American English and British English – What’s the Difference?

American English and British English - What's the Difference?

You say p’TAYto and I say p’TAdo. Although both countries speak the same language, anyone can tell the difference between an American and a Brit. These differences are so significant that when a Brit steps on the American soil, his origin is immediately known upon speaking, and vice versa.

A Brit would say, “An American doesn’t speak English, they speak American”. Americans on the other hand describe British English as the old version of the English language.

But, what exactly are these differences? Let’s break them down.

1. Spelling

There are quite a few differences in spelling, thanks to Noah Webster, an American lexicographer, who made minor revisions in how some words are spelled, or should we write “spelt”?

According to Webster, America needed to show the world that they have attained independence. He was also frustrated by the inconsistencies in the English spelling and wanted to spell English words the way they are pronounced, and remove letters that don’t match a sound. Since the late 1700s until this date, Americans and Brits have different spelling in words such as: 

Color (American)
Colour (British)

Labor (American)
Labour (British)

Honor (American)
Honour (British)

2. Past Tense Verbs

Even past tense verbs vary between American English and British English. For example, the past tense of the word “learn” in American English is “learned” while in British it’s either “learned” or “learnt”. The same goes to words such as: 

dreamed – dreamt
spelled – spelt
leaned – leant
burned – burnt

Overall, Americans tend to use “–ed” ending, while Brits prefer the “–t” ending.

Past participle forms are also different between the two nations. An American would probably say, “I never gotten caught” while a Brit might say “I never got caught”. In American English, both “got” and “gotten” are correct, whereas British English only uses “got”.

British English.jpg

3. Collective Nouns

When you hear the word collective nouns, the first thing that comes to your mind is a group of people or objects.

Examples of collective nouns are:

Staff: A group of employees
Band: A group of musicians
Team: A group of athletes

As far as American English is concerned, collective nouns are singular. It’s very common to hear an American say “the team is hardworking”. On the other hand, British English view collective nouns as either singular or plural, and it’s very common to hear Brits say both “the team are hardworking” and “the team is hardworking”.

4. Auxiliary Verbs

Commonly known as “helping verbs”, auxiliary verbs help form a grammatical function. We use them to add information about modality, voice, and time.

The auxiliary verb “shall”, for instance, is used by Brits to express the future, but only for we and I. A Brit would say, “I shall do it when I have time.”

Nevertheless, “shall” is hardly used in American English because it’s considered very formal. Instead, Americans use “will”; for example, “I will go home”. When it comes to posing questions, Brits would probably say, “Shall we go home?” whereas Americans might say, “Should we go home?”

Differences also come out when the two groups want to express a lack of obligation.

For example, Americans would say,

“You do not (don’t) need to go to the cinema, if you don’t want to.”

While a Brit might say,

“You needn’t go to the cinema, if you don’t want to.”


5. Vocabulary

Another area where variation comes out significantly is vocabulary. Many words in American and British English may seem different but in real sense have the same meaning.

Some of these words include:

Bonnet (British) and Hood (American): Front of a car

Holiday (British) and Vacation (American): An extended period of recreation

Flats (British) and Apartments (American): A suite of rooms that form a single residence

Petrol (British) and Gasoline (American): Refined petroleum used as fuel for internal combustion engines

Garden (British) and Yard (American): meaning the area outside around your home.


Despite these differences, American English and British English have a lot of similarities.

As such, it’s not easy for issues of misunderstanding to arise. In most cases, the language style is the same, so both groups rarely experience difficulty in understanding each other. 

Should you learn British English or American English? It depends on where you are thinking of living or working. Other than that, it’s entirely up to you!

Check out our related Blog post – Where is English Spoken?


Moaz Khan

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