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Differences between American English and British English

Overall, the differences between American and British English are quite subtle and the majority of the language is the same however there are slight differences to be aware of and this blog outlines just a few:

Vocabulary – One of the most noticeable differences between American and British English is the vocabulary.

For example, in British English we say ‘trousers’, whereas in American English they are commonly referred to as ‘pants’. Similarly, where we say a block of ‘flats’, in American English, these are ‘apartments’ or ‘apartment buildings’.

There any many more examples of how vocabulary is slightly different, usually both British English and American English speakers can understand these words from the context of the sentence they appear in.


Collective nouns – In British English, a lot of collective nouns can be followed by a singular or plural verb depending on whether they are seen as a unit or as a group of individuals. Whereas in American English they are always followed by a singular verb, so for example:

British English – “The team are playing well.” and “Which team are losing?”

American English –  “The team is playing well.” and “Which team is losing?”


Use of delexical verbs ‘have’ and ‘take’ – delexical verbs are common verbs that when used with particular nouns have very little meanings of their own. However, where British English speakers use the delexical verb ‘have’, American English speakers use ‘take’.

British English – “I’d like to have a bath.” and “I want to have a nap.”

American English – “I’d like to take a bath.” and “I want to take a nap.”


Use of auxiliaries and modals

In British English, the auxiliary verb ‘shall’ appears quite frequently, and is often used to express the future:

“I shall go home now.”

Whereas in American English, this is very unusual and seen as very formal, instead they would say:

“I will go home now.”

Also, where in American English they would say:

“You do not need to come today.”

In British English, we would drop the helping verb ‘do’ and contract not:

“You needn’t come today.”


Past Tense verbs

The past tense of ‘learn’ in British English can be either ‘learned’ or ‘learnt’, this is rule applies to many other words such as ‘burnt’ and ‘burned’, ‘dreamt’ and ‘dreamed’.

 Whereas in American English they only use the -ed ending.


The spelling of some words vary depending on whether it is British or American English – for example:

British English – “colour”, “flavour” and “honour”

American English – “color”, “flavor” and “honor”.



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