Both British English and American English have many varieties in terms of various accents & dialects. There are several ways in which British & American English differ, some of which include; Vocabulary, Spelling, Accent & Grammar. The differences are sometimes greater due to focus on regional dialect and social sets of British and American English. While most Americans have no issues with understanding the pronunciation of British English, they may have some trouble understanding accents of deep and northern eastern England or of other varieties but as far as standard non regional speech goes, it is safe to state that the differences are minimal. However, learners of English who focus on one of the two varieties will probably have a little bit of trouble understanding the other until they gain significant exposure to it.
1. Differences in Vocabulary:
Outlined below are some ways British English differs from American English in terms of vocabulary.
In the United Kingdom people say ‘nappy’ while people in the united states use the term ‘diaper’.
Americans go on ‘vacation’ while Brits go on ‘holiday’, in the United States people rent ‘apartments’ while in the united kingdom people rent ‘flats’. It should be noted that an apartment has a somewhat different meaning in the United Kingdom.
In the United States if one’s apartment is at street level then you live on the ‘first floor’ and the person above you lives on the ‘second floor’.
In the United Kingdom if your flat is on street level you live on the ‘ground floor’ and the person above you lives on the ‘first floor’.
In the United States people take the ‘elevator’ while in the United Kingdom people take the ‘lift’.
In the United States people walk on the ‘sidewalk’ while in the United Kingdom people walk on the ‘pavement’.
2. Differences in spelling:
British and American spellings are largely the same but there are a few notable differences. This is because Noah Webster who the Webster dictionary is named after attempted to reform English spelling in the 1700s to make the words spelt the way they sounded and this resulted in some changes to the American English.
* ~re to er: some (but not all) words that end in ~re in the United Kingdom end in ~er in the United States.
British Spelling: Centre, Theatre
American Spelling: Center, Theater
* ~nce to nse: some words that end in ~nce in the United Kingdom are spelt with ~nse in the United States.
British Spelling: Licence, Defence
American Spelling: License, Defense
* ~ou to o: some words with “ou” in the United Kingdom are spelt with “o” in the United States.
British Spelling: Colour, Honour
American Spelling: Color, Honor
* ~ise to ize: British spellings ending with “ise” became “ize” in American spellings.
British Spelling: Organise, Apologise
American Spelling: Organize, Apologize
This change also occur in other context where the “s” is voiced as “z” in other words making the “z” sound as in;
British Spelling: Analyse, Cosy
American Spelling: Analyze, Cozy
* ~LL to L: there are verbs ending with “L” that take a double “L” in British English when a suffix is added. In American English there is no double “L”.
British Spelling: Travelled, Cancelled
American Spelling: Traveled, Canceled
3. Differences in Accent:
For the United States the focus will be on general American English and for the United Kingdom the focus will be on received pronunciation. These are the accents you are likely to hear from an American;
* R sounds: as in rholic “r” sounds which are always pronounced in American English but British English is characterized by non rholic “r” sounds meaning that the r sound is not pronounced unless a vowel sound follows it. An interesting fact about British ‘non-rholic’ accents is the intrusive “r” meaning some people sometimes add the r sounds to a word that do not have one if its followed by a vowel sound in the next word. For example in the sentence
“i saw a film”
in British English they sometimes pronounce it with an intrusive r in between connecting saw and “a” that is
“i saw a film
[ r ]» intrusive r comes in between.
* T sound’s:
In British English received pronunciation accents “t” sounds are pronounced as hard “t’s” (voiceless /t/).
While in the United States, it sometimes sounds like /r/» an alveolar tap instead of /t/» an alveolar stop, normally in an unstressed syllable between two vowel sounds or between a vowel and a rholic sound.
* O sound’s:
In the word stop, the American “o” sound is an unrounded vowel (a) while the British “o” sound in stop is a rounded vowel.
* A sound’s:
In other words sounds represented by the “A” (/a:/) in the United kingdom normally becomes /æ/ in the United States when it is not followed by an “r” or an “L” sound.
British Accent: Half- (/ha:f/)
American Accent: Half- (/hæf/)
Although there are some words that are /æ/ in the United kingdom that remain pretty similar to words with /æ/ in the United States.
British Accent: Cat- (/kæt/)
American Accent: Cat- (/kæt/)
An exception is a small set of words in which the “a” is followed by “rr” in which case the vowel is pronounced as /e/ in the United States.
4. Differences in Grammar:
There are only minor grammatic differences between British and American English some of which include;
* Auxiliary Verbs- Brits use “shall” for the future more than Americans when seeking advice or opinion as in “shall I”?
There are some differences in prepositions used:
Brits: say “on” the weekend.
Americans: say “at” the weekend.
Brits: say different from/“than”
Americans: say different from/“to”
* Different past tense forms: there are some differences in past tense forms. For example, in American English the past tense of the word “learn” is normally “learned” while in British English it is more common to say “learnt”.
They use both in the same country but usually there is a tendency to use one form more than the other, this is true for;
In the United States, the past tense of “dive” is usually “dove” while in the United Kingdom it is more commonly “dived”.
* Past Participle:
Sometimes past participles have a different form, the most well known example is for the verb – “to get”.
In the United States there is “get/got/gotten” -as past participle.
But in the United kingdom it is “get/got/got – as past participle.
Both forms of got & gotten have existed since the middle English period but “gotten” has fallen out of use in the United Kingdom. The term “Got” can be used in American English in the form “have got”, but with the meaning of “have” & not have received/become”.
In the United kingdom: I haven’t got the post yet.
In the United States: I haven’t gotten the mail yet.
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