British English vs American English – learn the differences

Time to read: 6 Minutes
British English vs. American English

Britain introduced the English language to the Americas during the 16th century. Over time, the American version of English changed significantly. In the United Kingdom, London-based scholars compiled a dictionary. The United States was not left out either. As a way of expressing cultural differences from her mother country, Noah Webster, a lexicographer changed how the words were spelt in the USA.

British English vs American English - FAQ

The main difference between American and British English is in spelling. The accent is also different and will even vary across the USA. Another key difference between the two versions of English is in the punctuation. For example, in American English, you don’t have to place commas after the second-last item in a list. In American English, you would be required to place the Oxford comma at the end of the second-last item of the list.

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Differences between British English and American English came as a result of American protest to show independence from the British rule. When the USA gained independence, they wanted to feel like they were separated from Britain, and this led to the creation of new spellings and other differences in language. As the years passed the two countries adapted different cultural influences and hence, evolved some words. US English has mostly been influenced by Spanish, while American English has been influenced by French.

Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas in the 15th century. Later in the 16th century, British people would settle in the present-day USA region, and they ended up introducing their language to the place. Since then, the language has evolved significantly and has become quite different from British English.

British English and American English are extremely similar and hence they are both equally simple to study. When learning American or British English, your teacher is likely to point out differences between the two versions of the language. You can also use tools like Grammarly or Microsoft Word to determine whether you are using the right version of English.

As noted above, the difference between American and British English is not significant, and hence an American can comfortably communicate with a Brit. Written English is especially easy to understand, regardless of the version the students use. With spoken English, the students may need time to adapt to the different accents.

British English vs American English: Definition

When differentiating British English vs American English, even Brits are caught out occasionally. The main difference between American and British English is that American spellings are mainly based on how the word is pronounced. On the other hand, British English maintains spelling of words as absorbed from other languages for instance Germany and English.

The reason why BE and AE differ

English learners in New York might find their accent different from other learners in London. Wondering why? Read on!

Difference in American spelling came as form of protest

The American dictionary differs from the British dictionary because they were written by different authors with diverse perspectives on language. The UK dictionary was compiled by learners whose goal was to gather all known English words. On the other hand, the main aim of the author of the American dictionary was to show American independence from British rule.

American English drops words completely

Another difference between American and British English is in the way Americans drop words from sentences. For instance, an American will say “I’ll write them” when saying they will write a letter to someone. Similarly, when asked to go for shopping, they are likely to say, “I will”. This is contrary to a Brit, as they would include all the essential words. For example, “I’ll write to you” or “I will go”.

Both borrowed words from different languages

The difference between American and British English also results from the adoption of words from different languages. For example, the British derive the word ‘coriander’ from the French language while American derived the word ‘cilantro’ from the Spanish language. As a leaner of British English and American English, the important thing is to remember the country you are studying in and know the origin of their words.

British English can be closely compared to french

France invaded British in the 11th century and made the French language mandatory in universities, schools, courts and even upper classes. After the invasion, the language did not stick around but instead changed into Middle English. Meanwhile Americans had settled across the Atlantic and hence, didn’t take part in the evolvement. As a result, British English has extra linguistic similarities to French in comparison to the American English.

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Differences British English vs American English

British English vs American English spelling

British English and American English have some differences in spelling that learners should be keen on. Here are some common examples:

  • Verbs:
    British English American English
    Apologise Apologize
    Organise Organize
    Recognise Recognize
    Analyse Analyze
  • Past tense verbs:
    British English American English
    Burnt Burned
    Smelt Smelled
    Spilt Spilled
  • Nouns:
    British English American English
    Humour Humor
    Labour Labor
    Colour Color
    Flavour Flavor
  • Adjectives:
    British English American English
    Favourite Favorite
    Colourful Colorful
    Honourable Honorable

Punctuation

Most learners are aware of the grammar and spelling differences when comparing British English vs American English. But are you aware of the punctuation difference between American and British English? Let’s take a look.

Quotation Marks

One key difference between British English and American English is in relation to quotations. It covers two separate issues:

  • Whether to favor ‘single’ or “double” quotation marks
  • Whether to punctuate outside or inside quotation marks

In American English, you should use double quotation marks on the main quote. Subsequently, you should use single quote marks for a quote found within a quote. It’s the exact opposite in British language.

Example:

  • AE:

“heard him shout ‘Duck’ loudly”

  • BE:

‘heard him shout “Duck” loudly’

Additionally, American English has punctuation rules that require all periods and commas to be given inside quotation marks. BE however, places punctuation marks within the quotation marks only if it’s part of the original text.

Examples:

  • AE:

“He suffered headaches,”

  • BE:

‘He suffered headaches’,

The Oxford/Serial Comma

Another difference between British English vs American English is in the use of commas. The Oxford comma is placed afore the last item in a list consisting of three or more things. In American English the oxford comma is used as standard.

  • In American English, you would punctuate a sentence as follows:

Mother bought cups, plates, and spoons.

  • In British English, you omit the final comma. In an example:

Mother bought cups, plates and spoons.

British English vs American English periods after titles

In American English, you place a period after titles which British English doesn’t require.
Examples:

  • AE:

Mr. Hughes walked home.

  • BE:

Mr Hughes walked home.

Verb conjunction in British English vs American English

Verb conjunction denotes how verb changes to show a dissimilar tense, mood, number or person.

American English British English
Treats collective nouns as singular

Example: the team is going to lose, the coach decided
Treats collective nouns as plural

Example: the team are going to win, the coach decided
Verbs take -ed endings for past participles and simple past tense.

Example: learn - learned
Verbs take -ed endings for past participles and simple past tense but on this case have more exceptions

Example: learn - learnt

Abbreviations

There is also contrast in British English vs American English when it comes to how to use periods in abbreviations.

American English British English
Abbreviation tittles take a period

Example 1: Mister to Mr.
Example 2: Honorable to Hon.
Abbreviations take period only when the abbreviation doesn’t end with the last letter of the abbreviated word

Example 1: Mister to Mr
Example 2: Honourable to Hon.

What’s important to consider

When comparing British English vs American English, you will get different grammar and spelling rules, vocabularies and accents. The important thing is to ensure that you can communicate adequately. Who is your audience? What version of English do they speak? These are two vital questions to consider when making official communication. But in the long run, all English speakers understand each other. Both Americans and Brits work together, read each other news, and even watch the same movies.

British English vs American English Printing & Binding

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In a Nutshell

You will find many similarities when comparing British English vs American English. However, the two have a wide array of differences. This means that using one pronunciation instead in place of the other will guarantee a miscommunication. That said, Brits and Americans communicate and share media without lots of issues.