Common Differences Between American English And British English

 


This is a guest post by Cheryl Posey.  She is a licensed and nationally certified speech pathologist that focuses on Accent Reduction and Communication Skills Training.  You can find and follow her on her Speaking Your Best
 website. 

 
Even though American English and British English are both English, there are several differences between the two.  The good news is that these differences usually do not have an impact on how well we understand each other, as long as the speaker does not speak too quickly.

 

Common Differences

Image courtesy of sippakorn /FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 

This article will discuss common differences between the two languages, including the following:

  • Pronunciation
  • Grammar
  • Vocabulary

 

Examples of pronunciation differences between American English and British English  

First of all, let me begin by saying that there are lots of different accents in both American and British English.  An accent can identify the region of the country in which a person comes from; a well-educated person versus a person with limited education, and the person’s native language if they speak English as a second language, just to name a few.

For the purpose of this article, we will be discussing some of the common differences between Standard American English and Received Pronunciation, which is also called The Queen’s English. These are the accents you would hear news broadcasters use.  

  

  • The “ae” (short a) sound as in “ask” is pronounced the “ah” in British English, making it sound like “ahsk”.
  • The unstressed vowel “er” as in “sister” is pronounced like “uh” in British English, making it sound like “sistuh”. 
  • The stressed vowel “er” as in “person” is pronounced like “ah” in British English, making it sound like “pah-sun”.
  • The “aw sound” as in “talk” is pronounced more like “oh” in British English, making it sound like “toke.”

  

Examples of grammar differences between American English and British English

British English speakers use some tenses differently than American speakers and sometimes use different words to express actions. Let’s look at a few differences between how British speakers and American English speakers form sentences.

 

  • The present perfect tense: The present perfect tense is formed by the verb have/has plus the perfect tense of the main verb.  For example:  have gotten, have driven, has eaten.  British English speakers tend to use the present perfect tense much more often than American English speakers do.  Where American speakers would normally use the simple past tense to tell about a recent event, they would use the present perfect to relate an event that was further in the past.  British speakers use the present perfect tense even when talking about recent events

 

For example: American speaker:  I dropped my keys. 0000000 British speakers:   I have dropped my keys.
  American speaker:  I went to work on Monday. British speaker:  I have gone to work on Monday.

 

  • Using “shall” and “will”.  While Americans used to use “shall” when talking about the future, we now find that “will” is the norm.  British speakers use “shall” very often to talk about the future.
For example:

American speaker:  I will go on vacation 000000 

tomorrow.

British speaker:  I shall go on vacation tomorrow.

 

  • British speakers also use “shall” when they offer help to someone. American speakers use “should”
For example:

American speaker:  Should I go pick up your  000

brother?

British speaker:  Shall I go pick up your brother?

 

  • Expressing possession.  British English speakers use “have got” to show possession, where American speakers use “have” or “have got” as choices.
For example:

American speaker:  I have the answer or

I’ve got the answer.

British speaker:  I’ve got the answer.
Asking a question with possession American speaker:  Do you have a new car? British speaker:  Have you got a new car?

 

Vocabulary differences between British English speakers and American English speakers

Just as speakers from different parts of a country can have different names for objects, the same is true for British and American English speakers.  Let’s take a look at a few common vocabulary differences.

 

  • British speakers use the word “boot” instead of “trunk”
For example:  American speaker:  My groceries are in the trunk.0000 British speaker: My groceries are in the boot.

 

  • British speakers use the word “flat” instead of “apartment”
For example:  American speaker:  John just moved into a beautiful apartment. British speaker: John just moved into a beautiful flat.

 

  • British speakers use the word “knickers” instead of “underwear”
For example:  American speaker:  The girl’s underwear is showing through her dress. British speaker:  The girl’s knickers are showing through her dress.

 

  • British speakers use the word “holiday” instead of “vacation”
For example: American speaker:  I’ll be on vacation all next week. British speaker:  I’ll be on holiday all next week.

 

 

Question:  Any other differences you have noticed?  

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