Differences between American English and British English by slappypappy125


									         Differences between                                                                                                                      1

         A m e r ic a n E n g l is h a n d B r it is h E n g l is h
                                                                                     Zdeněk Benedikt
The English language, whether it be spoken in North America, the British Isles, Australia or any other place in the whole world, is one
language and its different varieties “equal” siblings. Although the size of the territory where the varieties are used and the number
of people living there are not always comparable, linguistically, however, they enjoy equal status, and therefore it would be wrong
to say that one of them is the sole representative of correct English with the others representing substandard forms.

I would like to stress the fact that even after four hundred years of physical separation, the American and British varieties of the English
language, which we will primarily be focusing on, have maintained a great deal of sameness or similarity and that although there
will be many individual differences discussed and pointed out between these two most frequently encountered varieties, we need to
keep in mind that these have been purposefully dug out and presented in detail, while the everyday communication between
Englishmen and Americans is not hampered to such an extent as may be the false impression resulting from the long list of differences
presented to you in this research paper.

This material is based on my own personal experience of an English teacher and a speaker of predominantly American English, as well
as on research carried out using and exploiting different materials of both academic and non-academic nature. (see bibliography)

         What is an AMERICANISM?
• a word or one of its meanings, which is currently used in American English and has a different equivalent in the British variety
  (elevator – lift, gasoline – petrol)
• a word which refers to sth exclusively characteristic of American realia (convention, caucus, fraternity, bayou)
• a word which originated in American English but has since spread to other varieties of English, even British English (bike, bulldozer,
  boom, boost, boss)
• a word or an expression which originated in British English but is no longer used among the Brits, i.e. is extinct in the English of the
  British Isles, but is still used on the North American continent (apartment, baggage, bug, rooster, fall, gotten, guess, sick)

American English maintains certain features of old British English, which it comes from. So does Canadian French carry with itself
a certain air of old 17th century French, as it was spoken before the French revolution. (We have gotten a new car since you last saw

                  Dnešní americká výslovnost odráží stav jihoanglické výslovnosti v době vypuknutí roztržky mezi mateřskou zemí a 13 koloniemi,
                  tj. kolem roku 1770. (Peprník, str.15)

In many cases, when speaking about American and British equivalents, the distinction is not really a matter of one nation having one
word/expression which the other variety is not familiar with and vice versa. It’s more a matter of one of the expressions being prevalent
and most widely used in one of the varieties, while the majority of speakers using the other variety of the two are more familiar and
comfortable with the other, if the equivalents form a pair, which is not always the case. (fall is the most frequently used term for one of
the four seasons of the year but autumn, which is considered a purely British expression, can also be found in the writing of American
authors, mainly when striving for a higher stylistic form)

One word/phrase often has different connotations/meanings in the two varieties. (mudguard – BrE blatník auta, AmE blatník bicyklu;
suspenders – BrE podvazky, AmE šle)

Sometimes the two connotations carry totally opposite meanings. (“I am through”, when given to a partner in a telephone
conversation, would mean a totally different thing to a Brit than to an American. The Brit would think it means “We’ve made the
connection, we can talk.”, whereas the American would suppose the phone call is over as the Brit is apparently implying “I am finished,
it’s over.”; another example is the adjective “inflammable", which in American English means that it is not possible to set the material
on fire, while in British English it means Watch out! This material can go ablaze very easily)

Here are a few examples of “Briticisms” (a term not as common as Americanism) which have entered and were absorbed by American
English: A-level, au-pair girl, back bencher, bank holiday, redbrick university, terraced houses, bloody, bobby, dustman, headmaster,
fortnight, pram, mackintosh, ring sb up, Establishment, posh, postman, shop, tabloid, luggage

On the other hand, a great many Americanisms have been adopted by Britons and can be commonly heard on both sides of the
Atlantic. These are more plentiful as American English seems to affect all the other varieties of English more than any other form, mostly

due to the impact of show business (ie. the movies, popular music) as well as the economic and political influence of the United States
around the world. Here are the most well-known examples: talk with sb, I wouldn’t know, blizzard, get the hang of sth, blurb, editorial,
commuter, rock in the sense of stone, be on the air, top secret, double talk, baggage in connection with traveling on a ship, etc.

