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British vs. American English

I. Spelling Rules

There are some spelling differences in American English. In the 1800's, the US Congress actually called for several changes to make words more phonetic. Look at the following examples:

British English

1 words ending in -re

2 words ending in -our

3 words ending in -ogue

4 words ending in -ise/ize

5 final -l doubled after short vowel

6 words ending in -ence

American English

change to -er

change to -or change to -og ending only in -ize

- l not always doubled after

a short vowel

change to -ense

Example (British - American) centre - center metre - meter colour - color catalogue - catalog realise/realize - realize

travelled - traveled

modelling - modeling defence - defense licence - license

e n c e - d e f e n s e licence - license American

American pronunciation

II. Pronunciation

usually equals General American (GenAm) pronunciation

used by educated Americans, on television and on radio

described in dictionaries of American English (e.g. Merriam-Webster, Random House dictionaries)

most Americans and Canadians speak something similar to General American

there are some regional differences, but they are usually very small

the only major exception is the South of the US (especially outside of big cities), which has its own distinct accent

GenAm pronunciation is rhotic = the letter r is always pronounced

British pronunciation

usually equals Received Pronunciation (RP)

this is the pronunciation that you will learn at a British language school; it is also the model taught in course books and dictionaries from publishers like Oxford and Longman

in the UK, only a small percentage of people speak something similar to RP

"normal people" only speak it in the southeast of England — in the area near Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and London (excluding working-class Londoners, who speak Cockney or Estuary)

elsewhere RP is spoken only by upper-class people, academics, actors, TV personalities, politicians and English teachers

"normal" Britons usually speak with their local accents, which are often quite different from RP, and can be very hard to understand to untrained ears

sometimes cities that are only 20 km apart have very different accents

RP is non-rhotic = the letter r is usually "silent", unless it is followed by a vowel

here's how it works

in words like car, tower, inform and first, r is silent (r is not followed by a vowel)

in words like red, foreign, print, r is pronounced (r is followed by a vowel)

R is also pronounced at the end of a word, if the next word starts with a vowel, for example:

number eight, far away

most RP speakers also insert an r in phrases like: the idea(r) of, Africa(r) and Asia, law(r) and order - this r is not in the spelling; they just use it to separate two vowels

the following pairs sound exactly the same in RP: or/awe, court/caught, sore/saw, farther/father, formerly/formally - in General American, they all sound different

Other differences

words of French origin – often pronounced differently on either side of the Atlantic

RP - stress falls on the first syllable X GenAm – stress falls on the second syllable

e.g. "ballet" – RP ['bufei] X GenAm [bə'fei]

other words: chauffeur, buffet, brochure

the letter "T" (Do you say buddah or butter?)

in BrE, words of more than one syllable that have a double "t" in the middle, like "butter" or "matter" are pronounced with a hard "t" sound, rather than the softer "d" sound of AmE

where “t” is followed by "u" in words such as "tuna", a BrE speaker pronounces this word as "tyoona" rather than the AmE "toona"

vowel differences

BrE [əu] vs. AmE [ou]

III. Grammar

generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct" however, there are certainly preferences in use

the most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage

if you decide that you want to use AmE spellings then be consistent in your spelling (i.e. The color of the orange is also its flavour - color is American spelling and flavour is British) and grammar

use of the Present Perfect

BrE - used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment - e.g. I've lost my key. Can you help me look for it?

AmE - the following is also possible – e.g. I lost my key. Can you help me look for it? (in British English that would be considered incorrect)

already, just and yet

BrE - I've just had lunch. I've already seen that film. Have you finished your homework yet?

AmE - I just had lunch OR I've just had lunch. I've already seen that film OR I already saw that film. Have your finished your homework yet? OR Did you finish your homework yet?


there are two forms to express possession in English: have or have got

while both forms are correct, have got (have you got, he hasn't got, etc.) is generally the preferred form in British English while most speakers of American English employ the have (do you have, he doesn't have etc.)

Do you have a car? vs. Have you got a car?


e.g. American English - on the weekend X British English - at the weekend

Past Simple/Past Participles

get - AmE – the past participle is gotten – e.g. He's gotten much better at playing tennis.

the following verbs have two acceptable forms of the past simple/past participle in both American and British English, however, the irregular form is generally more common in British English (the first form of the two) and the regular form is more common to American English

and the regular form is more common to American English ◦ Burn - burnt OR burned

Burn - burnt OR burned

Dream - dreamt OR dreamed

Smell - smelt OR smelled

Spell - spelt OR spelled

Spill - spilt OR spilled

Spoil - spoilt OR spoiled

IV. Vocabulary

probably the most significant difference between BrE and AmE is in the vocabulary

first of all, place the following words under the correct heading:

Sidewalk - Movie - Portion of French Fries - Lift - Packet of chips - Can of fizzy drink - Pants - Trousers - Portion of chips - Elevator - Pavement - Film - Packet of crisps - Can of soda

British English

American English

refer to the other handout for more vocabulary