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Differences Between American And British English Essay Outline

As the video above illustrates, the Americans and the British clearly speak the same language, although with enough variation to create versions of the language with slightly different personalities and local flavor — or should that be flavour?

Accent

It’s difficult to make clear distinctions between US and UK accents when there is such a wide variety of accents within both the US and UK. A Texan and a New Yorker are both Americans, but have very different accents. The same goes for British accents in London, Manchester and Glasgow.

However, some very general distinctions can be made. Americans usually pronounce every “r” in a word, while the British tend to only pronounce the “r” when it’s the first letter of a word.

Spelling

American EnglishBritish English
colorcolour
behaviorbehaviour
theatertheatre
behaviorbehaviour
metermetre
organizeorganise
traveledtravelled

Vocabulary

American EnglishBritish English
apartmentflat
collegeuniversity
theatertheatre
vacationholiday
chipscrisps
(french) frieschips
the moviesthe cinema
soda / pop / coke / soft drinksoft drink / fizzy drink
sneakers / tennis shoestrainers
sweaterjumper
mailboxpostbox
band-aidplaster
drugstorechemist’s
soccerfootball
cookiebiscuit

Grammar

Prepositions

The differences below are only a general rule. American speech has influenced Britain via pop culture, and vice versa. Therefore, some prepositional differences are not as pronounced as they once were.

American EnglishBritish English
I’m going to a party on the weekend.I’m going to a party at the weekend.
What are you doing on Christmas?What are you doing at Christmas?
Monday through Friday.Monday to Friday.
It’s different from/than the others.It’s different from/to the others.

Past Simple vs Present Perfect

Americans tend to use the past simple when describing something that has recently occurred, while people in the UK are more likely to use the present perfect.

American EnglishBritish English
I ate too much.I’ve eaten too much.
I went to the store.I’ve been to the shop.
Monday through Friday.Monday to Friday.
Did you get the newspaper?Have you got the newspaper?

The past participle of get

In the UK, “gotten” as the past participle of “get” is considered archaic and was abandoned long ago in favor of “got.” However, in the US people still use “gotten” as the past participle.

American EnglishBritish English
get — got — gottenget — got — got
I haven’t gotten any news about him.I’ve not got any news about him.

Collective nouns: singular or plural?

In British English, a collective noun (like committee, government, team, etc.) can be either singular or plural, but more often tends toward plural, emphasizing the members of the group. Collective nouns in the US, by comparison, are always singular, emphasizing the group as one whole entity.

American EnglishBritish English
The government is doing everything it can during this crisis.The government are doing everything they can during this crisis.
My team is winning.My team are winning.

Regular or irregular verbs?

This is a subtle difference that can be easily overlooked in speech, but is much more apparent in written form. Many verbs that are irregular in the preterite in Britain (leapt, dreamt, burnt, learnt) have been made regular in America (leaped, dreamed, burned, learned).

As the most-spoken second language on the planet, English has to be flexible. After all, it’s not solely spoken in the countries we’ve detailed above. So whether you speak English like a Brit or like a ‘merkan, this should not be an obstacle when communicating with people on the opposite side of the pond, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

To learn more about British English and American English — and hear a Brit and an American go toe-to-toe over the differences between their respective versions of English — check out this episode of the Chatty con Leche podcast!

Improve your English, or learn an entirely new language.

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Once George Bernard Shaw called Britain and the USA countries that are separated by one common language.

Unfortunately, it is the truth: despite the fact that the name of the language is the same, there is a variety of differences between them that influence the use and understanding as well as puzzles its learners. It is natural that native speakers from two opposite continents will not have troubles to understand each other, but still, there is an issue for foreigners, who might get into the trap of misunderstanding.

Originally, there was only one English language (the British one) that was spread all over the world through colonization. It was exactly the case how the English language appeared in America in the 16th century, but since that time it has been influenced by many factors:

  • Local settlers and Indian tribes that lived on the territory of the USA;
  • Immigrants from other countries that brought new vocabulary;
  • Creation of original American words to describe a completely new environment;
  • Technological development etc.

All those reasons and may be some others made it apparent that the difference between to English languages exists and that concerns all the language constituents.

