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: 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.
Overview of British English vs. American English articles
aeon or eon
aesthetic or esthetic
aluminium or aluminum
anaemia or anemia
anaesthesia or anesthesia
annexe or annex
apologise or apologize
appal or appall
armour or armor
behaviour or behavior
burned or burnt
canceled or cancelled
catalogue or catalog
center or centre
color or colour
counsellor or counselor
defence or defense
demeanour or demeanor
dialogue or dialog
distil or distill
dreamed or dreamt
endeavour or endeavor
enrol or enroll
favor or favour
favourite or favorite
flavour or flavor
fuelled or fueled
fulfil or fulfill
glycerine or glycerin
gramme or gram
gray or grey
grille or grill
honor or honour
humour or humor
instalment or installment
instil or instill
judgment or judgement
kneeled or knelt
labelled or labeled
labor or labour
learned or learnt
liter or litre
manoeuvre or maneuver
maximize or maximise
meter or metre
modelling or modeling
offence or offense
organisation or organization
pretence or pretense
programme or program
realize or realise
recognise or recognize
skilful or skillful
smelled or smelt
spelt or spelled
theatre or theater
tonne or ton
traveling or travelling
tyre or tire
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.
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:
UK English US English Apologise Apologize Organise Organize Recognise Recognize Analyse Analyze
- Past tense verbs:
UK English US English Humour Humor Labour Labor Colour Color Flavour Flavor
UK English US English Favourite Favorite Colourful Colorful Honourable Honorable
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.
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.
“heard him shout ‘Duck’ loudly”
‘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.
“He suffered headaches,”
‘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.
Mr. Hughes walked home.
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
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 - 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.