         Main differences in PRONUNCIATION
Br [a:] before -f, -s, -S, m, n is pronounced [æ] (ask, after, half, path, chance, plant, sample)
Br [o] in words such as not, block, cross, stop, college, doctor, comedy is pronounced [a:]
Br [i] in timid, America is often pronounced [?]
Br [a] in but, hurry is pronounced closer to [?]
AmE does not leave out the r-sounds in better, perceive, bird, here, poor
Br [ju:] after consonants d, t, n is pronounced [u:], eg. duty, tune, new
Br [t] betw. a vowel and a voiced consonant or vowels is pron. more like [d] latter, putting
BrE reduces the secondary stress more than AmE, eg. secretary, secondary, necessary
Suffix -ile is pronounced [-?l] in AmE and [-ail] in BrE, eg. agile, fertile, hostile, mobile
The British diphthong [?u] is replaced by [ou], which does not exist in BrE at all, eg. Oh, no!

                   Některé z rysů obecné americké angličtiny působí nelibě na britské ucho, zejména retroflexní [r], neredukování nepřízvučných slabik,
                   nazalizace a intonace. Brit vyrostlý v jihoanglickém standardu vnímá americkou výslovnost jako příliš robustní, drsnou až hrubou,
                   její nazalizace mu připadá vulgární. Naopak Američanovi se zdá jihoanglická výslovnost usekaná (clipped), příliš zjemnělá
                   a afektovaná.
                   (Peprník, str. 15)

Sounding or not sounding the r’s is not a clear-cut matter which would distinguish the two varieties from each other. For example, in
Great Britain, there are many areas, such as Scotland, Lancashire or Ireland, where the r’s would be sounded pretty much like they are
in General American. On the other hand, many Americans would tend to leave the r sound out, especially around metropolitan New
York, in Eastern New England or in the coastal south of the United States.
– eg. car, bar, beer, clear, fear, the letter ‘r’

The past tense forms of the two following verbs are pronounced differently.
                                  BrE                              AmE
                                  shine – shone [šon]              shine – shone [šoun/ša:n]
                                  eat – ate [et]                   eat – ate [eit]

Here are a few examples of words which are pronounced differently in the U.S. than in the U.K.
                                BrE                               AmE
resource                        [ri’zo:s]                         [ri:so:s]
figure                          [fig?]                            [figj?r]
leisure                         [lež?]                            [li:ž?r]
either                          [aið?]                            [i:ð?r]
research                        [ri’s?:č]                         [ri:s?:rč]
glacier                         [glæsi?]                          [gleiš?r]
schedule                        [šedju?l]                         [skedž?l]
clothes                         [kl?uðz]                          [klouz]
twenty                          [twenti]                          [twenđi]
Asia                            [eiša]                            [eiž?]
garage                          [gæra:ž, gæridž]                  [g?’ra:ž, g?’ra:dž]
lever                           [li:v?]                           [lev?r]
can’t                           [ka:nt]                           [kænt]
record                          [reko:d]                          [rek?rd]
advertisement                   [?d’v?:tism?nt]                   [ædv?r’taizm?nt]

          Main differences in GRAMMAR
BrE                                     AmE

half an hour                            a half hour
half a bottle                           a half bottle

pneumonia                               the pneumonia
tuberculosis                            the tuberculosis

five cents a copy                       (five cents the copy)
five dollars a pair                     (five dollars the pair)

in hospital                             in the hospital
at university                           at the university

administration are                      administration is
council are                             council is
crew are                                crew is
crowd are                               crowd is
jury are                                jury is
team are                                team is
government are                          government is
company are                             company is

plenty of time                          plenty time
a couple of months                      a couple months
half of the world                       half the world

break the news to him                   break him the news
carry her things for her                carry her her things
pays no attention to me                 pays me no attention

need it badly                           need it bad
mightily dangerous                      mighty dangerous
really hard                             real hard
drive slowly                            drive slow

now                                     right now
here                                    right here

have you got…?                          do you have…?
I haven’t got…                          I don’t have…

don’t let’s                             let’s not

Have you ever heard…?                   Did you ever hear…?
I have just got here.                   I just got here.
Have you eaten yet?                     Did you eat yet?

                                        in AmE the use of subjunctive is more frequent:
                                        The President urges that we be patient.
                                        I insist that he go with us.
                                        I suggest we stay right here.

                                                               get hit
                                                               get rained on

if he were not busy                                            if he was not busy

burn – burnt – burnt                                           burn – burned – burned
dream – dreamt – dreamt                                        dream – dreamed – dreamed
mow – mowed – mowed/mown                                       mow – mowed – mowed
shine – shone – shone                                          shine – shined – shined
learn – learnt – learnt                                        learn – learned – learned

bet – betted – betted                                          bet – bet – bet
dive – dived – dived                                           dive – dove – dived
pleaded – pleaded -pleaded                                     plead – pled – pled
get – got – got                                                get – got – gotten

I have got (= bought/received)                                 I have gotten

try to help them                                               try help them
help me to stand up                                            help me stand up
let’s go to see the film                                       let’s go see the movie
go and see if                                                  go see if

          Main differences in VOCABULARY
The so called Standard American does not differ from the Standard British English nearly as much as do the individual substandard
colloquial or dialectal spheres of the language. That is to say that when two university professors, one from the U.S. and the other from
the U.K., are speaking to each other, they have less difficulty understanding each other than if we had two uneducated speakers of
different regional or even social dialects from the two countries having a conversation.

