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Differences Between British and American English

In general, there are not many grammar differences between British English and American English. Most differences lie in the way each culture spells words.

The differences between British and American spelling exist because British English has kept most spelling true to the languages it absorbed, such as French. Americans, however, have adapted spelling to reflect the phonetic spelling of words, or the way that the words actually sound when they are spoken.

Vocabulary Differences

There are a number of important differences between British and American English that are worth paying attention to when communicating in either country. Here are a few vocabulary differences that will aide you in fine tuning your global communication.

  1. Bill/Check When you want to pay after you have eaten your British breakfast, you ask for the bill. At the end of your American hamburger and beer, you get the check.

  2. Holiday/Vacation People who live in the UK go on holiday to Italy. Americans take a vacation in Florida.

  3. Lift/Elevator In Liverpool, you would take the lift to the roof of the building. In New York, you would take the elevator.

  4. Football/Soccer In London, you would watch Chelsea's football game, whereas in New York you would watch NYC's Soccer game. You can also watch an American Football game in the United States, but it is a totally different sport.

  5. Post/Mail Brits would say that they want to post a letter, while Americans would mail the letter.

  6. Barrister/Attorney In England, students become barristers after they pass the bar exam, while in United States, they become attorneys.

There are far more examples than these we can discuss here. Fortunately, most Americans and Brits can usually deduce the meaning through the context of a sentence.

Grammar Differences

In general, there aren’t many grammar differences between British English and American English. Still, the few differences are worth reviewing. Today, I want to focus on the three things that students most frequently mistaken.

Have versus Have Got

Brits use the verbal phrase “have got,” while Americans simply uses “have.”

For example, a person from New York might say, “I have a car,” but a person from London might say, “I have got a car.”

This grammatical difference also changes the question format:

British English: Have you got a car?

American English: Do you have a car?

Past tense verbs

For regular verbs, you form the simple past and past participle forms by adding an “-ed” to the end of the word. Some common examples are:

  • cross — crossed

  • brush — brushed

  • fix — fixed

This is generally true in both American and British English, but there is a slight difference in British English. There are some regular verbs in British English that form the past tense by adding “-t” instead of “-ed.” For example:

  • smell — smelt (B.E.) / smelled (A.E.)

  • spoil — spoilt (B.E.) / spoiled (A.E.)

  • learn — learnt (B.E.) / learned (A.E.)


As a quick reminder, prepositions are usually used in front of nouns or pronouns; they show the relationship between the noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence.

Prepositions can be different in British and American English. There are many examples, but a few common ones are:

  • at the weekend (B.E.); on the weekend (A.E.)

  • fill in a form (B.E.); fill out a form (A.E.)

  • to play in a team (B.E.); to play on a team (A.E.)

  • Monday to Saturday (B.E.); Monday through Saturday (A.E.)

Miscellaneous Differences

Dates: In American English, the conventional way to write a date is to have the month precede the day. Hence, July 24, 1987, is abbreviated as 7/24/87. In British English, however, the day precedes the month. Thus, July 24, 1987, is d abbreviated as 24/7/87.

Quotation: In American English, double quotation marks (") are always used for representing direct speech and highlighting meanings. In British English, single quotation marks (') are often used instead.

Spelling: As mentioned earlier, most differences between British and American English lie in spelling. There are far more examples than the ones listed below; nevertheless, here are three common examples of spelling differences between the two forms of English:

  1. Organisation (B.E) / Organization (A.E.)

  2. Programme (B.E) / Program (A.E.)

  3. Realise (B.E.) / Realize (A.E.)

Having knowledge and awareness of these differences will help your English sound more local whether you are in London or riding a bike on New York’s Central Park sidewalks. Now it’s time to start practicing!