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What is the difference between American and British English

What is the difference between American and British English

In this article, I am going to tell you the difference between American and British English, I think this is the topic which is discussed among students.

The difficulty for those people who are studing English language is that there is no standard in this language. You have to learn two options: British English and American (even if you do not take into account the Australian, Indian, South African dialect, etc.). Their vocabulary is different and words are different.

In order to stick to any one option and, more importantly, to be correctly understood, it is necessary to know which words differ in meaning and pronunciation in America and Great Britain. This is important not only for simple communication, but also in order to avoid embarrassing situations.

For example, if a Londoner says to a New Yorker, “I have left my child’s dummy in the pram and his nappy in the boot,” all she gets is a puzzled look. If a New Yorker says to her, “You have nice pants,” she can easily take it as an insult.

In Britain, a baby’s nipple is called a dummy, in America – a pacifier, diapers in the first case – nappies, in the second – diapers. The British call a pram a pram, and the Americans call it a baby carriage. The fact that for the British boot (trunk) – for the Americans trunk. In America, the word pants means trousers, while in Britain it means underwear (underpants).

Below are examples of the main differences between the two languages, as well as some exercises.

spelling difference between American and British English

When it comes to the spelling of British English (BrE) and American (AmE), it can be said that Americans adhere to more economical and phonetic spelling. Unpronounceable letters are skipped, and words are written closer to their sound. The most obvious example is the absence of the u in American words like color, neighbor, honor, etc.

Compare also the words traveling, jewelry, and program with their British equivalents, travelling, jewelery, and programme. However, this rule does not always apply. You might think skilful is spelled in America and skillful is spelled in Britain, but it’s actually the other way around!

Exercise 1

Which of the following words are in American English and which are in British English? Can you provide a second spelling?

Differences in pronunciation

Of course, both countries have their own regional pronunciations, but the following words are pronounced differently by most Americans and Brits. The differences are mainly in the sound of vowels or stress.

Exercise 2

Can you indicate how an American would pronounce the following words, and how a British would say it?

  • vase, route, ballet, address (noun), ate, buoy, tomato, advertisement, garage, leisure

Differences in vocabulary

The percentage of words that are used only in one of the countries is very small, but the problem for English learners is that these words are among the most used. Many words are used only by Americans, but most British people understand them, while others can be difficult.

For example, the British know that the Americans call biscuits cookies, and flat – apartment, but not many people know what an alumnus (college or university graduate) or fender (dirt shield over a car wheel) is. In turn, the Americans know that the yard (yard) in Britain is called garden, and the truck (truck) is lorry, but the words familiar to the British plimsolls (sneakers) or off-licence (liquor store) will not tell them anything.

Exercise 3

From the list below, choose pairs of words that have the same meaning and assign them to American or British English.

thumb tackliftbillcaravanflashlightsubway
petroldrawing pinholiday

Differences in grammar

The grammar of British and American English is almost the same, but there are some interesting variations, for example, in some forms of verbs. In AE, the past tense of fit is fit; in BrE – fitted. Americans say I’ve gotten to know her well; British – I’ve got to know her well. BrE often uses Present Perfect where AmE would rather use Past Simple.

For example, when using just or already, British people are more likely to say I’ve just seen him or I’ve already done it, while Americans are more likely to say I just saw him or I already did it.

Another example is that Americans are much more likely to agree collective nouns with a verb. In standard AmE it would be correct to say The team is playing well this season, while in BrE it would be acceptable to say: The team are playing well. The same applies to words such as government, committee, etc. In American – The government is …, in British – The government are …

Exercise 4

The following sentences are typically American. How would their Brit say?

  • Do you have any siblings?
  • It is important that she be told.
  • The jury has not yet reached its decision.
  • Go fetch your book.
  • He dove into the water.
  • You must come visit me real soon.

Use of words

Between AmE and BrE there are countless interesting nuances that relate to the use of words. AmE has a useful preposition through which means “up to and including”. For example, The exhibition is showing March through June. Its equivalent in BrE is from March to June, but this can be understood in two ways.

Will the exhibition last until the beginning of June or until the end? To avoid misunderstandings, it is better to say, for example: The exhibition is showing from March to the end of June.

Another example: for Americans, the number billion contains 9 zeros (a billion). For most Britons, it has 12 zeros (trillion). As for zero itself, the word zero is more common in AmE, while nought is more common in BrE. Americans are more likely to pronounce 453 as four hundred fifty three, while Brits almost always say four hundred and fifty three. And this is only a small part!

Exercise 5

For whom are the following sentences more typical – for an American or a Briton?

  • I’ll try and visit you on the weekend.
  • Please write me when you arrive.
  • Call me as soon as you get there.
  • Most everyone has a telephone and a refrigerator these days.
  • If you make a mistake, you’ll just have to do it over.
  • He was born 3/27/1981.
  • The soccer team won two to nothing (2-0).
  • She arrived at twenty of two.
  • The secretary said, «Mr. Clinton will see you soon.»


It is quite obvious that for those who are not native speakers, it will be very difficult to separate these two dialects. The best thing to do in this case is to get a good reference book. We can recommend two books on this subject:

  • Practical English Usage, M. Swan (1995), Oxford University Press
  • The Right Word at the Right Time (A guide to the English language and how to use it) (1985) Readers Digest

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