The Main Differences Between American and British English

One of the major struggles that English speakers and writers suffer from is the different variants of American English and British English. Mistakes regarding these variants are very common that even experts get confused at times. Therefore, if you are struggling with these differences, don’t worry — you are not alone. Now, what you can do is gradually learn more about the two English variants. We assembled a comprehensive guide that highlights the basic differences between American and British English.

01.01.2022

The Main Differences Between American and British English

This handout discusses the main differences between American and British English. To give you an opportunity to practice proofreading, we have left a few spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors in the text. See if you can spot them! If you spot the errors correctly, you will be entitled to a 10% discount.

One of the major struggles that English speakers and writers suffer from is the different variants of English: American English and British English. These mistakes are very common that even experts get confused at times. Therefore, if you are struggling with these differences, don’t worry — you are not alone. Now, what you can do is gradually learn more about the two formats, and for that, you have arrived at the right place.

We assembled a comprehensive guide that highlights the basic differences between American and British English so that you can learn the differences and use them effectively.

American English vs. British English — Where things changed

The English language came to the Americans through British travelers who arrived on American soil through seas way back in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, at that time, spellings were still not standardized as there were no dictionaries. When dictionaries came to be, lexicographer Noah Webster decided to change the spellings to show the cultural independence of this language from its motherland. So that is how the difference came to be. However, that is not the only factor that causes differences between the two variants. The main things that distinguish American English from British English are the following factors:

  • Spelling

  • Vocabulary

  • Pronunciation

  • Minor grammatical context

Let us take our time to take a deeper look into the above-mentioned factors to understand the differences better and learn wisely.

Differences in spelling

As far as spellings go, the differences are merely based on a letter or two. Let us take a look (American English vs. British English):

American English

British English

-yze, -ize, -ense

analyze, apologize, defense

-yse, -ise, -ence

analyse, apologise, defence 

-or

Color

-our

Colour

-er

Center

-re

Centre 

-el, -ll

marvelous, fulfill

-elle, -l

marvellous, fulfil

-t

burnt

-ed

burned

Uses -e instead of -oe or -ae

Maneuver or Leukemia

Uses -oe or -ae

Manoeuver or Leukaemia

Does not use -e for modification

Love becomes lovable

Uses -e for modification

Love becomes loveable

The table below outlines the preferred spelling of some words in American and British variants:

US English

UK English

analyze

analyse

capitalize

capitalise

categorize

categorise

characterize

characterise

endeavor

endeavour

enroll

enrol

flavor

flavour

fulfill

fulfil

globalize

globalise

honor

honour

humor

humour

hypothesize

hypothesise

inquire

enquire

install

instal

labor

labour

legalize

legalise

maneuver

manoeuvre

neutralize

neutralise

optimize

optimise

organize

organise

organization

organisation

plow

plough

privatize

privatise

randomize

randomise

realize

realise

recognize

recognise

American English vs. British English

Difference in vocabulary

The two formats also observe a different vocabulary for specific words. Some prime examples are as follows (American English / British English):

US English

UK English

Truck

Lorry

Hood (of a car)

Bonnet

College

University

Chips

Crisps

Soccer

Football

Store

Shop

Apartment

Flat

Mailbox

Postbox

Cookie

Biscuit

leukemia

leukaemia

maneuver

manoeuvre

defense

defence

license

licence

offense

offence

analog or analogue

analogue

catalog or catalogue

catalogue

dialog or dialogue

dialogue

pants

trousers

flat

apartment

holiday

vacation

Differences in pronunciation

There are obvious differences in pronunciation, owing to the accent difference. Apart from that, there are a few differences in pronunciation, where the pronunciation of different vowels and consonants comes into play. Also, there are differences in how stress and intonation are applied to various words and phrases.

Grammatical context

Lastly, for grammatical context, though the general rules are the same, there are a few disparities, of which a few are as follows: 

  • Use of Present Perfect

You need to use present perfect to describe an action in the recent past with an immediate effect on the present when using British English. 

Example: I’ve eaten too much. I should rest for a while. 

However, for American English, it would be as follows: I ate too much. I should rest for a while.

  • Use of the verb ‘‘get’’

While British English will use ‘‘got’’ as the past participle of ‘’get,’’ American English will use ‘‘gotten’’ 

Example of British English: He’s got more crafty in his approach

Example of American English: He’s gotten more crafty in his approach

  • Forms of possession

British English will generally use ‘‘have got’’

Example: Have you got the required documents? 

American English will use ‘‘have’’

Example: Do you have the required documents?

Using single quotation marks (‘…’) and double quotation marks (“…”)

Using quotation marks is probably the most debated among all punctuation marks. The usage of single or double quotation marks is predominantly dependent on the preferred type of English variant in your text. For American English, double quotes are used consistently for all conditions where quotation marks may be needed, whereas British English prefers single quotation marks. Therefore, a writer should be conscious of the language to make the correct usage of both symbols.

In American English, single quotation marks should be used to enclose a quotation within a quotation and inside quotation marks should be used to place periods and commas.

In British English, single quotation marks should be used to enclose a quotation and double quotation marks should be used to enclose a quotation within a quotation. Also, outside quotation marks are used to place periods and commas.

In American English:

  • Double quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation.

  • Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a quotation.

  • Inside quotation marks are used to place periods and commas.

  • Outside quotation marks are used to place other punctuation

In British English:

  • Single quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation.

  • Double quotation marks are used to enclose a quotation within a quotation.

  • Outside quotation marks are used to place periods and commas.

  • Outside quotation marks are used to place other punctuation.

Here are some examples:

American English

British English

He said softly, “I have a headache.”

He said softly, ‘I have a headache’.

Many dream images were characterized as “raw,” “powerful,” and “evocative.”

Many dream images were characterized as ‘raw’, ‘powerful’, and ‘evocative’.

American English vs. British English — Conclusion

So those are the basic differences between American and British English. Though it may seem confusing, once you start noticing the factors, recognizing the format becomes easier. Of course, practice and learning are always the best way to learn and progress. However, despite which format you follow, what matters is to stay consistent. When you are working for academic or commercial purposes, make sure which format is preferred and use that. If no format is specified, then start with one and stick to it till the end. In other words, if you start with American English, make sure you keep on using it till the end. This is where mistakes are common so make sure you are careful. If you are not sure about your application, you can easily rely on professional editing and proofreading services. Professional editors and proofreaders can easily help you maintain a consistent format throughout your work, alongside increasing the quality of your work.

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American English vs. British English

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American English vs. British English

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