How British English and American English are Different

How British English and American English are Different

Many Americans who love tea would turn up their noses at the idea of adding milk to it. Brits, on the other hand, are known for lacing their strong tea with milk. With or without milk, tea is tea. It’s served one way in Britain and another way in the United States, but everyone can recognize it for what it is. The language that Americans and Brits share is a bit like that—spoken differently in the two locations, but understandable by both groups of speakers.

According to the Legends of America website, inhabitants of the New World first noticed that their English was different about one hundred years after settling Jamestown. Little wonder, for colonists didn’t have the ease of communication and transportation available today. They couldn’t hop on a plane to visit relatives, nor could they video chat with their grandparents back home. The settlers were interacting with Native Americans as well as with immigrants from Germany, France, and other countries. The Americans coined original words to describe their new environment. For example, what would they call that furry little creature that was always trying to dig holes in the garden? They had never seen groundhogs in Great Britain. Meanwhile, words came and went out of fashion in Britain, and the Americans were none the wiser. What are the major differences between British English and American English?

American English Words Missing from British English

Along with groundhogs and woodchucks, other living things earned uniquely American monikers. One of them was the ladybug, the red and black ladybird beetle of the United Kingdom. The Americans based rappel, the act of descending from a height using a rope, on the French word for recall. Across the pond, the German language inspired abseiling, the British word for the same action. Uniquely American foods, such as s’mores, don’t have British equivalents because they are still relatively unknown. Perhaps that would change if they sampled them; s’mores are delicious!

British Words Missing from American English

Put on your anorak. Check the pillar box, and see if my business partner sent over the hire purchase. Would the average American understand these commands? Probably not! Here’s the translation: Put on your jacket. Check the mailbox, and see if my business partner sent over the installment plan.

Vocabulary Differences

Other words exist in both languages, but they mean different things. For example, if you requested a caretaker in England, you might be introduced to someone holding a broom and dustpan. There, a caretaker is a person who cleans and maintains a building. To Americans, a caretaker is someone who takes care of someone, such as a child or sick person, or who looks after a property while the owner is away. Other Briticisms are famous. Have you learned what a lift is? Would you go for a ride in a lorry?

Spelling

One man is responsible for many of the spelling differences that exist between American and British English. His name was Noah Webster. Yes, the same Webster of Webster’s Dictionary. He decided that Americans should be independent, not only politically, but also lexically. That’s why you’ll notice an extra U in some British words like colour, armour, and humour. American English tends to end words with -ize rather than the British -ise. The -er ending of words like theater and center is reversed in British English words. Other words are almost unrecognizable as cognates, such as curb and kerb.

Grammar

In British English, you have to use the present perfect for recent actions that affect the present.

I’ve broken your vase. Will you forgive me?

American English accepts the present perfect as correct, but it also offers a second possibility—the simple past.

I broke your vase. Will you forgive me?

American English is tolerant of present perfect, but it’s not as understanding of Britain’s past participles. In the following sentences, Americans would use gotten as the past participle of the verb to get, leaned in the place of leant, and spoiled instead of spoilt.

You have got much better at breaking things! It’s because you’ve leant too hard against the furniture. Now it’s spoilt!

Even with the Ts in place of the -ed endings, an American could understand the meaning of these sentences without a problem. And despite both groups’ accents and idiosyncratic expressions, Brits and Americans have little problem communicating with each other in English. If you visit London, you may be invited to join the natives for an afternoon tea. If you don’t “fancy” milk in your drink, you can let them know. Aren’t you grateful for that?

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Comments
  • Cath Kerry

    Has American English now officially abandoned the adverb?

    • Maureen Oddy

      bigly would be an adverb if it existed outside the ramblings of an idiot.

      • Donna L Fowler

        Hahaha

      • Rodrigo Barata

        haha

    • Ellen Cox

      My pet peeve! We Americans never use or improperly use adverbs and adjectives. %90 of the time Americans use adjectives when they should be using adverbs. Please people put ‘ly’ on the end of the word to make it an adverb!!!

