British English and American English

If it wasn’t hard enough just learning a language like English you then have to make at some point distinctions between formal and informal, and then between British and American English.

This doesn’t mean that an American and a Brit wouldn’t understand each other if they started up a conversation in a bar, well, that depends on the amount of alcohol they have had J However, both would know exactly what they were talking about, just that some of the grammatical structures each of them used, the vocab, spelling and above all the pronunciation would be different.

You could say they are like half brothers, they share the same DNA from one of the parents but they each have their own personality due to their surroundings and that makes them different. You could say daddy was a bit promiscuous, as there are a multitude of types of English out there, Australian, Canadian…. But today we won’t talk about daddy sowing his seed and we will be focusing on the most known, British and American English. 🙂

So what are these differences? Firstly, lets look at the differences in spelling. The reason that some words are spelt differently in American English compared to British English is because of a man called Noah Webster, Jr. He believed that words should be spelt as how they sound. (Quite reasonable I think, don’t you?) Furthermore, by changing the spelling in America of certain words he felt that this helped Americans to have their own cultural identity. So now in America people spell color as opposed to colour and realize instead of realise and center rather than centre, and that’s just to mention a few.

Ok, lets move onto the vocab. Now I remember the first time as a kid I heard on an American TV show someone say that they had just bought a new pair of pants. I thought, that’s strange information to share, and more so when they said look. I quickly realised that pants in America meant trousers whilst in Britain it meant your underwear. So Superman wears his pants over his trousers or his underwear over his pants, it depends on which type of English you’re using J. There are tons of nuances like this. In British English you say lift and in American English you say elevator and the list goes on: sidewalk v pavement, diaper v nappy. But guess what?? Through context we can more or less understand what they mean and if your watching a TV series or a film, you have visual aids to help.

When it comes down to the grammar there are a few differences. The biggest one would be with the use of the present perfect. Now this is a tense used a lot in British English. It’s used to show that an action from the past is connected with the present. For example, I would say, “I have already eaten” whilst in American English a person would say, “I already ate”. Moreover, in British English people use the contacted form of have with got. In Britain you would say, “I’ve got one younger brother” whereas in America you would say, “I have one younger brother” and they mean exactly the same thing!!

And the last difference we will look at is pronunciation. The Queen’s English or as we would say Received Pronunciation and General American pronunciation are very different. Received pronunciation is the way a TV presenter usually speaks, very clear and trying to vocalise and General American is the way American TV presenters speak, following the same pattern as their English colleagues, very clear and so on. Now everyone has a different accent and if we delve deeply into the realms of pronunciation we would begin talking about alveolar and so on and your eyes would glaze over and you’d stop reading this blog post, and that’s the last thing we want!! So what we will do is give a brief example and say that in the General American accent they pronounce the r (being rhotic) and in an English accent they don’t (non-rhotic). For example the way someone in America pronounces the word bark. They clearly pronounce the word R whereas a person speaking with Received Pronunciation accent doesn’t. However, understanding a person’s accent is a question of time.  Remember the 10,000 hour rule from one of our previous posts???

The more you are exposed to a type of accent the easier it will be for you to understand it and you’ll pick it up too. So, if you live in America you’ll pick up an American accent and if you are in certain parts of Britain a British accent. Both types of English are as just as valid, what you must remember that if you are writing or doing something in one of the types of English, whether British English or American, you must use the same all the time, if you jump from one version to the other you’re likely to drive the other person a bit crazy and if you’re doing an exam will you lose marks due to that as the examiner will view it as a mistake. So don`t hesitate and start learning British English or American English today at .  At we will be more than happy to teach you with our English lessons via Skype the difference between the two and get you speaking the one you want to clearly.

3 thoughts on “British English and American English

    • It’s a nice exercise to get the students to spot how many words you’ve said in American English and how many in British English. A kind of spot the difference.

  1. Reblogged this on So, You Think You Can Teach ESL? and commented:
    English is English, and it’s all the same wherever you go.. right? WRONG! This is a good post showing the differences between UK and US English pronunciation and spellings. It’s beneficial for your students to slowly understand and learn the differences between UK and US English styles.

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