Vocabulary varieties are the most evident differences between UK and US English. There is quite a big list of terms that sound completely different in these countries and the best way to learn them is to use a dictionary. Mainly, it concerns automobile and railway industries as they were developing after colonization, but, of course, there are other sources of differences including:

  • Idiomatic phrases: e.g. A storm in a teacup vs. A tempest in a teapot
  • Phrasal words: e.g. carry on means to have a love affair vs. bring luggage
  • Slang and vulgar words: e.g. ass vs buttocks
  • Conjunctions: e.g. amongst vs. among
  • Numbers and monetary amounts: e.g. twice vs. two times, hash vs. pound sign
  • Prepositions: e.g. talk to vs. talk with
  • Telling the time and building levels: e.g. quarter past vs. quarter after, ground floor vs. the first floor
  • Education and transportation: e.g. study vs. major in, dual carriageway vs. divided highway
  • Greetings: e.g. Happy Christmas vs. Merry Christmas

Spelling is another issue that makes these two English languages completely different. The spelling peculiarities have been identified by the US lexicographer Noah Webster, who has composed a dictionary named after him. Being frustrated by the inconsistent and more difficult English spelling, he tried to spell words the way they are pronounced. The brightest example is the word “spell” itself as Americans add –ed suffix to this word in the past participle form, while British people say “spelt”.

In general, you can single out some common differences in spelling including:

-our / -or, -ll / -l, -re / -er, -se / -ze, -oe, -ae / -e, -ence / -ense, -ogue / -og

For example: colour – color, traveler – traveler, centre – center, analyse – analyze, encyclopaedia – encyclopedia, defence – defense, monologue – monolog etc.

Differences in pronunciation are also noticeable in these two languages. First of all, these are stressed syllables: Americans have preserves French stress on the last syllable, while British place it earlier. But there is an opposite rule concerning verbs finishing with –ate. American English words have stress on the first syllable and British people stress the second one.

Secondly, this is a pronunciation of such affixes as -ary, -ery, -ory, -mony, -ative, -bury, -berry. Americans pronounce the vowels as a full sound, while British speakers reduce it or elide it. There are also some differences in the pronunciation of such endings as –ile, -ine.

The second largest group of differences is in grammar. British people tend to preserve more traditional grammar rules, while Americans have made some changes to these rules including:

  1. Use of verb with collective nouns: in BrE, a group of people is treated as plural, in AmE – as singular only.
  2. Use of Tenses. Present Perfect in America can be easily substituted by Past Simple Tense. They also can use pluperfect in the conditionals and subjunctive mood. British people do not use ‘should’ in the similar sentences.
  3. Morphology of irregular verbs. British use both forms of verbs – regular and irregular, while Americans prefer mainly –ed form.
  4. Absence or presence of different syntactic elements. Americans will omit using ‘and’ between two verbs, while British will place it undoubtedly. There are also differences with contractions, prepositions, indirect object, articles too.

There are also some miscellaneous grammar cases which have no exact explanation. That concerns names of rivers or the word ‘also’, for example. British place the word ‘river’ before the name and the word ‘also’ in the middle of the sentence and Americans do that after and at the end correspondently.

Americans and British have also differences in punctuation:

  1. Full Stops and periods in abbreviations. Americans use a full stop after all abbreviations while British follow the rule that it must be used only when the last abbreviation letter does not coincide with the last letter of the full word.
  2. British avoid using a hyphen in multiple-word adjectives, while Americans do.
  3. Americans use double quotation marks (“), while the British opt for a single one (‘). A full stop is placed after a quotation mark by the British, while US people place it before it.
  4. Writing letters. British people use a comma after the greeting, while Americans write a colon.

Nowadays traditional British English has gained much from the American one. That happens because of the media programs, films, music, so many US expressions have come into UK English too. There are different opinions whether it is a positive or negative influence on the language, but still, globalization and other factors will make their contribution to the changes and some of them are noticeable right now. Here are some examples: Americans and British would say “I’m good”, “Two times”, “Movie” instead of original “I’m fine”, “Twice”, “Film”. Of course, this influence can’t be one-sided and there are expressions from the UK that have become popular in America too, though their number is much smaller.


Also published on Medium.

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