British and American English

Different learning British & American English

 Today we have not just one English language  but several  Englishes. There are quite a few varieties of English though the mother of all Englishes is British English. Bernard Shaw once said that England and America are two nations divided by the same language. That’s because there are several differences in the way English is written and spoken by the British and the Americans.This is part of the cultural independence that followed the political independence of the American colonies from Britain.  Today in addition to these earlier varieties there are also Australian, Canadian,African and Indian Englishes and others.

In this age of globalization one needs to know the main   differences between British English and American English. In today’s international travel and shuttling between regions speaking British English and the American variety one needs to know the characteristics of both also for international business and cultural exchanges.  For example we in India follow the British variety whereas the Filipinos follow the American pattern since they had been an American colony for fifty years.


 There is a popular but not a well-informed opinion  that any wrong spelling can be termed as American spelling. While it is true American spellings of certain types of words  is often different from British spelling it is not haphazard spelling and it has got its own patterns and rules.It is important to know that we follow the British pattern as do all the commonwealth countries since they were all British colonies once. British English and cricket are the two outstanding elements of cultural heritage inherited by the colonies from the British colonial masters and these have become now world heritage not just colonial  heritage.

Language is only one instance of British and American cultural differences. Some of the other notable differences are the following. The Americans drive on the right side of the road but the British drive on the left. The Americans date letters beginning with the month followed by the day and the year. The British begin with the day , followed by the month and the year which is incidentally  more logical. The Americans begin counting the storeys of a  building right from the ground level  which they call the first floor whereas for the British it is ground floor.May be the British are more down to earth and are unwilling to leave it so easily.

There are several differences between the American and British varieties in spelling, pronunciation  and vocabulary. Some examples of spelling differences are as follows:

British                            American

Centre                             center

Colourful                         colorful

Metre                               meter

Cheque                            check

Parlour                             parlor

Programme                      program

Axe                                  ax

Plough                              plow

Defence                          defense

Demeanour                     demeanor

Catalogue                        catalog

Foetus                              fetus

Marvellous                       marvelous

Manoeuvre                       maneuver

Paralyse                            paralyze

Programme                      program

Most computers are originally programmed to show American spellings. They can be reprogrammed to show British spellings.

Vocabulary differences

British                              American

Petrol                               gasoline

Petrol bunk                      gas station

Sweets                             candy

Highway                          express way

Rail road                          rail way

Trousers                           pants

Wire                                 telegram

Bus stand                          bus station

Toilet, lavatory                comfort room

Basin                                faucet

Rail carriage                     rail car

antenna                             aerial

Baby carriage                    pram

Dance hall                        Ball room

Slander                             bad mouth

Hoarding                          bill board

Out of bounds                  off limits

Long jump                       broad jump

Visiting card                    calling card

Car park                           parking lot

Coffin                               casket

Cinema                             movie house

Cock                                 rooster

Demand draft                    demand bill

Diversion                           detour

Public prosecutor              district attorney

Drawing pin                      thumb tack

Casualty                            emergency

Trash can                          dust bin

Lift                                    elevator

Torch light                        flash light

Freight train                       goods train

Undertaker                        funeral director

Christian name                  given name

Bonnet                               hood

Jumble sale                        rummage sale

Pavement                           side walk

Ill mannered                      punk

Shoe lace                           shoe string

Sleeping partner                silent partner

Spanner                             wrench

Red light                            stop light

Flattery                                 sweet talk

Lorry                                    truck

Waist coat                            vest

There are also differences in referring to the time of  the day. Morning and afternoon remain the same for both, whereas the British refer to late afternoon after  4 p.m. as evening but for the Americans evening begins only when it is dark. So one may see still wish  good afternoon in the US around 6 p.m. if the sun has not yet set.

Pronunciation and accent differences

In a number of words ending in “tory” the Americans shift the accent to the last but one syllable . Examples are words like laboratory where the British have the stress on the second syllable” bo” but the Americans have the stress on the penultimate syllable “to.” Whereas in British English this is a short syllable in American English it becomes a long syllable. Other such examples are discriminatory, satisfactory, expository. The word ‘schedule’ is pronounced in American English as ‘skedule’. Also the way Americans pronounce the word God is different from the British way of pronouncing. When they say “ My God” it sounds like “ My Gahd”. The ‘o’ sound changes to ‘ah’.


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