You can perfectly know grammar and even punctuation, use appropriate tenses, or operate many sophisticated words that would definitely show the depth in your English knowledge, but all these can be easily shrunk to a nullity if you still did not come up with the variant of English you would like to speak. Most of us, especially those who are not native speakers, confuses American and British English word spelling. As a result, they can have a mixture of these two variants making their language sound funny and unnatural for people who have grown in America and Britain. Therefore, it is a high time to fill out this gap in your knowledge!
Usage of Present Perfect Tense vs Simple Past Tenses
It is rather typical for the American to use simple past tenses instead of present perfect tense which is more widespread in Britain.
Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns
When we are talking about British English, let us remember about their preciseness regarding all life aspects. In that regard, collective nouns (staff, team, government, etc.) in British variant can singular as well as plural depending on the speaker and his/her perception of a situation. For example, a British can say, “What team is winning” as well as “What team are winning.” But in the second variant the speaker implies every individual in a team. In the American English everything is far easier. All collective nouns are always used in a singular.
Use of Have and Take
It is commonly known that these two verbs can function as delexical ones meaning a little in the context but being used in a combination with an object noun which describes an action.
In British English, have is more popular than take, while in American English verb take is used more widely.
Br.: I would like to have a shower;
Am.: I would like to take a shower.
Auxiliaries and Modals
- British English also differs from American with use of verb do in the reply to a question, e.g.:
- - Would you eat this cake?
- - Yes, I might do.
When in American English such feature was not noticed;
- In British English needn’t to is used on the contrary to the American variant don’t need to, for whom the British phrase will be strange and unusual;
- One more distinctive feature is the usage of shall in the British variant, where it can mean future and be equally substituted with will in American English, and also shall can be used in the interrogatory sentences asking for permission or confirmation of someone’s actions.
Shall I open the window?
Use of Prepositions
The peculiarity worth of your attention is the use of prepositions.
- Time expressions: at vs on (e.g., Br.: at the weekend; Am.: She'll be coming home on weekends);
- Talking about universities or institutions: at vs in (e.g., Br.: studied at university; Am.: studied French in high school);
- Use of prepositions with the adjective “different.” In British English we would say, “This house is different from/to anything I've lived before.” And in American variant, we would say “This house is different from/than anything I've lived before.”
Here, the main rule to remember is that the American is inclined to simplify everything and that is why the words with at least a little bit harder spelling (in Britain variant) than usual were modified to make pronunciation lighter as well.
There are six main differences in the spelling regarding endings of words:
- Words ending with -our in Br.Eng. will lose or change some letters in Am. Eng. (e.g., honour – honor, behavior – behavior, colour - color);
- Words ending with -tre in Br.Eng. will lose or change some letters in Am. Eng. (e.g., centre – center, theatre - theater);
- Words ending with -gue in Br.Eng. will lose or change some letters in Am. Eng. (e.g., dialogue – dialog);
- Words ending with -ce in Br.Eng. will lose or change some letters in Am. Eng. (e.g., defence - defense);
- Words ending with -ise in Br.Eng. will lose or change some letters in Am. Eng. (e.g., recognise - recognize).
We can also point out such a difference as the omission of doubled consonants in American English. For example, compare: traveling and travelling (BrE); jewelry and jewellery (BrE); program – programme (BrE)
Talks about lexical differences in two discussed variants of English can continue for a long time. There are typical words for British English as well as for American. We will try to divide them on different topics and subgroups to simplify apprehension.
|Jacket potato||Baked potato|
|Runner bean / string bean||String bean|
|Candy floss||Cotton candy|
General Things and Phenomena
|The Big Dipper|
|High street||Main street|
|Block of flats||Apartment building|
|Ground floor (first level of building)||First flour|
|First floor (second level of building)||Second floor|
|Takeaway (food taken from restaurant to eat somewhere else)||Takeout|
|Mobile phone||Cell phone|
On the Street
|Chemist’s||Drugstore / pharmacy|
|Phone box||Phone booth|
|Estate car||Station wagon|
|Indicator||Blinker (turn signal)|
There are yet many differences in understanding of the same words. However, it is hard to embrace all of them only in one article. Those above are just the most popular examples to show how different can be the perception of the same things. That is why to understand and speak English, British and American, at best, you should try to live in the chosen country. Then, for sure, you will not think regarding the word choice, but feel what to say better. And remember there is no right English, there are just its different variations. You can use British English as well as American. The main condition is to speak grammatically and lexically correctly because every country has its own standards that must be followed to avoid strange glances and even bad marks in university.