Differences Between American and British English

Author: Ann F.

Date: Jun 21, 2022 | Grammar

Differences Between American and British English

The English language includes several varieties, including British, American, Canadian, Australian, etc. However, the most commonly taught in ESL/EFL programs are American and British English. There is no “correct” variety of English, but it’s important to understand the differences between them. Major differences include:

  • Pronunciation – differences in both vowel and consonants, as well as stress and intonation
  • Vocabulary – differences in nouns and verbs
  • Spelling – differences are generally found in certain prefix and suffix forms

Ginger enables you to choose between American and British English when performing an online grammar check. That way, whichever you choose, we have you covered!

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Spelling

Spelling is the most noticeable difference between American and British English. Famed American lexicographer, Noah Webster, introduced the American spelling reform in the early 1800’s. Major spelling differences include:

1. -er vs. -re

British spelling uses -re which originally comes from French. In the United States, it was replaced with -er to better reflect American pronunciation.

2. -or vs. -our

One of the more famous spelling differences also comes from French influence.

*Some exception in American usage exist such as the word glamour.

3. -ize vs. -ise / -yze vs. -yse

The -ize spelling is often incorrectly seen as an Americanism in Britain. While British spelling mostly uses the -ise ending as it’s more common, it’s just a convention and not a rule. However, the -ize ending is always used in the United States. However, the -yse ending in the UK is a rule and most be followed unless American printing style is being used.

4. Double consonants

This rule is more tricky as both varieties have different rules regarding doubled consonants. There are specific rules for words ending in L and before the -ment ending.

  • Ending in L (derivatives of verbs, nouns and adjectives)

In British English when a words ends in -l, the final -l is often doubled (even when the final syllable is unstressed).

  • Before -ment

In the United States, the L is doubled before the -ment ending.

5. -se vs -ce

Many nouns that end in –ence in British English end in –ense in the US. UK English only uses –ense for the corresponding verb. For example, you can license someone to do something, after which they hold a licence to do it.

6. -og vs -ogue

American English commonly uses the ending -og while UK uses -ogue.

*There are some exceptions such as demagogue, pedagogue, and synagogue are seldom used without -ue even in American English.

7. Different spellings for different pronunciations

Other spelling reforms were changed to simplify the pronunciation or changed due to pronunciation differences in American English vs. British English.

Vocabulary

The list of vocabulary differences between the US and UK is long. However, the main ones include:

Grammar Differences

1. Use of Present Perfect

In British English, the present perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past. The American standard is to use the simple past.

Examples

I’ve lost my key. Can you help me look for it? (UK)

I lost my key. Can you help me look for it? (US)

In American English, the words already, just and yet can be used with the simple past or present perfect. In British English, only present perfect tense can be use with already, just and yet.

British English:

I’ve just had lunch.

I’ve already seen that film.

Have you finished your homework yet?

American English:

I just had lunch OR I’ve just had lunch.

I already saw that film OR I’ve already seen that film

Did you finish your homework yet? OR Have you finished your homework yet?

2. Verb Endings

In British English, some verbs form the past tense with the suffix –t, while in American English they have regular past tense forms ending in –ed. Other differences include the extremely popular past particle of the verb get – in US (gotten), in UK (got).

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