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The Most Important Differences Between British and American English

The Most Important Differences Between British and American English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

American English and British English are two varieties which are taught in English teaching programs around the world. Although it is accepted that no one version is corrected, there are certainly preferences in use. Someone who can speak, read or understand one variety of English, he/she’ll also probably be able to understand most of the other varieties without problem.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Sumeyra Y.

The differences between American and British English can be categorized in four ways:

  • Pronunciation - differences in both vowel and consonants, as well as intonation.
  • Vocabulary - differences in nouns and verbs, especially phrasal verb usage.
  • Spelling - differences in prefix and suffix forms.
  • Grammar – differences in grammar structure and usage.

Pronunciation differences

British English and American sound remarkably different. The most obvious difference is the way the letter "r" is pronounced. In British English, when "r" comes after a vowel in the same syllable (as in car, hard, or market), the "r" is not pronounced. In American English the "r" is pronounced.

Generally, many vowels also sound different, but the most common difference that people notice is with the letter "a" in some words. There is a phonetic sound [æ] that’s basically an "a" and an "e" combined into one letter. This sound is very common in American English but not in British English.

So a word like "dance" or "mathematics" will sound very different in British and American English. It’s hard to describe the difference, though.

Another significiant difference is intonation. When British people speak, their voice can go very high and quite low. When Americans speak their voice is quite flat, they do go up and down but not so much. So the effect is that British people sing a lot, and American people sound much more monotonous by comparison.

Vocabulary differences

The biggest area of difference between British and American English is vocabulary. There are many words that have pretty different meanings in British English than they do in American English.

For example; trainer (American English - a person who trains people or animals, British English-a soft sports shoe suitable for casual wear.)

American English: He is working with a fitness trainer in New Orleans this summer. British English: I’ve got about 14 pairs of trainers.

There are many vocabulary items which are used in one form and not in the other. Here most common ones:

British English - American English

Appetizer - Starter Sweet(s) - Candy Biscuit - Cookie, Cracker Chemist - Drugstore, pharmacy Lift - Elevator Jumper - Sweater Holiday - Vacation

Spelling differences

As for spelling ,there are some differences between British and American English.

Words like "colour"," favourite", and "flavour" have an "our"at the end in British English. In American English, there’s no "u".

  • colour/color
  • humour/humor
  • flavour/flavor
  • favour/favor

There are some words like "patronise" and "organise" that are usually spelled with an "-ise" ending in British English. In American English, they are spelled "patronize" and "organize".

Some words in British English have two consonants in arrow, but the same words in American English only have one consonant.For example;

American English: traveled, traveling, canceled, canceling British English: travelled, travelling, cancelled, cancelling

Also read: The How-To Guide For Americans To Teach English in Europe

Grammar differences

Aside from vocabulary and spelling, there are certain grammar differences between American and British English.

In British English the present perfect tense is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past has an effect on the present moment.

  • I’ve lost my mobile phone. Can you help me look for it?

The Americans sometimes use simple past tense instead of present perfect tense to express an action that has occurred in the recent past has an effect on the present moment.

  • I lost my cell phone.

While The Americans use informal speech such as "will" or "should", the British use formal speech such as "shall".

While British English commonly uses "needn’t", Americans use "don't need to".

The verb phrase "have got" is used in British English, but the verb "have" is used in American English.

  • American English: I have a car.
  • British English: I have got a car.

In American English, the past participle of "to get" is usually "gotten" .But in British English, it’s "got".

  • American English: She’s gotten much better at playing volleyball.
  • British English: She’s got much better at playing volleyball.

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