How Different are British and American English?

How Different are British and American English?

English as the international language in the entire world has some varieties such as Australian, Canadian. New Zealand, British and American English. Among all, the last two ones are considered to be the most prestigious varieties of the English language. It should be pointed out that all of the English varieties spoken throughout the world are just slightly different from each other. In this article, the main differences between American and British English in terms of pronunciation, grammar, words and spelling are compared and contrasted.

As non-native speakers of English, English learners are strongly recommended to select one of the two prestigious varieties of English, either American or British, and be consistent in their selection.

When it comes to pronunciation, Americans (also Canadians) tend to pronounce words with more ease. To be more exact, most Canadians and Americans clearly pronounce an /r/ sound after vowels in words like mother, car, better, etc., while in British English, the pronunciation of this consonant with the same condition is almost not realised. To be more technical, the phoneme /r/ is realised as zero or has zero realisation. This phenomenon is phonetically referred to as “Elision”.

Some of the differences between American and British English are rooted in the rhythm of words. British speakers often omit a syllable in words like secretary, as if it were spelled secretry, in contrast, Americans pronounce all the syllables. However, we have completely reverse cases, such as specialty. Americans pronounce this word with three syllables (spe-cial-ty), whereas British speakers pronounce it with five syllables (spe-ci-al-i-ty).

In terms of grammar, there are subtle differences between the two English varieties. For instance, regarding pluralization (making plural nouns), in American English, group nouns, e.g. team and government are regarded as single entities. However, in British English, they are viewed as plural entities (e.g., the government are…). Furthermore, concerning the use of the ‘present perfect tense’, it should be noted that, in British English, this tense is used to express an action that has happened in the recent past with an effect on the moment of speaking. For example, I’ve lost my wallet. Could you please help me to find it? While we are talking about it, in American English, the same sentence with the same meaning can be put in the simple past tense as: I lost my wallet. Could you please help me to find it? Moreover, some British English speakers do not pronounce /h/ sound at the start of words like ‘he’ and ‘his’ as if they were spelled ee and is.

Another grammatical difference between the two varieties of English is one way to show possession. In British English, both phrases “have” and “have got” are equally used as in: “I’ve got a motorcycle.” or “I have a motorcycle.” However, in American English, the use of “have got” is not that common to show possession. Moreover, in British English, the causative verb (help) is generally followed be the preposition “to” as in: The teacher helped the students to understand the problem. However, in American English, the preposition is generally omitted: The teacher helped the students understand the problem.

The past participle of the verb “get” is usually ‘gotten’ in American English and ‘got’ in British English: Alice has gotten good marks in her exams (American English). Betty has got good marks in her exams (British English). In terms of the common use of prepositions in English, there are also some slight differences between the two language varieties.

British

American

At the weekend

On the weekend

In a team

On a team

On behalf of

In behalf of

Writing to somebody

Writing somebody

With regard to ‘conjugation’, there are also some differences between the two language varieties. In British English, whenever possible, it is attempted to prioritize an irregular form of the verb, whereas in American English, the regular form of the verb is generally employed as shown in the following table:

British

American

Burnt

Burned

Dreamt

Dreamed

Leant

Leaned

Learnt

Learned

Smelt

Smelled

Spelt

Spelled

Spilt

Spilled

Spoilt

Spoiled

In relation to major differences of spelling between American and British English, it should be pointed out that Noah Webster, an American Lexicographer, was the main source of the distinctions. In two of his well-known publications, An American Dictionary of the English language (1828), and The American Spelling Book (1783), he attempted to systematize spelling in the United States by developing an almost unique use of an American language, which was intentionally different from its British counterpart to acknowledge the new country’s independently political development (Encarta Encyclopedia, 2008).

Webster’s most successful changes were spellings with or instead of our in words like honor, labor for the British honour, labour); with er instead of re in words like center, theater for the British centre, theatre); with an s instead of a c in words like defense, license for the British defence, licence); with a final ck instead of que in words like check, mask for the British cheque, masque); and without a final k (traffic, public, now also used in British English, for the older traffick, publick). Later on, some subsequent reforms were also created as the word programme in British English changed to program in American English. One ideal way to make sure whether you have consistency in your own English variety is using the ‘spell check’ feature on your word processor.

