British English vs. American English

British English vs. American English

Is British English the correct English? Or is American (United States) English the correct English? To tell you the truth, none of them are either correct or wrong. English is a language with many dialects and variants; because everywhere you go in the world, you’ll encounter some form of English influenced by British or American colonizers. So, what’s the big deal? Let’s look at why people are so confused when they encounter British English and American English.

Vocabulary

British English vs. American English
source: giphy

The Americans and the British use very different vocabulary words. Here is a list of some of them.

British English American English
trousers pants
rubbish trash
flat apartment
nappy diaper
bonnet (the front of the car) hood
boot (the back of the car) trunk
lorry truck
university college
mad crazy
holiday vacation
angry mad
jumper sweater
crisps chips
petrol gas/gasoline
chips french fries
trainers sneakers
loo restroom/bathroom
fizzy drink soda
postbox mailbox
lift elevator
cupboard closet
biscuit cookie
chemist’s drugstore
pavement sidewalk
zebra crossing pedestrian lane/crosswalk
shop store
tap faucet
football soccer

Grammar

British English vs. American English
source: giphy

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are used to refer to a group of individuals – crowd, team, staff, band. So, in a sentence, we match these nouns with singular verbs – The crowd is dispersing. In American English grammar, collective nouns are almost always considered singular and this grammar form is the most common. In British English, however, collective nouns can either be singular or plural. You might hear someone from the U.K. say, “The team are playing tonight” or “The team is playing tonight.”

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Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary verbs, or helping verbs, are verbs that help the main verb by adding information about time, modality, or voice.

Normally, we know that ‘will’ is used to express the future – I will ask her out. The Americans commonly use ‘will’ instead of ‘shall’ because the latter sounds so formal. Also, in questions, Americans use ‘should’ instead of ‘shall’ – Should I go ask her out? The Brits, on the other hand, sometimes use ‘shall’ to express the future – I shall ask her out. And, Brits might use it, too, to form questions – Shall I ask her out?

When Americans want to express a lack of obligation, they use the helping verb ‘do’ contracted with negative ‘not’ followed by the word ‘need’ You don’t not need to finish that today. Brits drop ‘do’ and contract ‘need’ with ‘not’ – You needn’t finish that today.

Verb Tenses

When using the past forms of irregular verbs, there are some differences, too. Americans tend to use the –ed ending; Brits tend to use the -t ending. For example, with the verb ‘learn’, Americans use ‘learned’ whereas the Brits would tend to use ‘learnt’.

Americans also tend to use the –en ending for some irregular verbs when in the past participle form; whereas Brits would only use the base form of the verb.

Americans also tend to use the perfect present tense a lot less than the Brits.

Tag Questions

A tag question is a statement turned into a YES-NO question. For example, “You’re going on holiday next month, aren’t you?” or, “The traffic is quite heavy, isn’t it.” Americans use tag questions, too, but rarely. Brits use them more often.

Spelling

British English vs. American English
source: giphy

Majority of the English words are shared by the Brits and the Americans. However, the Americans chose to change the spelling of many of their words not only for convenience in spelling but also as a protest to their once-upon-a-time colonizers.

Most of the words originally ending in –our was changed by the Americans to –or. For example, flavour to flavor. Most words ending in –tre was changed by the Americans to –ter. For example, theatre to theater. Also, Americans are so fond of shortening spellings. Words like program and catalog were derived from the original British English forms: programme and catalogue.

The differences are not so huge as to cause so much awkwardness and frustration among English learners. The Brits and the Americans understand each other quite well. It’s just that there are times that each point out that their English is more “correct” than the other. It’s all up to you to decide, learn, and understand because all English-speakers understand each other really well.

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