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British English Vs American English

British Vs American English

The differences between British and American English are not only found on pronunciation and vocabulary. There are many more traits that differentiate one variation from the other. All speakers have a preference, whether it is their native dialect (if they are native speakers) or one they like best (English learners), but it is worth mentioning that no variation is wrong. One might be clearer or easier to understand for individuals learning but there are no evidence supporting that one variety is easier to learn or understand than the other.

Past tense

When referring to an event that happened a few moments ago, British will you present perfect while Americans will use past simple.

British: I have just seen it.                                       American: I just saw it.

The past tense of learn in American English is learned. British English has the option of learned or learnt. The same rule applies to dreamed and dreamt, burned and burnt, leaned and leant. Americans tend to use the –ed ending; Brits tend to use the -t ending.

In the past participle form, Americans tend to use the –en ending for some irregular verbs. For example, an American would say, “He has gotten out of the office 25 times today” whereas a British person would say, “I He has got out of the office 25 times today.

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs (that help form a grammatical function) are also used differently in both variations. When it comes to questions, making suggestions or offers, or to ask for advice Shall (as opposed to will) is more commonly used by the British than by Americans.

A British person would say: Shall I close the door?

An American person would say: Should I close the door?


There are quite a few spelling changes within the English spoken on either side of the big pond. You can thank American lexicographer Noah Webster for this. He was an author, politician, and teacher in the late 1700s frustrated with the inconsistencies in English spelling who wanted to spell words the way they sounded. Because of him, some words changed spelling like:

British English American English
Colour Color
Honour Honor
Favour Favor
Neighbour Neighbor


The above words are just an example, as there are many more. Webster decided to drop the letter u from these words to make the spelling match the pronunciation.

Most words that end in’-bre’ or ‘-tre’ in British English end in ‘-ber’ or ‘-ter’ in American English.

British English American English
Centre Center
Metre Meter
Calibre Caliber
Fibre Fiber

Collective nouns

Collective nouns (nouns to refer to a group of individuals) are singular in American English whereas in British English they can be singular or plural.

Therefore, an American person would say: The audience is enjoying the performance.

While a British person could say: The audience is enjoying the performance or The audience are enjoying the performance.


Both variations share an important number of phrases that mean the same thing but with slight different wording.

British English American English
Sweep it under the carpet Sweep it under the rug
Touch wood Knock on wood
Stand in Queue Stand in line
Go to Petrol Bunk Go to Gas Station
To post this letter To mail this letter
The phone is engaged The phone is busy



This is one of the most noticeable differences between British and American English.

British will go up in a lift while Americans will do it in an elevator.


British will eat crisps while Americans will eat chips.


There are also words which exist in both British and American English but have very different meanings.


Biscuit in the USA                                                        Biscuit in the UK


Overall, British and American English have far more similarities than differences. However, it can get a bit confusing at times. For me, personally coming from the US to the UK, I keep asking for the check at the restaurant and the waiter will look at me trying to figure out what I want.

Here you have a quiz to know whether you’re using British or American English.


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About Julia Graham

I have a BA in French from Swansea University and spent a year in Toulouse studying at the Université de Toulouse. It’s no surprise that I also love languages! I also speak Welsh as my second language ? I am considered the office organiser as I love to keep things just so and I am also considered to be very much a perfectionist – I fit right in with my fellow language geeks. Every day is fascinating and I love working as part of our team, we are well known for being friendly and of course, we know what we are talking about.

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