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How to differentiate British English from American English?

There is an old saying that Britain and America are “two nations divided by a common language.” Let’s look at some of the differences between British and American English!

The vocabulary

One of the most noticeable differences is the vocabulary used by British and American people, and words commonly used in one country can seem weird in the other (pants means trousers across the pond but not in England!). While Brits go on holiday, Yankees go on vacation; in England one lives in a flat but in America one lives in an apartment; cars are parked in car parks in the UK, in the USA people park in a parking lot…

The spelling

There are hundreds of minor spelling differences between British and American English. Words that end in –re in Britain (theatre) often end in –er in America (theater); while the British use the –nce ending (offence), Americans generally prefer –nse (offense). British English uses the –ise ending (organise), in America such words end in –ize (organize). The British English –our (flavour) drops the u in American English (flavor). In words ending in a vowel plus –l, Americans have dropped the double “l” (traveling) while the British still use it (travelling)…

The grammar

When it comes to grammar, there are differences too. Collective nouns (i.e.: staff, family, band, audience…) are usually plural in British English (the team are on the pitch) and singular in American English (the team is on the pitch). Shall and shan’t are almost exclusively used by British speakers, as Americans find these extremely formal and prefer to use will and won’t instead. There are small differences with the past form of irregular verbs, Americans tend to use the –ed ending (dreamed) where Brits use the –t ending (dreamt). Americans like to use either gotten in the past participle form instead of the British got (my job has gotten better) and hardly use the present perfect!

And…the accent

It goes without saying that the most obvious difference when it comes to speaking is accent! With the exception of some regional dialects, most Brits and Americans can understand each other without too much trouble, though non-natives might need a bit more time to get to grips with these.


Don’t worry too much though! British and American English have far more similarities than differences, which are often exaggerated! You should now be ready to take on both British and American conversations!

Melanie Hall – 1to1PROGRESS Educational manager