16 Mar British English vs. American English: What’s the Difference?

United States of America and Great Britain are two nations divided by the same language, so goes the old saying. Although both countries speak the same tongue, anyone can tell the difference between an American and a British. These differences are so significant that a Brit steps on the American soil and his origin is immediately known upon speaking, and same goes to the other person. A Briton would say, “An American doesn’t speak English, they speak American”. Americans on the other hand describe British English as the old version of the English language. But, what exactly are these differences? Let’s break them down.

1. Spelling
Thanks to Noah Webster, an American lexicographer, who made minor revisions in how some words are spelled, or should it be “spelt”? According to Webster, America needed to show the world that they have attained independence. He was also frustrated by the inconsistencies in the English spelling and wanted to spell English words the way they are pronounced. Since the late 1700s until this date, Americans and Brits have different spelling in words such as:

Color (American)
Colour (British)

Labor (American)
Labour (British)

Honor (American)
Honour (British)

2. Collective Nouns
When you hear the word collective nouns, the first thing that comes to your mind is a group of people or objects. Examples of collective nouns are:

Staff: A group of employees
Band: A group of musicians
Team: A group of athletes

As far as American English is concerned, collective nouns are singular. It’s very common to hear an American say “the team is hardworking”. On the other hand, British English view collective nouns as either singular or plural, and it’s very common to hear Brits say “the team are hardworking” or “the team is hardworking”

3. Past Tense Verbs
Even past tense verbs vary between American English and British English. For example, the past tense of the word “learn” in American English is “learned” while in British it’s either “learned” or “learnt”. The same goes to words such as:

dreamed – dreamt
spelled – spelt
seaned – leant
burned – burnt

Overall, Americans tend to use “–ed” ending, while Brits prefer the “–t” ending.

Past participle forms are also different between the two nations. An American would probably say, “I never gotten caught” while a Brit might say “I never got caught”. In American English, both “got” and “gotten” are correct, whereas British English only uses “got”.

4. Auxiliary Verbs
Commonly known as “helping verbs”, auxiliary verbs help form a grammatical function. We use them to add information about modality, voice, and time. The auxiliary verb “shall”, for instance, is used by Brits to express the future. A Brit would say, “I shall go home”. Nevertheless, “shall” is hardly used in American English because it’s considered very formal. Instead, Americans use “will”; for example, “I will go home”. When it comes to posing questions, Brits would probably say, “Shall we go home?” whereas Americans might say “Should we go home?”

Differences also come out when the two groups want to express a lack of obligation. For example, Americans would say “you do not (don’t) need to go to the cinema” while a Brit might say, “you needn’t go to the cinema”. In general, Americans use “do” with “not” followed by “need”, to express a lack of obligation. Britons, on the contrary, neither use “do” nor “not”.

5. Vocabulary
Another area where variation comes out significantly is vocabulary. Many words in American and British English may seem different but in real sense have the same meaning. Some of these words include:

Bonnet (British) and Hood (American): Front of a car
Holiday (British) and Vacation (American): An extended period of recreation
Flats (British) and Apartments (American): A suite of rooms that form a single residence
Petrol (British) and Gasoline (American): Refined petroleum used as fuel for internal combustion engines

Fortunately, both Brits and Americans can guess the meaning of these words and understand each other better.

Other differences include accents and tag questions, although these often do not come out significantly. Despite these differences, American English and British English have a lot of similarities. As such, it’s not easy for issues of misunderstanding to arise. In most cases, the language style is the same, so both groups rarely experience difficulty in understanding each other. Furthermore, they sing each other’s songs, watch each other’s TV shows, and even read each other’s books, and this makes things certainly easier!

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