  • Susie Cue

    The varieties of English are many, as are the varieties of French, Spanish, German, Portugese, etc. Any language spoken in different parts of the world by different nationalities is bound to vary. Even languages spoken in only one country vary according to the social class and age and formal education of the speakers.

  • Anne Littlewood

    A pillar box is where the general public deposit their mail which is then collected by the postal service. You wouldn’t check it for incoming mail – you would look in your own mail box, or more likely on your door mat inside the front door of your house.

    • wrikar

      or letterbox

  • Maxanito

    My grandmother, mother, and I always put milk in my tea, unless it’s herbal tea. We were all born in the US.

    • Terri

      I hope the milk was put in your cup and the tea poured on to it and not the milk added afterwards-the first is British the second way is American.

  • Requirements3

    What about the differences between Canadian and American English? We share some Anericanisms, and some Britishisms.

    • as anyone who has seen the Canadian Tire Centre could tell you

    • Jamie

      Canadians are Americans.

      • Barrie D Davey

        WHAT

        • Jamie

          What what? Are you capable of complete sentences?

      • Ava Gaughan

        Ummm… are you sure about that? 🤔🤔🤔

        • Jamie

          Beyond doubt. I could go on and list all the other countries that are in America but people from the US would become epiplectic.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Americas

          • Barrie D Davey

            It sounds to me as though you have been indoctrinated with the American dream.

            Not a bad thing, but, you should be more humble and respectful of those countries that are senior to you in the History stakes.

            You are just an upstart as far as history is concerned, a young country which has just been let lose in the big bad world.

            You might be given to believe you rule the world but you don’t. We ourselves are not top of the ladder no Gt Briton was just a baby when the Romans landed, that’s why our language is based on Latin.

          • Jamie

            At least you managed complete sentences this time but you did not read what you are replying to though. Where did you get the idea that I am from the US?

          • PFL

            Quite insulting and argumentative, aren’t you?

          • Jamie

            I am only insulting toward ignorant morons who wish to reduce the debate to an ad hominem slanging match. Make a point and will happily reply but make a ignorant comment and expect abuse. Argumentative? This is debate.

          • PFL

            “I am only insulting toward ignorant morons..”,
            When you call someone an ignorant moron you have already lost the debate.

          • Jamie

            I realise you are far too ignorant to understand but this is not debate. This is ad hominem. Fallacy. Trolls like you are far to stupid to debate so you resort to talking about me. Your life must be very, very dull. Now, if you were to take part in the debate you would be able to consider who was doing better but you are not. Debate is not about winning so I also realise that you have never had a decent education to start with so you could not do well.

          • PFL

            ” ignorant morons who wish to reduce the debate to an ad hominem slanging match.” “Argumentative? This is debate.”
            Make up your ignorant jumbled mind, is it a debate or an ad hominem? By the way you did lose the debate and all credibility, your learning disability’s are showing.

          • Jamie

            You really are amazingly stupid aren’t you. This, what you are doing, is not debate. Take a look at your comment and tell me which part you think was about the English language, the topic, rather than a personal, off topic, attack. Take your time, I realise that rational thought is taxing for you. Now look at the thread in general and you will find people discussing the English language, that is debate. What you are doing is not debate, it is a fallacy. If you had had an education you would know that. Please continue as it is a long time since I met someone as moronic as you and it is amusing. Are you from the US? Do you consider yourself an example of their education system?

          • PFL

            I think that you should review your posts and tell me which one is about the English language. Every one of your posts are written to insult and berate another posters comments for the sole purpose of insult. You seem to have the demeanor of a Jr. high student, with the education to match.

          • Jamie

            “Canadians are Americans.” My first comment and 100% on topic. Now it is your turn. Which of your comments is on topic rather than ad hominem? It may be wrong of me to engage with someone like you but that is the most stupid thing I have done.

          • PFL

            “It may be wrong of me to engage with someone like you but that is the most stupid thing I have done.”
            At last you’ve said something I can agree 100% with.

