Differences between UK and US English

Differences between British and American English

George Clooney or Hugh Grant? What are the grammatical, lexical and orthographical differences between British English and American English?

Even without taking an English course, we can all tell the difference between two speakers such as George Clooney and Hugh Grant… But which are the grammatical, lexical and orthographic differences between British and American English?

Lexical differences

There are numerous vocabulary differences between these two types of English, to begin with. Just to mention a few:

  • If you are hungry and want to eat vegetables, in the UK, you should purchase an aubergine, while stateside you’ll need to ask for an eggplant, or perhaps a courgette in the UK and zucchini in the US. Maize in the UK is corn in the US,  while British chicory is American endives. You can accompany any of these vegetables with chips (United Kingdom) or (French) fries (US). UU.). Now, would you prefer biscuits or cookies for afters?
  • If you want to travel by car, you can choose between a saloon (UK) or a sedan (US), an estate (UK) or a station wagon (US). If you need to drive long distance, would you do it on a motorway in the UK or a freeway in the United States? A lorry (UK) or a truck (US)? And if you decide to leave your car at home and go green, will you take the underground (UK) or the subway (US),  or a spin on a tram (UK) or a streetcar (US)?  Now, if you’re planning a holiday (UK) or a vacation (US),  will you take an airplane (US) or an aeroplane (UK)? Or perhaps you’re thinking of hitting the road in a caravan (UK) or a trailer (US)?  And when it comes to that last one-way trip, will this be in a coffin (UK) or a casket (US)?
  • When you get back home you’ll probably check whether you have any letters in your post box (UK) or your mailbox (US), and then, if you live in a block of flats (UK) or an apartment block (US) you may take the lift (UK), the elevator (US) or even the stairs. Unless you live on the ground floor (UK) or the first floor  (US), in which case you can pop out to enjoy your garden (UK) or yard (US)…

Grammatical differences

Although lexical differences are the easiest to identify, there are many other kinds of differences between American and British English. To quote a few grammatical distinctions:

  • I have / I have got to express possession: the English tend to use “I have got” (“I have got a house”), while Anglophone Americans usually say “I have” (“I have a house”).
  • Present perfect vs. the past tense is used to describe a past action with an effect in the present moment: in the UK, the present perfect (“I have lost my keys”) is used while in the US, the past (“I lost my keys”) is preferred.
  • The verb agreement with collective nouns: in the British Isles, the verb is usually employed in the singular (“The team is losing”);whereas on the other side of the Atlantic, a collective noun takes a plural verb (“The team are losing”).

Spelling differences

However many English courses we may have taken, the odd doubt will always pop up: “do you write metre or meter?” It all depends on where you are…

  • The UK -re (theatre) is written -er in the United States;
  • The UK -ogue (catalogue) is written -og in the United States;
  • The UK -re (organise) is written -ze in the United States;
  • The UK -gramme (programme) is written -gram in the United States;
  • The UK -our (humour) is written -or in the United States;
  • The UK -que (cheque) is written -ck in the United States;
  • The UK -dge (judgement, ) is written -dg in the United States;
  • The UK -ence (licence) is written -ense in the United States;
  • The UK -ae / -oe / -oeu/ (paediatric ) is written -e / -o / -eu in the United States;
  • Certain words with a single -l in UK English (counselor) have two in the United States, and vice versa.

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This article has been written by Mathieu

Mathieu was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. After studying Literature and Linguistic Research, he moved to Argentina where he is currently a translator and a web editor.