American English seems to be have been more creative in the past couple of centuries. Many new words have been coined based on
otherwise well-known and commonly used vocabulary.

-dom (bachelordom)
-ee (retiree)
-eer (racketeer)
-ette (launderette)
-ician (mortician)
-itis (Americanitis)
-ize (burglarize)
-ster (gangster)
-teria (cafeteria)

anti- (antiperspirant)
be- (bespectacled)
de- (debugging)
mid- (mid-January)
semi- (semi-annual)

New expressions combining two or more words, resulting in a set phrase/compound noun

log cabin
ghost town
disk jockey
soap opera
sweat shop

rowing boat BrE                                                       rowboat AmE
sailing boat BrE                                                      sailboat AmE
sparking plug BrE                                                     spark plug AmE

Phrasal verbs often take on an additional particle
                                                                      meet up with sb
                                                                      visit with sb
                                                                      write up on sth

Expressions existing in both varieties, however with different meanings.
freight                                                              freight
(refers exclusively to a load transported                            (in AmE the meaning of freight has become broader
 across a body of water)                                             and includes pretty much all kinds of cargo, even
                                                                     one transported solely by the railroads)

lumber                                                                lumber
(stuff which is in the way,                                           (originally the word had the same meaning in AmE
trash or rubbish)                                                     as it did in BrE but as the building timber stacked
                                                                      alongside the streets in American cities started to be
                                                                      in the way, people began calling this timber
                                                                      ’lumber’, which even sounded similar.

corn (meaning grain in general)                                       corn (meaning one special kind of grain, otherwise
                                                                      called maize in BrE)

(bed) bug                                                             bug
– very unpleasant kind of insect which                                – meaning any kind of insect
 is found in the beds
 of the poorest and dirtiest slums

faucet                                                                faucet
– exists only in regional dialects of BrE                             – standard AmE
– Standard BrE uses tap

homely                                                                homely
– pleasant                                                            – not good looking

List of equivalents in BrE in the left column and their counterparts in AmE on the right.
BrE                                                                    AmE

grilled steak                                                         broiled steak

staff                                                                 faculty

wireless                                                              radio

auto parts
saloon                                                                sedan

windscreen                          windshield
gear lever                          gear shift
boot                                trunk
bonnet                              hood
hood                                top
dynamo                              generator
mudguard                            fender
sparking plug                       spark plug

loo, toilet                         bathroom
public toilets                      restrooms

bring to the boil                   bring to a boil

do the washing                      do the laundry

curriculum vitae                    résumé, personal history

the cinema                          the movies, the movie theater

lift                                elevator

sunglasses                          shades

block of flats                      apartment building

lorry                               truck

pavement                            sidewalk

road surface                        pavement

taxi                                cab

(book)shop                          (book)store

rubbish                             garbage

subway                              underpass

underground, tube                   subway

in Franklin Street, in the square   on Franklin Street, on the square

tin, tinned meat                    can (of coke), canned meat

washbasin                           sink

cottage                             cabin

sweets                              candy

biscuit                             cookie

mad                           crazy

angry                         mad

chemist’s                     drugstore

ground floor                  first floor

motorway                      freeway

headteacher, headmaster       principal

dustbin                       garbage can

post                          mail

maths                         math

trousers                      pants

fanny OBSCENE!!!              fanny (meaning buttocks)
bumbag                        fanny pack

crisps                        potato chips

return (ticket)               round trip

timetable                     schedule

cooker                        stove

holiday                       vacation

fill in a form                fill out a form

stay at home                  stay home

meet sb, visit sb             meet with sb, visit with sb

Monday to Friday              Monday thru Friday

ten to eleven, ten past two   ten of eleven, ten after two

rubber                        eraser

rucksack                      backpack

pub                           bar, tavern

sweet                         dessert

nappy                         diaper

torch                         flashlight

chips                            French fries

tram                             streetcar

zip                              zipper

tick                             check

smart (elegant)                  smart (intelligent)

queue                            line

caravan                          trailer

diversion                        detour

tea-towel                        dish towel

toll motorway                    turnpike

get a rise                       get a raise

pram                             baby carriage

garden                           yard

collect                          pick up

petrol                           gas, gasoline

off-licence                      liquor store

railway line                     railroad tracks

mean                             stingy

bloke, chap                      guy, buddy, dude

spanner                          wrench

revise                           review

at the weekend                   on the weekend, over the weekend

set homework                     give homework

sit (for) an exam                take an exam

take a decision                  make a decision

different to                     different from, different than

club (for university students)   fraternity

knickers                                                           panties

football                                                           soccer

secondary school                                                   high school

basic school                                                       elementary school

arsehole OBSCENE!!!                                                asshole OBSCENE!!!

