What are the main differences between American and British English?

British and American English showcase several key differences that learners should be aware of:

  • Pronunciation: Both variants have distinct accents and ways of pronouncing the same words.
  • Vocabulary: Sometimes, completely different terms are used to convey the same meaning (e.g., lorry in British vs. truck in American).
  • Grammar: There are notable distinctions in the utilization of tenses and other grammatical structures.
  • Spelling: Words might be spelled differently (e.g., colour vs. color).
  • Date Formats: The way dates are written can vary, with the British format often being day-month-year and the American month-day-year.

These differences underline the richness and diversity of the English language, influenced by geographical and historical contexts.

Table of Contents

Differences in vocabulary

Differences in grammar

Collective nouns

Have and take


Past tense verbs

Differences in spelling

Differences in dates

Differences in vocabulary

Vocabulary discrepancies constitute a major source of confusion. Numerous words have distinct meanings in the two language versions. While teaching English, it is natural to focus on the words that make the most sense to you personally. However, it is important for students to be aware of alternative terms to avoid confusion later on. While the extensive list of vocabulary differences is too lengthy to present here, here are a few common examples when teaching English as a foreign language (American version listed first):

Apartment = Flat

Candy = Sweet(s)

Elevator = Lift

French Fries = Chips

Garbage = Rubbish

Garbage Can = Dustbin

Hood (car) = Bonnet

Pants = Trousers

Sidewalk = Pavement

Sneakers = Trainers

Subway = Underground

Sweater = Jumper

Trunk (car) = Boot

Vacation = Holiday

Zucchini = Courgette

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Differences in grammar

The present perfect

When it comes to tenses, the present perfect tense is used considerably less in American English than in British English. American English often uses the past simple instead, mainly in two specific situations:

When talking about an action in the past that has an effect in the present

British Speaker: I have lost my hat. Have you seen it anywhere?

American Speaker: I have lost my hat. Did you see it anywhere?

Sentences using just, already and yet

British Speaker: Have you tried this cake yet?

American Speaker: Did you try this cake yet?

Collective nouns

In American English collective nouns are always followed by a singular verb. However, in British English a singular or plural verb can be used.

British Speaker: My favourite football team are winning the match.

American Speaker: My favorite soccer team is winning the match.

(Note: the examples above also show differences in spelling and vocabulary)

Have and take

British English uses have more frequently, while American English often uses take instead.

British Speaker: I need to have a shower.

American Speaker: I need to take a shower.


Prepositions are commonly used differently in British English and American English.

British Speaker: What are you doing at the weekend? Were you at school today?

American Speaker: What are you doing on the weekend? Were you in school today?

Past tense verbs

Many verbs have different past simple and past participle forms in British and American English, for example (American version in the first column):

Dove = Dived

Learned = Learnt

Smelled = Smelt

Gotten = Got

Spilled = Spilt

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Differences in spelling

Spelling differences are also common between the two forms of English.

British English often has a u where the American version does not.

Behavior = Behaviour

Color = Colour

Humor = Humour

British English often uses s where American English uses z.

Analyze = Analyse

Apologize = Apologise

Organize = Organise

Many words end -re in British English, while in American they end in -er.

Center = Centre

Meter = Metre

Theater = Theatre

Differences in dates

One source of considerable confusion for language students (and many teachers) is the disparity in date writing conventions. British English follows the day-month-year format, while American English uses the month-day-year format. For example, "15th September 1972" would be written as "15/9/1972" in British English and "9/15/1972" in American English.

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