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Principal Differences Between British English and American English

Principal Differences Between British English and American English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For a student learning English as a second language, one thing they may notice is the difference in the accents between British English and American English, the difference is rather pronounced considering it has been less than two hundred and fifty years since the American Revolution. The American accent is likely to be more familiar to many students, thanks to many American movies from Hollywood.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Anthony B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

The Problem of Accents in English

Unfortunately for students, the accents are not the only differences in the language but where did these differences come from? In England, in 1755, Samuel Johnson released ‘A dictionary of the English Language’. In America Noah Webster in 1806 released ‘ A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language’ then in 1828 released ‘An American Dictionary of the English Language’.

English has words absorbed from other languages, mainly French and German, while Johnson kept these spellings, Webster, who wanted American spelling to be distinct and arguably superior to British spelling, chose to spell words the way they sound when spoken.

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The History of English

Before 1828 both spellings of several words were acceptable in both Britain and America but the success of Webster's dictionary and the influence of immigration in America have influenced their language. In Britain, although many of Webster’s word forms were originally acceptable, their use gradually declined as they were regarded as “Americanisms”.

So, what are some of these differences? Besides spelling differences, which we will look at soon, there are several differences in the v where completely different words are used. Using the format “American/ British” here are a list of such terms: vacation/ holiday, zucchini/ courgette, eggplant/ aubergine, sneakers/ trainers, sweater/ pullover, vest/ waistcoat, overpass/ flyover, apartment/ flat, mail/ post, eraser/ rubber, diaper/ nappy, cookie/ biscuit.

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When it comes to spelling there are several differences

The use of ‘o’ or ‘ou’. American English use only ‘o’, for example, arbor, behavior, color, humor, harbor. While British English uses the ‘ou’ form, arbor, behavior, color, humor, harbor.

The use of ‘-re’ or ‘-er’. American English ends words with ‘-er’ for words like center, meter, theater. British English ends these words in ‘-re’, center, meter, theatre.

The use of ‘-e’ or ‘-us’. British English words like analog, ax, dialogue, keep the silent ‘-e’ or ‘-us’ but American English drops them, analog, ax, dialog.

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One ‘l’ or two. American English uses a single ‘l’ for words like traveled, counseled, canceled. British English spells these as traveled, counseled, canceled. Some words that end in ‘ll’ lose one ‘l’ in British English when a suffix is added: will becomes skilfully, will become wilfully. American English retains the ‘ll’ and we get skillfully and willfully.

The use of ‘ise’ or ‘ize’. American English use ‘ise’ for the following words: accessorize, recognize, caramelized are accessorize, recognize, caramelized in British English.

There are a few miscellaneous differences in the spelling of words between American English and British English, again using the format “American/ British” here are some examples, pajamas/ pyjamas, mustache/ moustache, specialty/ speciality, tire/ tyre, curb/ kerb, plow/ plough, licorice/ liquorice, check/ cheque, gray/ grey.

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These have been only a small part of the differences between American English and British English so, for this reason, it would be recommended that resources collected for English lessons should all be either American based or British based so avoid differences within the resources, especially when reading or writing, that may cause some confusion for students.

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