Words which have infiltrated the other variety and are now known in both of the Englishes. The arrow indicates where the word originated and who
adopted it.
the more British phrase is talk to                               talk with sb
                                                                 I wouldn’t know.
used side by side with snowstorm                                 blizzard
                                                                 get the hang of something
dressing gown
dinner jacket                                                    replaced tuxedo, which sounds a little sub-standard
luggage (esp. air travel)
used interchangeably with leading article                        editorial
                                                                 rocks in the sense of stones which can be thrown
                                                                 be on the air
                                                                 top secret
                                                                 double talk
au-pair girl                                                     in AmE the expression governess is more common

Expressions frequently found in American English but unacceptable even for Americans
                                                                   Annie and me
                                                                   anyways instead of anyway
                                                                   six mile down the road instead of using the plural
                                                                   … and I says “xxxxx"

Political correctness has first become an issue in the United States, that is why most of the following expressions were first made up and used in
American English:
                                                                    physically challenged
                                                                    colored person
                                                                    weight challenged
                                                                    acoustically challenged
                                                                    vision impaired
                                                                    literacy challenged
                                                                    sanitation engineer
                                                                    flight attendant
                                                                    (no wonder Brits often accuse Americans
                                                                    of long-wordedness)

          Words adopted by Americans from foreign languages
Indian languages
– there were over 300 Indian languages spoken in what is now called the United States of America when Europeans started to settle
   down in large numbers on the North American continent.
– Over twenty-six states within the Union have their official name taken from one of the Indian languages which were once spoken on
   their territory.

Here are a few expressions that originated in one of the many Indian tongues but are now known by virtually all speakers of the English
  language, not only its American variety.
– squash, raccoon, skunk, squaw, woodchuck, bury the hatchet, pale face, sequoia, moose, moccasin, potlatch, powwow, teepee,
  wigwam, iron horse

The influence of Spanish
The second most influential language to have infiltrated into American English would most probably be Spanish. Just to illustrate the
ancient roots of the Spanish element in Central and North America, let me just mention the fact that Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities to
be founded on American soil, was settled and run by Spaniards. And, by the way, the Spanish-speaking community, comprised of
immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America or even Spain itself, constitute the second largest ethnic minority in the U.S.A.,
second only to the African-American community.

From the plentiful examples of Spanish words used in English on daily basis let me name only the most well-known.
– alligator, banana, barbecue, canyon, chocolate, potato, tomato, cockroach, marijuana, tornado, yucca
Expressions characteristic mainly of American English would then be:
– adobe (raw material brick), alfalfa (type of grain), cafeteria (canteen in BrE, canteen in AmE means a special military-like drink bottle
   used for hiking), mustang, patio, rodeo, saguaro, sierra

Words adopted from French
Especially in the South of the United States, around the city of New Orleans, and in the St. Laurence River area higher to the north, there
were main strongholds of the French culture for a long time coexisting side by side with the predominantly English-speaking Americans.
These have long dissipated but the linguistic influence can be tracked down even today. Some French vocabulary has infiltrated into
General American. Most of the following examples would be familiar among speakers of British English as well.
– bureau, depot, cache, chute, crevasse, prairie, pumpkin, rapids, rotisserie, croissant

          Differences in SPELLING
Major simplification of English spelling can be attributed to one of the most distinguished linguists of the 19th century America, Noah
Webster. This man authored the first dictionary of American English, which was first published in 1828. The changes he had made
(although many of the suggested changes have never been respected and were never used) reflected the practical/pragmatical and
anti-elitist spirit of the American public.

Here are the most basic differences between British and American spelling patterns which you are sure to find when reading works
originating on both sides of the Atlantic.