The following table shows some other differences in spelling between British and American English:

British

American

British

American

Archaeology

Archeology

Jewellry

Jewelry

Axe

Ax

Kebab

Kabob

Cosy

Cozy

Learnt/spoilt/smelt

Learned/spoiled/smelled

Crutch

Crotch

Manoeuvre

Maneuver

Chilli

Chili

Mummy

Mommy

Diarrhoea

Diarrhea

Paediatrician

Pediatrician

Dishevelled

Disheveled

PhD

Ph.D

Enquiry

Inquiry

Pyjamas

Pajamas

Enrol

Enroll

Sceptical

Skeptical

Foetus

Fetus

Speciality

Specialty

Grey

Gray

Tyre

Tire

There are also some differences in terms of the use of words between the two important varieties of the English language. It is believed that the major differences between these two varieties of the English language are rooted in the choice of words. These words often include words that are usually less common, for instance, British crisps for American potato chips. Foreign English learners strongly recommended to constantly consult a good dictionary if they are not sure about the precise use of words in the English variety they are consistent in. this is because of the fact that some words or phrases may have different meanings and interpretations in different language varieties. The following table is intended to illustrate some of the differences in relation to the diction (choice of words) and idioms between British and American English:

British

American

British

American

Alsatian

German Shepherd

Inverted comma

Quotation mark

Barber’s

Barbershop

Invigilator

Proctor

Barrister

Attorney

Left holding the baby

Left holding the bag

Bonnet

Hood

Lorry

truck

Canteen

Cafeteria

Like the cat that got the cream

Like the cat that ate the cream

Card index

Card catalog

Luggage

Baggage

Caretaker

Janitor

Mobile phone

Cellular phone

Chat show

Talk show

Mouse mat

Mouse pad

Chips

French Fries

Nappy

Diaper

Coffin

Casket

Nursery school

Kindergarten

Colour bar

Color line

On behalf of

In behalf of

Cot

Crib

Optician

Optometrist

Docker

Longshoreman

Pavement

Sidewalk

Donkey work

Grunt work

Pen friend

Pen pal

Double bill

Double feature

Petrol station

Gas station

Dumbbell

Barbell

Syllabus

Curriculum

Dummy

Pacifier

The ABC of something

The ABCs of something

Dustbin

Garbage can

Timber

Lumber

Enrol on/for

Enroll in

Torch

Flashlight

Fight like cat and dog

Fight like cats and dogs

Touch wood

Knock on wood

Football

Soccer

Tourist

Vacationer

Footballer

Soccer player

Train carriage

Train car

Get out of bed on the wrong side

Get up on the wrong side of the bed

Trousers

Pants

Gift token

Gift certificate

Valve

Vacuum tube

Handbag

Purse

Veterinary surgeon

Veterinarian

High street

Main street

Wastepaper basket

Wastebasket

Holiday maker

Vacationer

Weep buckets

Cry buckets

Indicator

Turn signal

Whole-meal

Whole-wheat

Author:  Hossein Hariri
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There are 22 Comments

مهدی و کریم عزیز. به سایت لنگوئج تایز خوش آمدید. امیدوارم مطالب سایت بتونه به پیشرفت زبان شما کمک کنه smiley

hi there ,

I don't mean to patronize but as an ESL you shouldn't be fussy about such things ! It may become important just when your'e speaking to a native speaker , even if that's the case , talking from experience , as long as what you say is understandable nobody pays that much attention to those small details . you even might see Americans use some of brit terms according to dictionaries and when u ask them, they don't even know it's something british .and if your'e going to live in an English country , you'll learn their terms gradually as u're surrounded by native speakers .

besides both have taken influence from one another and maybe british English has done more . so you get to see brits use Amercian slangs and sometimes even accent , like they might say addidute instead of attitude

However I'm aware of the fact that this article is reserved for more formal and learned English and not and the vernacular but hope you don't mind if I digress a little bit and point out another difference worth saying , which is how Amercians change the letter 't' to 'd' when it's placed between two vowels , like later , pronounced as lader or water turns into wader , albeit there are some exceptions to this

there was something about dropping the consonant 'h' in brit English in the article . well in fact Amercians do the very same thing in spoken English  when it's linked to other words like you say isi instead of is he , or withim rather than with him .

all in all the article was thorough and It wasn't my intent to belittle it and thanks a lot to the author and all the effort he's put in . I merely wanted to speak my mind

God bless you all , bubye

 

سلام خسته نباشین ممنون از مطالب خوبتون
مندیکشنری لانگمن رو در لپتابم دارم میخاستم بدونم بلندگوی قرمز و ابی هرکدوم نشاندهنده ی کدوم لهجه اس؟

بالاخره رو کدوم کار کنیم به نفع مون میشه و اینگیلیسیو بهتر یاد میگیریم مخصوصا اگه مبتدی باشیم ممنون میشم کمکم کنید.

سلام بخشید اینجا you’ve passed your examination میتونیم بجای این از he has passed his examination استفاده کنیم

سلام دوست عزیز. من دقیقاً متوجه نشدم منظور شما از "اینجا"، کجا هست! ولی به طور کلی شما در جمله دوم فاعل را از "you" به "he" تغییر داده اید و به طبع آن ساختار فعل نیز عوض شده و این تغییر از لحاظ گرامری صحیح است.

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