Although the British introduced the English language to America through colonization, British English is quite different from American English. The differences are mainly seen in the spelling, the pronunciation, dates and numbers formatting, vocabulary, and grammar in different parts of the world. These differences have been a common reference in humorous comments like the one in fiction by George Bernard Shaw that they are two countries divided by a common language.
Some words have entirely different meanings in the two languages, while the grammar structure for both spoken and written varieties of English shows fewer differences. However, some spoken differences can cause some embarrassment; therefore, it is good to understand what differentiates the two. Below are some of the significant differences.
Pronunciation is the central aspect that differentiates British English from American English. The grammar differences are mainly seen in usage. For example, when using verbs with collective nouns, the American English states them as singular. Staff will refer to a group of employees, while the band will refer to a group of musicians. They say, "The band is excellent."
In British English, collective nouns can be either singular or plural. They may say, "The staff are hardworking." Or "the staff is hardworking." The British English uses have or take with nouns like shower, bath, holiday, or rest. For example, "Let's have/take a break." American English only uses the verb "take." For example, "Let's take a shower."
The British English use the word "got" as the past participle of the word "get," while the American English say "gotten."
The Americans and Brits have some terms which differ while describing the same thing. Everyday objects may carry different names in each version of the English language. Comparing British versus American English respectively, here are some of the names used to refer to the same thing:
trousers - pants
lorry - truck
flat - apartment
jumper - sweater
chips - french fries
The British spelling has integrated other languages like German and French roots, while the American spelling is mainly based on how the words sound when spoken. These differences emerged before the spelling standards developed and have since evolved, influenced by factors like immigration, Noah Webster’s "American Spelling Book", the first British dictionary, "A dictionary of the English Language" and American dictionary "American Standard." These dictionaries popularized their language spellings, creating distinct spelling of some of the words.
The main spelling differences between the British and American English include:
Words ending in "our" in British English usually end with "or" in American English. For example, colour - color, flavour – flavor, humour- humor.
Words spelled with either "ize" or "ise" in British English always end with "ize" in American English.
Verbs ending with "yse" in British English always end with "yze" in American English.
In British English, verbs ending in letter "L" before a vowel, the "L" is doubled, while it's not in American English. For example, "travelled" in British English becomes "traveled" in American English.
British English spells some words with double vowels like "ae" or "oe", such as leukaemia, oestrogen and the like. In American English, these vowels are replaced with an "e" - leukemia and estrogen.
British English speakers use the present perfect when talking about a past action that’s relevant to the present: "Have you done your homework yet?" American English speakers use the past simple: "Did you do your homework yet?"
Although there are differences between British English and American English, a large number of similarities makes communication between the two countries seamless. However, if you are carrying out any form of writing, from social media to academic writing, you must decide which version of English to use. If you are writing in United States English and wish to change it into United Kingdom English, you can use a language translator to make your work easier.
At GoTranscript, we understand that your target audience may either be British or American. To engage effectively with them, you need to write in a language that they understand best. Our American to British/British to American translator is very easy to use. Try it today.