        • Barrie D Davey

          Why do the had different passports?

      • Barrie D Davey

        Canadians live in the Americas. That does not make them Americans in the colloquial term of Americans.

        I would not dare (unless I wanted to start a brawl) call a Kiwi an Australian because he lives in Australasia.

        • Jamie

          A Kiwi lives in Australasia, the continent, not in Australia the country so why would I call him something he is not? A Canadian lives in America, the continent (also sometimes referred to as ‘the’ Americas but only by some people). You do not say ‘north Americas’ or ‘south Americas’, you say ‘north America’ or ‘south America’. The entire continent is normally called America otherwise it would be the United States of the Americas with the non United part being in the Americas. Instead of arguing with me, follow the link and argue with Wikipedia and all the other geographical references.

          • Swizzle Dizzle

            I am Aussie, my best mate is Kiwi. We have different passports, money, grammar, everything. Stop tryna act like you know everything.

          • Jamie

            You are Aussie, is that why you are talking complete shit? As I have just said, Kiwis and Aussies are from different countries and to anyone from anywhere else that would mean they have different passports. This is not me acting as if I know everything as I do not but it is you acting like a dumb Aussie and picking a fight where there is not one. I assume you are too drunk to read the comments you are replying to.

          • Ritchie

            You sir, are an ignorant troll and should be banned from this site. We have discussions here, not fights.

          • Jamie

            You are not just ignorant, you also have a huge ego. If you do not have something to say but attack anyway, it is you that is the troll.

          • Jordan Ketterer

            I am Canadian, I do not have an american Passport, we have our own currency and while we are a part of north america, we are not really known as americans, that term is reserved for the united states of america.
            Please understand I am part of NORTH america

          • Jamie

            I do understand. It is a shame that you do not understand that north America is the north part of America. North is the adjective that describes which part of America it is. The term is not reserved for the US, even though they use it. People all over America use it including Canadians. Just because you do not does not mean that all Canadians do not understand geography.

          • Swizzle Dizzle

            dont talk. no one cares

          • Jamie

            There would be no point in talking here as no would hear. I am writing.

          • Swizzle Dizzle

            “i assume you are too drunk” yes because all aussies are drunk bogans aye haha your pathetic its hilarious

          • Jamie

            Are they? I think you are just an ignorant racist.

          • Swizzle Dizzle

            you are a rude troll. go back to the bridge you came out from under.

          • Jamie

            How old are you? Did you find that in your Harry Potter book?

          • STEMAXGIZMO(NAPS)(PT)(Lunair)
          • Jamie

            Do you think posting other people’s memes is cool? Or are you just too lazy or ignorant to think of something to say yourself?

      • Swizzle Dizzle

        That doesnt even make sense. Canada is it’s own country, therefore the people who are citizens of that country are Canadian. wow go to school

        • Jamie

          To someone who understands the basics of geography, it makes sense. Yes, they are Canadian. They are also American as Canada is in America. I do think you need to return to school and learn geography if you are honestly having a problem with that. It is the same as someone from Germany is German but they are also European.

          • Swizzle Dizzle

            Australia is an island and a country. we are not joined to anyone else.

    • Barrie D Davey

      No, you bastardised the English language.

      I might not be so eloquent as some but I’m English so it’s my prerogative to cock it up, being dyslectic doesn’t help. What also confounds matters is other people changing the parameters. The OXFORD ENGLISH (not BRITISH ENGLISH (JUST ENGLISH)) DICTIONARY was and is still the white line in the middle of the road. Other Countries can and do stray off the centre, sooner or later you will have to come back to the centre. Forgive mistakes my ENGLISH is not what I wish it was, BUT it is nonetheless ENGLISH.

    • Swizzle Dizzle

      I live in Australia, and we mainly spell more British-y but yeah we have a lot of American words & grammar too.

  • JazzyJake

    The treatment of group nouns differs also. Americans treat them as singular, Brits plural.

    • JenniferinRoswell

      Pet peeve of mine!