BrE                                                           AmE

colour, honour, labour, neighbour                             color, honor, labor, neighbor
behaviour                                                     behavior
                                                              spelling of Saviour has not changed, though
                                                              (religious talk has its own rules and often uses
                                                              grammar from the old times)

calibre, centre, fibre, theatre                               caliber, center, fiber, theater

travelled, cancelled, labelled                                traveled, canceled, labeled

kidnapped, worshipped                                       kidnaped, worshiped

skilful, wilful, enrolment                                  skillful, willful, enrollment

defence, offence, pretence                                  defense, offense, pretense

abridgement, judgement                                      abridgment, judgment

shy – shyer, sly – slyer                                    shy – shier, sly – slier

catalogue, dialogue, monologue                              catalog, dialog, monolog

enquire, enquiry, encase, enclose                           inquire, inquiry, incase, inclose

authorise, characterise, colonise,                          authorize, characterize, colonize
criticise, nationalise, realise, subsidise                  criticize, nationalize, realize, subsidize
                                                            (does not apply to comprise, despise, disguise,
ageing                                                      aging
cheque                                                      check
curb                                                        kerb
tsar                                                        czar
draught                                                     draft
grey                                                        gray
gypsy                                                       gipsy, gypsy
gaol                                                        jail
jewellery                                                   jewelry
mould                                                       mold
pyjamas                                                     pajamas
plough                                                      plow
programme                                                   program
sceptic                                                     skeptic
storey                                                      story (floor)
tyre                                                        tire
vice                                                        vise
waggon                                                      wagon
woollen                                                     woolen
worshipping                                                 worshiping

           James Russell Lowell
– 19th century man of letters in America
– in response to a rather savage attack upon the American version of English, he commented that “It was a great pity that our American
ancestors had nothing better to bring with them than the language of Shakespeare.” (Jamestown, the first permanent colony in Virginia
was settled in 1607, only 9 years before Shakespeare died. )

           Professor Randolf Quirk of University College, London:
– on the sometimes ignorance-based attitudes and fallacies of Brits towards Americans professor Quirk reiterates a story: My own
favourite (story) is one of the mid-nineteenth century when a fashionable Boston debutante was visiting London. She was at a society
ball one night and was dancing with a young British Guards officer and he made no attempt to conceal his admiration for her (which
was all right, of course), but equally he made no attempt to conceal his surprise at being with an American girl that he could
understand. He had the nerve to compliment her on her English and even went so far as to suppose that she must be unique among her

countrywomen in speaking English so well. To this, I’m glad to say, the young lady had the wit and presence of mind to reply, ‘Oh, yes,
but then I had unique advantages; there was an English missionary stationed near my tribe.’

        John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
– the author points out the differences which exist even among speakers of one variety, ie. American English:
Oklahoma man: I knowed you wasn’t Oklahoma Folk. You talk queer kinda. – Tht ain’t no blame, you understan’?
Arkansas woman: Ever’body says words different. Arkansas folks says ‘em different, and Oklahomy folks says ‘em different. And we
seen a lady from Massachusetts, an’ she said ‘em differentest of all. Couldn’ make out what she was sayin’.

        Professor H. Marckwardt of Princeton University to the hesitant and confused teachers:
“When foreign teachers are worried about which English they should teach – British or American – it seems to me that we’ve now
arrived at the point where we can say without hesitation: Teach the form that you know and that you have the resources to teach.”

        Professor Marckwardt commenting on those who intentionally use British accent:
… reminds me of a time I was sitting in a little lunch-room in the United States, and an American woman of some social pretensions
came in with her husband; when the waitress showed them a seat, she looked across the room and said (in what she clearly thought
was a superior accent) “Can’t [ka:nt] you put us over there?” But a couple of moments later, talking more naturally just to her husband,
I heard her say “Is it half [hæf] past six yet?” It sounded ridiculous to hear her mix her forms of language, though certainly she thought
that her [ka:nt] was better than her ordinary pronunciation as represented by [hæf].

        Professor Quirk:
Do you know that old one (joke) about the American lady who is supposed to have said to someone in England, ‘Do you have many
children?‘ and the reply was, ‘Oh no, only one every couple of years.‘ This rests on the rather dubious existence of a tendency in England
to use do in questions with the verb have only when habitual actions are referred to.

        Professor Marckwardt:
Well, then there’s the one about the Englishman coming to New York and trying to buy a saloon; he was directed to the government
bureau concerned with liquor licensing, because of course although he only wanted a car, he is supposed to have wanted to open a bar,
a pub.

Peprník, Jaroslav: Slovník amerikanismů, Praha 1982
Marckwardt A. – Quirk R.: A Common Language, Washington 1965
Baker D. – Varandíková E.: A Book of American Slang and Conversation, Ostrava 1994
Dreher, Hans: 2,000x Minuten-Training Amerian English, Munich 2000

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