English can be a difficult language to learn.
There are endless grammar points, words, and expressions to remember. On top of all of that, these may vary depending on who you’re speaking to.
This is because there are lots of differences between American and British English. It’s not just about the accent. There are also different words, ways of spelling, and grammar uses, too.
In this post, we’ll give you the most important ones.
The Main Differences Between American and British English
Whether you’re traveling, chatting with coworkers or just watching English movies, you’re bound to come across these differences. Read on to familiarize yourself with them, and you’ll always be prepared.
Learning spelling can be tricky, especially since Americans and British people don’t always do it the same way.
This is because Noah Webster, founder of Merriam Webster, reformed American English spelling in the 1700s. He found British spelling to be inconsistent and confusing, so campaigned to make some changes.
He wanted words to be spelled as they sounded. As a result, there are now many differences in the way Americans and British people spell certain words.
In the UK, words like ‘humor’, ‘favorite’ and ‘color’ are spelled with ‘ou’. Also, words that end in ‘ize’ are changed to ‘ise’.
Words that are spelled with ‘yze’ in the US are changed to ‘yse’ in the UK. This includes ‘analyze’ and ‘paralyze’.
British spelling also adds an extra L to words when there is a vowel on either side of the letter. That’s why words like ‘travelling’, ‘cancelled’ and ‘marvellous’ all have a double L. In American English, the L is singular.
Many words that end in ‘er’ in American English are switched to ‘re’ in British English. The most common examples of this are ‘centre’ and ‘theatre’.
One of the main differences between American and British English is vocabulary.
While Americans live in apartments, British people call those flats. In the US, you’d get to your floor using an elevator, but in the UK, you’d use a lift.
Here are some other words that are different in American and British English:
- French fries/chips
As you can see, there are often two words for one meaning. This means that as an ESL learner, you’ll have even more vocabulary to memorize.
If this is confusing for you, don’t worry. Brits and Americans often get confused by these words, too! In fact, they even have to translate for each other sometimes.
Grammar is one of the most difficult things about learning English. With so many tenses to learn, many grammar mistakes are incredibly common for English learners.
To make things even more difficult, Brits and Americans sometimes use grammar differently.
For example, the uses of the past simple and present perfect tenses are slightly different. British people will use present perfect to talk about events that have just happened, such as ‘have you had lunch yet?’.
Americans are more likely to say ‘did you have lunch yet?’
Many ESL learners are also confused by the word ‘gotten’. This is only used by Americans. In British English, the past participle of ‘get’ is ‘got.’ Verb 2 and verb 3 are the same.
British people also tend to use ‘got’ to mean ‘have’.
You’ll often hear them asking ‘have you got?’ instead of ‘do you have?’ Both questions mean exactly the same thing, but the American version is easier to understand and remember.
While these grammatical nuances can be confusing, they shouldn’t hinder your understanding. In conversation, you can usually understand the meaning by looking at the context of what the speaker is saying.
American English and British English differ widely when it comes to accent.
However, there is no one true accent for England or the US. Within each country, there is a huge variety of accents and dialects. People in various regions speak completely differently.
Many ESL students find American English easier to understand. This is likely to be due to being exposed to more American movies and TV shows. However, many of them say that they’d like to speak with a British accent. In fact, it was voted the sexiest accent in the world.
Here are some of the main differences between American and British English accents:
- Brits tend to pronounce their T’s clearly, while Americans soften them, so they sound more like D’s.
- In American English, and O is often pronounced as ‘ah’.
- In British English, the pronunciation of the letter R is often dropped from the ends of words.
- The R sound is stronger in American English than it is in British English.
- Words ending in ‘ile’ are pronounced differently. In the US, it’s a short sound, but in the UK, it’s longer.
- For many words, Brits and Americans put stress in different places. For example, Americans would say ‘adult’, while Brits say ‘adult’.
Brits and Americans also tell time differently.
In the UK, 4:30 is described as ‘half past four’, and 4:45 is ‘quarter to five’. In America, it’s much easier than that. There, you’d hear ‘four thirty’ and ‘four forty-five’.
In American English, you can simply sound out the time as it’s written.
While the British form of telling time is a little trickier, it’s helpful to learn both. That way, you’ll never have any problems understanding.
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