    • Proud Feminist

      I’m not so sure about that JazzyJake. The tenets of British English mostly apply in Australia, and the rule is to treat collective nouns as singular, unless the group is behaving as individuals: e.g The couple is arguing with the waiter (two of them united against the waiter) but The couple are arguing with each other . . .

      • Barrie D Davey

        It is not British English it is just English… (Full stop)

        • Christopher in Portland

          Barrie: you do know, of course, that the contemporary English language is a polyglot of language roots, from Germany, Italy (Rome), Greece, Scandinavia – through the Norse/Normans, French and a lot more, including, I suppose, that of North America;…and it borrows words from many other languages. One of the many problems that non-native English language learners have, is with the various language rules that accompany those words. A simple consideration of how the English pronounce two similarly spelt words, “cape” and “cafe” (not counting the slang, “caff”) helps explain the origin of the words them selves..

          • Barrie D Davey

            Christopher, yes, of course, I am totally aware of the complication of how our language became English, BUT, it is not British English. The Scots (got bless them) will want English north of the border to be called Scotish English then the Welsh Welsh English, and the Irish Irish English, which would leave the English requiring our tongue, to be called English English, No No No it is just ENGLISH. full stop.

    • Christopher in Portland

      and it seems that many have forgotten the Latin roots of much in the English language. My pet peeve is the use of the word “data” as singular, i.e “the data is compelling”…when it clearly is a plural word, so that phrase should be “the data are compelling”.

      • Barrie D Davey

        No not forgotten. for decades it has just been English until the younger yanks of today thought they had a right to put their tag on it. If the Scots (got bless them) require English north of the border to be called Scotish English, then the Welsh, Welsh English, and the Irish, Irish English, ould We would justifiably be within our rights to call our tongue, English English, No No No it is just ENGLISH for the whole of Great Britain. full stop.

  • Caroline Starr

    In the UK an anorak is a specific type of casual jacket, often padded with a hood. Almost anything else is a jacket.

    • John Galt

      Is that what Americans call a hoodie?

      • Caroline Starr

        A hoodie is the same thing as in the US I believe. A hooded sweat-shirt .
        An anorak is more like a parka though not usually as weatherproof. It is also a slang word for someone who has a specific interest, an alternative for geek or nerd often with an outdoor slant.

      • Vivien Clare Tarkirk-Smith

        “Anorak” and “Parka” are Inuktitut words meaning coats. In England Anorak is used pejoratively to refer to people with odd interests such as train-spotting.

    • Christopher in Portland

      I believe that Anorak (note: capital “A”) is a trademarked, specific-company, product and therefore the term “anorak” (note: lower-case “a”) would be incorrect…as all jackets are not Anoraks, nor all Anoraks are jackets…if you get my drift.

      • Nicole

        You’re right but mostly wrong. The term ‘anorak’ comes from French. When they settled Quebec, the local Inuits called a hooded jacket an annoraaq. The French then carried it to the UK.

        • Christopher in Portland

          Nicole…thank you for that explanation…but did a company then claim that name to identify their specific product? I’ve only ever known it as a specific label, with a capila “A”, rather than the generic, except in casual, colloquial, use. I remember when our sports’ shoes were called plimsolls…with no capital “P” to denote that they were developed by Mr. Plimsoll, he also of a ship’s “Plimsoll line”.

  • Terry Rushent

    Well at least we can understand each other (mostly)!

  • Catherine Edmends

    it’s not that there’s an extra “U” in words like colour, it’s just that the US appears to have been lazy in spelling.

    • Ellen Cox

      I agree, I’m American and I always use the U

    • Vivien Clare Tarkirk-Smith

      Noah Webster hated the British and tried to change spelling to differentiate the two. This led to changes in pronunciation, e.g.: the town of Marlborough (mall-brah) being changed into the cigarette Marlboro (mal-bo-ro). There is no Webster’s Dictionary in my home, only the Oxford.

