is being said to you. Likewise, your career might require you to write for both styles depending on demand. In short, you need to at least be aware of the key differences between the two, so you can understand them better.
British and American English
What is British English?
It’s simple enough really, British English is the style of English speaking and writing that has developed in Britain. Just like French, Spanish, or any other language in the world, countries develop their own styles of language in terms of the way they speak and the way they write. It just so happens that American English and British English are largely very similar, but differences arise here and there. This is understandable considering how far apart the countries are, their own style of English was bound to develop in each country over time.
What is American English?
Just like British English, American English is the style of English that is spoken and written in America. The differences aren’t massive, but there are differences that are prominent enough for you to need to be aware of them. This can help with avoiding any misunderstandings or confusion that might arise when a British and American person interacts.
British English vs. American English
British vs. American grammar
Another key difference between British English and American English is in the grammar that we use. Below we’ll include some examples, but the list isn’t necessarily exhaustive:
- Collective nouns – In American English collective nouns (nouns that are used to describe a group of people or things) are considered singular. That just means that in American English we tend to see the collective thing as a single entity. For example, we might say “I can’t meet today, my family is here”. You use ‘is’ to represent the fact that the family (group of people) is a singular thing. In British English though, collective nouns are more often seen as plural. So instead, in British English you would say “I can’t meet today, my family are here”. ‘Are’ is used instead of ‘is’ to show that in British English the collective noun ‘family’ isn’t a single entity, but instead plural.
- In terms of the past of the word ‘get’ American English uses ‘gotten’. So if you were trying to say that you were sick you might say “I had gotten sick” but in British English, the past of ‘get’ is ‘got’. In British English then, you’d say “I had got sick”.
- Certain contractions are also much more common in British English over American English. Needn’t is a common contraction in British English, but Americans are much more likely to say “don’t need to”. For example, a British person might say “You needn’t worry”, but an American person would more likely say “You don’t need to worry”.
British vs. American spelling
Spelling is probably the most immediately obvious difference between British and American English, because you could easily think that somebody had spelt something ‘wrong’ if you came across British English when you are used to American English and vice versa. The following examples will try to give you common spelling differences, but there are surely many more besides:
- British English more commonly spell words with ‘our’ than with ‘or’ as we might in American English. To make that slightly clearer, let’s look at variations in spellings with British English first and American English second: flavour vs flavor, colour vs color, favour vs favor, and so on.
- British English also uses ‘ence’ in place of ‘ense’. Again we’ll look at British spelling first followed by the American spelling we are more used to: defence vs defense, licence vs license, offence vs offense.
- It’s also much more common in British English for words to end in ‘ise’ and American English tends to use ‘ize’. Let’s take a look again with British followed by American spelling: organise vs organize, familiarise vs familiarize.
- Many word’s that ordinarily end in ‘ll’ in American English actually end in just a single ‘l’ in British English. British English would spell words like this: enrol, fulfil, skilful. American English , however, would look like this: enroll, fulfill, skillfull.
British vs. American punctuation/writing style
As well as using different words for punctuation marks (such as in the case of ‘period‘ vs ‘full stop’ and so on) there are actually differences in the placement of punctuation so our writing styles do differ too. Let’s take a look at just some of them:
- In the shortening of certain words such as Doctor, British and American English differs. In British English it would simply be written as ‘Dr’, but in American English, it would be written as ‘Dr.’ Similar examples include: Mr vs Mr., Mrs vs Mrs. etc.
- If you are quoting what somebody said in American English then you would include the punctuation mark within the quotation marks. In British English, it is more common to put the punctuation outside of the quotation marks though.
The above examples are just some of the ways that British and American English differs. Now that you are aware of the differences you should be able to spot where British English has been used in place of American English.
British vs. American words
The most notable way in which these differences between the two styles of English arise, is in the words we use for different things. Most of these are quite modern words, where we have each had to develop our own words for the objects in question. Obviously, the two countries didn’t need to communicate what exactly they were going to call something, so words sprang up that mean the same thing, but were just different. Here are some examples:
British vs. American English: Clothes
- Bonnet —–<>—– Hat
- Bootlace, Shoelace —–<>—– Shoestring
- Clothes peg —–<>—– Clothespin
- Dressing Gown —–<>—– Bath Rope
- Dungaress —–<>—– Overalls
- Nappy —–<>—– Diaper
- Underwear, Knickers —–<>—– Underwear, Panties
- Plimsolls, Gym Shoes —–<>—– Gym Shoes
- Polo Neck —–<>—– Turtle Neck
- Pyjamas —–<>—– Pajamas
British and American English: Food & Kitchen
- Aubergine —–<>—– Eggplant
- Beetroot —–<>—– Beet
- Biscuit —–<>—– Cookie
- Black Treacle —–<>—– Molasses
- Broad Bean —–<>—– Lima Bean
- Chips —–<>—– French Fries
- Cling Film —–<>—– Plastic Wrap
- Cooker —–<>—– Range, Stove
- Courgette —–<>—– Zucchini
- Coriander—–<>—– Cilantro
- Crisps —–<>—– (Potato) Chips
British vs. American English: Transportation
- A single ticket —–<>—– One way ticket
- Aeroplane —–<>—– Airplane
- Bonnet —–<>—– Hood
- Boot —–<>—– Trunk
- Crossroads —–<>—– Intersection, crossroads
- Diversion —–<>—– Detour
- Driving Licence —–<>—– Driver’s License
- Dual Carriageway —–<>—– Divided Highway
- Estate car —–<>—– Station Wagon
British and American English: Education
- A Mark —–<>—– A grade, Point
- (Academic) Staff —–<>—– Faculty
- Autumn Term —–<>—– Fall Semester
- College High School —–<>—– High School
- Exam —–<>—– Test
British and American English: Home and Building
- Bath —–<>—– Bath Tub
- Bin/ Dust Bin —–<>—– Trash Can
- Block of Flats —–<>—– Apartment Building, Apartment House
- Bungalow —–<>—– One Story House
- Bureau De Change —–<>—– Currency Exchange
- Chemist’s Shop —–<>—– Drugstore
British and American English: Miscellaneous
- Anti Clockwise —–<>—– Counter-Clockwise
- Autumn —–<>—– Fall
- Car Boot Sale —–<>—– Garage Sale
- Caretaker —–<>—– Janitor
- Cashier —–<>—– Teller
- Chap —–<>—– Guy
- Dear —–<>—– Expensive
- Draughts —–<>—– Checkers
- Draw —–<>—– Tie
- Mum, Mummy—–<>—– Mom, Mommy, Ma
- Nil (Sport) —–<>—– Nothing, Zero
- Noughts and Crosses —–<>—– Tic Tac Toe
- Mate —–<>—– Buddy
- A Full Stop —–<>—– A Period
- An Exclamation Mark —–<>—– An Exclamation Point
- Round Brackets —–<>—– Parentheses
- Square Brackets —–<>—– Brackets
- Curly Brackets —–<>—– Curly Braces
- Cling Film —–<>—– Plastic Wrap
- Dummy for Baby —–<>—– Pacifier
- Sweets —–<>—– Candy
- Rubbish —–<>—– Garbage (Trash)
- Drawing-pin —–<>—– Thumb tack
- Dustbin —–<>—– Trash can
- Chemist’s —–<>—– Drugstore/ Pharmacy
200+ Differences between British and American English with pictures