The differences between American English and British English

As an English learner, you’ve probably been more exposed to American English through films, series and music than British English. Did you know that as well as differences in vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling, there are differences in grammar? Keep reading to find out…


When the American lexicographer, Noah Webster, compiled the first dictionary in the USA, he apparently changed some of the spellings in order to assert the Americans’ cultural independence from the British. Here’s a list of the main differences:

2. Vocabulary

British and American English also have words that differ from one another. Here’s a list* of some of them:

*a simple Google search will give you a longer list

3. Pronunciation

Have a look at the Macmillan English website to download US and British phonetic charts for free:

4. Grammar

  1. Present Perfect: when speakers of British English use the present perfect to talk about a past action with an effect in the present, speakers of American English use the past simple:

-I can't find my keys anywhere. Did you see them? (AmE)

-I can't find my keys anywhere. Have you seen them? (BrE)

This is particularly true in sentences with 'already', 'just' and 'yet'

-I'm not hungry anymore. I already had lunch (AmE)

-I'm not hungry anymore. I've already had lunch (BrE)

-Is Jane here? No, she just left (AmE)

-Is Jane here? No, She's just left (AmE)

-What a lovely jacket! Can I borrow it? No, I didn't wear it yet (AmE)

-What a lovely jacket! Can I borrow it? No, I haven't worn it yet (BrE)

2. Use of modals and auxiliaries:

In BrE, it is very common to use 'do' to substitute a verb phrase to avoid repetition when answering a question. Do is not used that way in AmE:

-Are you coming tonight? I might do (BrE)

-Are you coming tonight? I might (AmE)

Shall is very unusual in AmE and speakers will use will or should instead:

-Shall we invite him to the party? (BrE)

-Should we invite him to the party (AmE)

3. Use of prepositions:

The preposition at is used in BrE in the phrase at the weekend. In AmE, on is used instead: on the weekend.

In British English, at is used to talk about universities, schools and other institutions. In American English in is more common:

-I learnt French at university (BrE)

-I learned French in university (AmE)

In BrE, the prepositions to and from are used with the adjective different. In AmE, from and than are used:

-This book is different from/to anything I've read before (BrE)

-This book is different from/than anything I've read before (AmE)

The preposition to is always used with the verb write in British English. However, it can be omitted in American English:

-Promise to write to me as often as you can (BrE)

-Promise to write me as often as you can (AmE)

In terms of your learning of English, know that both varieties of English are perfectly acceptable. In exams such as Cambridge English exams or IELTS both forms are accepted, however, you should be consistent, meaning that if you favour American English, then this is the form you should use throughout your exam.

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