  • Vali Jamal, PhD

    Spellings differ – the U, the 2Ls (travelling in UK), 2Ts (targetting, ditto). That doesn’t mean one side are (sic UK practice) right or wrong. Those are easy. US has only practice as noun and verb; they don’t have licence. So what? My problem is now I just don’t know about the 2Ls and the 2Ts, because a lot of sites I read are US-based. Just today I saw one L in travelling on the BBC. Grammar does NOT differ. I mean to start a grammar lesson by which of the two groups put milk in their tea!

    • Proud Feminist

      Then there are the diphthongs that have become one letter in American English: oestrogen v estrogen, foetus v fetus, paedophile v pedophile . . .

  • John Galt

    The most frustrating thing about the spelling differences between English and American is that many of them don’t seem to follow any sort of consistent rules. For example, in practice/practise, it’s the British who spell it with the “s”, but in licence/license, it’s the Americans who do so. (But contra Vali Jamal, I see both words used as noun and verb in America as well as in Britain.)

    • Jan Whitwill

      The British use both forms. For example: I have an aromatherapy practice. I practise the piano every day.

      • Catherine Edmends

        noun with a c and verb with an s

  • Ellen Cox

    In England A sweater is called a jumper.

    • Christopher in Portland

      Ellen…and then there is always the woman’s clothing article called a “twin-set”…which in my day, meant a matching jumper and a long-sleeved cardigan, both worn together.

    • Caroline Starr

      And a sweater too. Or a pullover. 3 words for the same garment. Go figure

  • Hannah

    you have England and America…
    then you find Australia

    • Jamie

      And when you recover from that there is South Africa…

      • Requirements3

        And Canada

    • Proud Feminist

      Absolutely!

  • Kyllein MacKellerann

    Arrrghhhhhh! “Have Got” The Brits can’t seem to learn to avoid this moronism! Not “They have got much better at slaughtering their own language” but “They have greatly improved their linguistic destruction.”

    • Lumin Agricola

      What have you got against ‘have got’? 😀

  • neda kasarova

    Studying Spanish made me more aware of irregular verbs. Canadians have regularised many of them. We don’t say “spelt”, for instance. I’m all for regularising verbs!

    • Requirements3

      Actually, some of us do.

    • Jamie

      There are many Canadians who can speak English although there are also many that speak US English.

      • Barrie D Davey

        It is NOT us English. It is English American. You took it with you, from ENGLAND. As did Australia, Newzealand, Canada, and many many other countries. There is a British Union flag on one of the states instead of the stars, is there on any British flag the tinest part of the USA flag NO.

        • Jamie

          I did not take anything anywhere. The language is English. From England. The dialect of it is US English. English being the language and US being the adjective which in English is added in front of the noun. Please learn to speak it before you continue to rant about it.

  • Mark Borowsky

    Next time you are in London, please do come knock me up. Now, that is a friendly city .

    • John M. Perkins

      Doesn’t get much friendlier than that. 😀

  • Mary Collins Dolan

    In Ireland (and I presume in the UK as well), ‘homely’ is used to describe a warm, fuzzy, lovable place — “It’s very homely”. But in America, homely means ugly!

    • Ava Gaughan

      I know, I always found that strange. 😂

  • Terri

    You don’t check a pillar box as that’s where you post you mail. Mail that you receive is delivered to the house and posted into the house through a letterbox in the front door. And it’s called the post not mail.

    • except its delivered by a postman working for The Royal Mail

  • Requirements3

    A lot of these words, particularly those written with a ‘u’, are alive in America. They may be out of vogue in the United States, but they are part of the English spoken in Canada (you know, the upper 2/3 of [North] America).

    • Jamie

      Sssshh! People in the US think they are the only ones in America. It is bad enough if you explain that Canada is also in America but if you introduce the term “north” America and suggest that they are actually a minority in America they may go into collective shock.

      • Woody Nance

        Hey Jamie- Do not be offended, you are Canadian. I am American. You don’t think there’s a pedantic Mexican on some Spanish version of Grammarly telling everyone he’s American, do you? Americans are called so because our country is informally known as “America”. If you told someone in Europe, for example, that you were “American”, what do you expect? Should they ask “Which kind? American American? Canadian American? Mexican American?” ?. Seriously.

