Published 28th March 2018

There is a saying that says America and Britain are two nations divided by a common language. And while it seems silly, it is largely true. Though both countries speak English, there are a myriad of differences between the Englishes they speak – and it’s not just limited to accent and pronunciation. Of course these are not the only two countries who speak English and we could talk for days about the differences between world Englishes, but UK and US English are undoubtedly the most widely spoken, so we’re going to focus on those two.

Accent and pronunciation are the two most obvious differences between British and American English but in fact there are a large number of differences between the two besides these. British and American English differ in terms of vocabulary, spelling, grammar, punctuation and numbers.

  • Vocabulary

This is the most commonly identified difference between the two Englishes. There are numerous words which mean different things in the different countries and different words for the same thing. For example:

UK English

US English

Chips

Fries

Autumn

Fall

Rubber

Eraser

Condom

Rubber

 

Americans use take in contexts where Brits would usually use have – for example, I’m going to take a shower.

American English and British English make use of different prepositions – for example, Americans say at the weekend while Brits would use on the weekend.

  • Grammar

There are a surprising number of grammatical differences between American and British English:

In American English, collective nouns are singular whereas in British English they can be singular or plural – for example, The team is ready.

Americans use the –en­ form of the past participle – for example, gotten versus got.

Brits use the present perfect more often than Americans, who prefer to use the past simple in the same situations.

  • Spelling

American spelling has dropped the –u from certain words – for example, color, honor.

American English uses –ize while British English uses –ise.

Words in American English end in –er ­but ­–re ­in British English – for example center versus centre.

American English simplifies words more than British English – for example program versus program, and fetus versus foetus.

  • Dates

What is possibly the most confusing convention of all is that of dates. Americans shorten dates using the practice of month-date-year while Brits use date-month-year – for example, 3 May 2018 would be 5/3/2018 in the US but 3/5/2018 in the UK. This can cause not only confusion but also miscommunication.

How does this affect our learners?

As you can see, the majority of these differences are not going to cause major problems for your learners and their comprehension. However, they need to be made aware of these differences, especially those of vocabulary, so that they are not confused if they come across any discrepancies. Problems may arise, however, as a result of different accents and pronunciation, though, so make sure you deal with this during your lessons as well.