Differences between British and American English

By M.Akmal
March 11, 2020

As always argued, English is a common language that lays clear distinctions between the British and American Countries.

Although varied, the two forms have considerable similarities and there is no difficulty or severe barrier to effective communication by nationals of the two origins.

The key differences are reflected in the spoken forms where word use, accent and dialects vary significantly.

The rules for English Grammar are same and will remain unchanged.

 Therefore, it’s not uncommon to hear the Brits argue that what Americans speak is not English but ‘American’.

In the written form, the two vary extensively on the use of vocabulary, past tense, auxiliary verbs and collective nouns among other differences as outlined below:


One of the key differences between the two forms of English is the choice of words. A particular word can be used differently to bring out various distinct meanings while different words can be used to mean the same thing.

In America, ‘Rubber’ is commonly used to refer to condoms while the Brits use it to mean an object used in erasing pencil marks on paper. The Americans call the front part of a car hood while Brits call it Bonnet. See other examples below:




Big Vehicle



Leisure travel/ trips


Holidays or Hols

Residential Buildings






On road

Gas station

Petrol station


The list of different vocabularies as used by the Brits versus the Americans is endless but fortunately it’s usually simple to guess the correct meaning of a word through the context of the whole sentence.


There are small differences on spelling of some words between the two forms of English. Some examples include;

  • Likable (Ame) -    Likeable (Bri)
  • Yogurt (Ame) -     Yoghurt (Bri)
  • Labor (Ame)    -     Labour (Bri)
  • Program (Ame) -     Programme (Bri)
  • Jewelry (Ame) -      Jewellery (Bri)
  • Organize (Ame) -    Organise (Bri)

As seen from the above examples, it is very simple to devise the meaning of a particular word as the difference is addition of a letter or its change e.g. from ‘s’ to ‘z’.

Auxiliary or Helping verbs

Another main difference between the British and American English is the use of auxiliary verbs which are alternatively called helping verbs as they modify the main verbs by giving more details about time or even the voice.

Some examples include;

‘Shall’- the Brits use this auxiliary verb to express future intentions or endeavors. For example, “I shall attend the wedding”.

On the other hand, although the Americans are aware and know the precise meaning of the verb, they barely include it their conversations.

Most Americans prefer to use ‘will’ instead of ‘shall’ e.g. “I will attend the wedding”.

The presumed reason behind this is that the use of ‘shall’ may sound too formal compared to ‘will’.

In expressing lack of intention or obligation to do something, the Americans would likely use the full phrase ‘do not’ and thereafter ‘need’.

For example, “you do not need to drive if you are sick”. Alternatively, the Brits exclude the auxiliary verb and integrate ‘not’ e.g. “you needn’t drive if you are sick.”

Use of Past Tense

The use of past tense verbs is also distinct between the two forms of English.

For instance, the past tense of learn is different as the Americans say learned while the Brits can use either learnt or learned.

Americans are more inclined to using ‘-en’ when ending a past tense verb while the Brits prefer the use of ‘-t’ ending.

Also a clear distinction lays on various irregular verbs when used in the past participle form.

In America, the ‘en’ ending is commonly used, “he has never gotten arrested” while you will hear a Brit say, “He has never got arrested”. Although the Brits use only ‘got’ in the past participle form, the Americans can use both gotten and got.

These past tense differences are small and should not cause any worries as English speakers from both sides can easily understand the intended meaning.

However, the Brits always express a general feeling that their way is correct and that of the Americans is somehow misplaced.

Collective Nouns

In America, collective nouns like army, band or team take a singular form e.g. “the team is playing” while in Britain they can take either singular or plural forms.


There are multiple differences on use of prepositions for instance an American would say “on a team” while a Brit “In a team”. Other examples include “write me” for Americans and “write to me” for Brits.


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