        • Jamie

          No, I am not offended. Why should I be? I am not Canadian although I am not offended to be considered Canadian simply because I have a better understanding of geography. There are many Americans who do get offended by US arrogance by I just get on with my life. I am glad you took time to read some of my comments, I hope you will not be disappointed when I do not read yours. I have no interest in you as a person and do not see the relevance of me as a person. That is called a fallacy. I do not “hate” People from the US, that is a very ignorant statement. It is like saying that everyone criticises Israel for murdering Palestinians must be anti-Semitic. Just plain ignorant and nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion.

  • My British mother-in-law once came out of the bathroom and said “The lamp is down in the toilet”. I had visions of the ceiling light fixture dangling by wires in the toilet with sparks flying and danger of electrocution! What she meant was that the light bulb had burned out in the bathroom. Phew!

    • Proud Feminist

      Never ceases to amaze me how Americans use ‘bathroom’ for a room that rarely has a bath in it . . .

      • Jamie

        At my mother’s house the bathrooms and toilets were separate and if any colonial friend asked to use the bathroom my mother would always direct them to the bathroom assuming they knew what they wanted to do. I would have to scamper off behind them and check if they actually wanted the toilet.

  • Peter Da Costa

    In England a sweater is cotton, ie you can sweat into it, it soaks up sweat; wheareas a jumper is woolen and loose, you can jump into it.

    • Proud Feminist

      No, plenty of cotton and acrylic jumpers around. People in sweaters are invariably trying to give themselves an American edge.

      • also a pullover aka a “woolly-pulley” ie a woollen pullover

      • Pullovers are also woollen as with jumpers, this being a traditional observation, I’m a bit behind the times!

  • Kalil Meier

    Let us bump this discussion to the next lever and add in Australian English. Having recently moved here i no longer worry about American English being different this has to take the cake. They even have their own Dictioany. It is anmazing. the best is the word Maroon pronoounced ‘marowne’

    • Proud Feminist

      Maroon is actually pronounced two ways here: ma-rune (rhymes with moon), as a verb (He was marooned on a desert island) and mar-own (the colour, particularly, the Queensland state rugby team, the Mar-owns . . .)

  • slated – in England it is to criticise (the railway company was slated for the late arrival of its trains) in US its to make a note, ie to write in chalk on a slate (the railroad train was slated to arrive at 5pm)

  • Barrie D Davey

    IT is NOT British English neither is it American English.

    It is English (Full stop) and or English American.

    The founder and or predominant person leads or comes first…….

  • Christopher in Portland

    I originated from the UK and live in the USA; and wish that Grammarly would permit me to use the British version of English that I was taught, and have grown up using. I still use British punctuation, yet I am “dinged” for it when my monthly Grammarly scorecard arrives. I have specific problems with Grammarly, because I tend to frequently use the Oxford comma, but do NOT use a comma in a listing, when the last item is preceded by a conjunction (normally, “and”). I was taught that the use of “and” precluded the use of a comma. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, especially as I was apprenticed to a printer, to learn the trade, from age 14 until 19…proof-reading and accuracy in spelling and punctuation were paramount and remain, ingrained.

  • Emmanuel Nzeaka

    Would like to read about Nigerian English compared with British. It’s the official language here.

  • Ted Fleischaker

    Funny and interesting, but the article has an error of its own… in the bit about British Words Missing From American English the term “pillar box” is incorrectly used. A Pillar Box is what’s on the corner into which mail is deposited. It is NOT the place mail is ever delivered. Many UK homes have either “post boxes” or (most likely) an opening in the door into which the postman places your incoming post (or mail). Someone tried too hard here to find a difference, but they got it wrong.

  • Swizzle Dizzle

    wow this is so interesting. Whenever I use websites like Grammarly, they have the options of picking different English: UK, US, AUS, NZ. i always wondered why.

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