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UK/US WRITING STYLES: MAIN DIFFERENCES

Differences between American and British English include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, and formatting of dates and numbers.

History of British vs American English

The English language was introduced to the Americans through British colonization in the early 17th century and it spread to many parts of the world because of the strength of the British empire. Over the years, English spoken in the United States and in Britain started diverging from each other in various aspects. This led to two dialects in the form of the American English and the British English.

Differences in use of tenses

In British English, the Present Perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. For example: I’ve misplaced my pen. Can you help me find it? In American English, the use of the past tense is also permissible: I misplaced my pen. Can you help me find it? In British English, however, using the past tense in this example would be considered incorrect. Other differences involving the use of the present perfect in British English and simple past in American English include the words already, just and yet.

British English: I’ve just had food./Have you finished your homework yet?/ I’ve already seen that film

American English: I just had food./ I’ve just had food./ I already saw that film.

Differences in Vocabulary

While some words may mean something in British English, the same word might be something else in American English and vice versa. For example, athlete in British English is one who participates in track and field events whereas athlete in American English is one who participates in sports in general.

Rubber in British English: tool to erase pencil markings.

Rubber in American English: condom.

There are also some words like AC, Airplane, bro, catsup, cell phone etc. which are common in American English and not used very often in British English. Some words widely used in British English and seldom in American English such as advert, anti clockwise, barrister, cat’s eye.

Differences in Spelling

There are many words that are spelt differently in both forms of English. Some examples are:

American English spelling British English spelling

color colour

fulfill fulfil

center centre

analyze analyse

aging ageing

dialog dialogue

anesthesia anaesthesia

A majority of the spelling differences between American and British English fall into the following categories:

Latin-derived spellings

-our (British) and -or (American). e.g. colour vs color

-re (British) and -er (American). e.g. centre vs center

-ce (British) and -se (American). e.g. defence vs defense

Greek-derived spellings

-ise (British) and -ize (American). e.g. centralise vs centralize

-yse (British) and -yze (American). e.g. analyse vs analyze

-ogue (British) and -og (American). e.g. dialogue vs dialog

Simplification of ae and oe in American English. e.g. gynaecology vs gynecology

Differences in Verb usage

American and British English may also use a base verb in different manners. For example: For the verb ” to dream”, Americans would use the past tense dreamed while the British would use dreamt in past tense. The same applies to “learned” and “learnt”. Another example of differing past tense spellings for verbs in American and British English is “forecast”. Americans use forecast while the British would say forecasted in simple past tense.

Time telling in British vs American English

Both languages have a slightly different structure of telling the time. While the British would say quarter past ten to denote 10:15, it is not uncommon in America to say a quarter after ten.

Thirty minutes after the hour is commonly called half past in both languages. Americans always write digital times with a colon, thus 6:00, whereas Britons often use a point, 6.00.

Differences in Spelling

Br. E. Am. E.

-our vs. -or

labour

labor

colour

color

favour

favor

flavour

flavor

honour

honor

neighbour

neighbor

-se vs. -ze

Br. E. Am. E.

apologise

apologize

paralyse

paralyze

organise

organize

-re vs. -er

Br. E. Am. E.

centre

center

theatre

theater

litre

liter

metre

meter

Other Differences in Endings

Br. E. Am. E.

catalogue

catalog

cheque

check

programme

program

defence

defense

practise (verb)

practice

aluminium

aluminum

-l vs. -ll

Br. E. Am. E.

enrol

enroll

fulfil

fulfill

skilful

skillful

BUT: traveller – traveler

Other Examples of Different Spelling

Br. E. Am. E.

tyre

tire

pyjamas

pajamas

Totally Different Words for the Same Notions

Br. E.

Am. E.

ground floor

first floor

first floor

second floor

government

administration

flat

apartment

starter

appertizer

homework

assignment

assembly hall

auditorium

luggage

baggage

cellar

basement

banknote

bill

milliard

billion

sad

blue

tin

can

draughts

checkers

course

class

wardrobe

closet

biscuit

cookie

maize

corn

sofa

couch

chemist

druggist

lift

elevator

rubber

eraser

autumn

fall

repair

fix

motorway

freeway / highway

match

game

petrol

gasoline

mark

grade

ensure

insure

cross-roads

intersection, junction

paraffin

kerosine

surname

last name

queue

line

lend

loan

situated

located

conjurer

magician

post

mail

tube / underground

metro / subway

cinema

movies

serviette

napkin

porridge

oatmeal

parcel

package

larder

pantry

trousers

pants

white wax

paraffin

road

pavement

billiards

pool

chairman

president

test / exam

quiz

sultana

raisin

book

reserve

timetable

schedule

drain

sewer / soil pipe

store

shop

briefs

shorts

jab

shot

pavement

sidewalk

football

soccer

tram

streetcar

label

tag

rates

taxes

essay / project

term paper

lorry

truck

fortnight

two weeks

subway

underpass

holiday

vacation

hoover

vacuum cleaner

quay

wharf

telegram

wire

spanner

wrench

zed

zee

postal code

zip code

gaol

jail

dialing code

area code

engaged (phone)

buzy

mad

crazy

pedestrian / zebra crossing

crosswalk

nappy

diaper

torch

flashlight

chips

french fries

rubbish

garbage \ trash

single ticket

one-way ticket

car park

parking lot

railway

railroad

CV

resume

toilet

rest room / bathroom

trainers

sneakers

zip

zipper

Main Grammar Differences: British vs. American English

Choice of time

Br. E. Am. E.

In British English the Present Perfect is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. For example:

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

In spoken American English it is very common to use the Simple Past tense as an alternative in situations where the present perfect would usually have been used in British English. For example:

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

Verb Agreement with Collective Nouns

Br. E. Am. E.

In British English collective nouns, (i.e. nouns referring to particular groups of people or things), (e.g. staff , government, class, team) can be followed by a singular or plural verb depending on whether the group is thought of as one idea, or as many individuals, e.g.:

My team is winning.

The other team are all sitting down.

In American English collective nouns are always followed by a singular verb, so an American would usually say:

Which team is losing?

Prepositions

Br. E. Am. E.

at the weekend

on the weekend

in a team

on a team

please write to me soon

please write me soon

at university

in university

Possession

Br. E. Am. E.

Have got:

Have you got a car?

Have:

Do you have a car?

Regular vs. Irregular Verbs

Br. E. Am. E.

In British English the verbs burn, dream, lean, learn, smell, spell, spill and spoil are usually irregular with past tenses and past participle forms ending in –t:

Burn / burnt / burnt

Dream / dreamt / dreamt

Lean / leant / leant

Learn / learnt / learnt

Smell / smelt / smelt

Spell / spelt / spelt

Spill / spilt / spilt

Spoil / spoilt / spoilt

In American English the verbs burn, dream, lean, learn, smell, spell, spill and spoil are all regular:

Burn / burned / burned

Dream / dreamed / dreamed

Lean / leaned / leaned

Learn / learned / learned

Smell / smelled /smelled

Spell / spelled /spelled

Spill / spilled / spilled

Spoil / spoiled / spoiled

Br. E. Am. E.

Quit and wet are regular in British English.

Quit / quitted / quitted

Wet / wetted / wetted

In American English these verbs are irregular:

Quit / quit / quit

Wet / wet / wet

Dive is regular in British English:

Dive / dived / dived

Dive can be irregular in American English:

Dive / dove / dived

In American English, the past participle of get can be got or gotten.

Spit has both spit and spat as past tense and past participle.

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