The 45 Most Important Differences Between American and British English

My students often ask me about the differences between American and British English.

Every language variety and every dialect can seem a bit unfamiliar, so it all depends on your perspective.

In this article, I’ll help you get started with the differences between the two!

Contents

Pronunciation Differences Between American and British English

Even native speakers don’t understand other dialects of English 100%, especially when it comes to slang words. 

Still, there are some general differences between the two accents, and it’s good to know them.

Remember, these are just general differences.

There are many differences between accents in the United States, and there are even more differences between various British accents.

1. The letter “r” at the end of a word

This is one of the first differences people notice between different dialects of English.

If there is a letter “r” at the end of a word, it’s usually pronounced in American English. In most dialects of British English, it’s not pronounced.

Some examples are words like “computer,” “clever” and “brother.” 

Note that most dialects will generally pronounce r’s at the beginning of a word, like in “red” or my name, “Ryan.”

2. The letter “r” in the middle of a word

The r’s in the middle of a word are usually noticeably softer and harder to hear in British English as well. In American English, they’re a bit clearer.

Some examples include “large,” “work,” “park” and “turn.” 

Note that the “r” sound in the middle of some words will always be pronounced, no matter the dialect! This is the case in words like “barrier or “parent.”

3. The letter “t” as a double consonant

Another common characteristic of American English is to make different sounds, usually with the letter “t” or two t’s, sound more like a “d.”

In British English, this is less common, and the t’s are usually more clearly pronounced.

In American English, “bitter” sounds basically the same as “bidder,” which is a completely different word. For more examples, listen to the differences in “litter,” “better” and “butter.”

4. The letter “t” after the letter “n”

Another time when American English speakers don’t pronounce t’s is when the “t” follows the letter “n.” A typical example is the word “international.”

If a British person said that, you would probably hear the first “t.” But many Americans would eliminate and it would sound more like “innernational.”

Notice that this is also most common in casual speech. If Americans are speaking formally or trying to speak as clearly as possible, then they might pronounce the t’s clearly, like in the case of “international.”

5. The letter “a” in general

Many vowels also sound different, but the most common difference that people notice is with the letter “a” in some words.

There is a phonetic sound [æ] that’s basically an “a” and an “e” combined into one letter. This sound is very common in American English, but not in British English.

So a word like “dance,” “after” or “mathematics” will sound very different in British and American English. It’s hard to describe the difference, though, so you should listen to them to hear the difference for yourself.

Grammar Differences Between American and British English

In general, there aren’t many grammar differences between British English and American English.

In fact, if English isn’t your native language, there’s a good possibility that you won’t even notice the differences. Instead, you’ll probably notice the pronunciation and vocabulary differences much more.

Still, there are some differences, so if you’re an advanced English speaker, you’ve maybe noticed some of them in this section.

For today, I just want to focus on a few things that my students recognize most frequently. 

6. have — have got — got

In general British English conversation, they use the verb phrase “have got,” but American English simply uses “have.”

British EnglishAmerican English
I have got a car.I have a car.

This makes the question formats differ, as well.

British EnglishAmerican English
Have you got a car?Do you have a car?

There’s also a strong tendency in American English to say “I got” to mean “I have.” Generally this is not considered correct grammar.

This probably comes from quickly saying “I’ve got,” and not clearly pronouncing the “‘ve” part. So it becomes “I got,” like in the phrase “I got a car.” 

For an American English speaker, this could mean that I have a car right now, or that I got (bought) a car sometime in the past.

7. got — gotten

Most past tense verbs are the same in British and American English, but there are a few exceptions (also see the next section). The most common exception is the past participle of the verb “to get.”

In American English, the past participle of “to get” is usually “gotten,” but in British English, it’s “got.”

British EnglishAmerican English
get - got - gotget - got - gotten

So let’s imagine that your coworker Tony called you earlier in the day. Now imagine your boss asks you, “Hey, has Tony called you yet today?” This is how the two responses would look:

British EnglishAmerican English
I've already got a call from him.I've already gotten a call from him.

Note that there is usually the same difference with the verb “to forget.” In American English, it would be forget-forgot-forgotten, but in British, it would be forget-forgot-forgot.

8. Past tense verbs ending in “-t” and “-ed” 

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:

InfinitivePast Simple or Past Participle
looklooked
pushpushed
pullpulled

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

VerbBritish EnglishAmerican English
burnburntburned
dreamdreamtdreamed
learnlearntlearned

Note that in British English, there are usually two options. For example, you could say “burnt” or “burned” in British English, but “burnt” is more common.

In American English, you only use the “-ed” past tense form for these verbs.

9. Spelling of “-our” vs “-or”

These words are generally pronounced exactly the same. You’ll only notice these differences if you’re reading or writing English.

A few words are spelled “-our” in British English. In American English, there’s no “u.” 

British EnglishAmerican English
colourcolor
flavourflavor
favourfavor
favouritefavorite
neighbourneighbor

10. Spelling of “-ise” vs “-ize” 

Other places the spelling is different is with words like “organise” that are usually spelled with an “-ise” in British English.

In American English, they would be “organize” with a “-ize” instead.

British EnglishAmerican English
organiseorganize
realiserealize
recogniserecognize
sympathisesympathize
optimiseoptimize

11. Single vs double consonants

Some words in British English have two consonants in a row, but the same words in American English only have one consonant. 

This is often the case with the letter “l.” In British English, often two are used, while in American English there is only one.

British EnglishAmerican English
travelledtraveled
cancelledcanceled
modelledmodeled
labelledlabeled
signalledsignaled

12. Prepositions

As a quick reminder, a preposition is a word that shows the relationship between two nouns. Prepositions can be words like “at,” “in,” “under,” “on,” etc.

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

British EnglishAmerican English
at the weekendon the weekend
different todifferent from
wait on linewait in line
Monday to SaturdayMonday through Saturday

Vocabulary Differences Between American and British English

Vocabulary is the area that causes perhaps the most confusion in communication between native speakers.

I want to focus on the 33 most common ones I’ve noticed in my personal experience as an English teacher and English speaker.

If you’re learning American English but are planning a visit to Great Britain (or vice-versa), then these are some of the differences you’re most likely to notice. 

British EnglishAmerican EnglishDefinitions
aeroplaneairplanean aircraft or flying mode of transportation
biscuitcookie
a sweet baked dessert made out of flour and sugar
chemistdrugstore
pharmacy
a place where you can buy medicine or other small household items
chipsfrench fries
fries
long pieces of fried potatoes
crispschipsfried potatoes, but much smaller, thinner and round
dustbintrashcan
garbage can
a container where you can put your garbage, trash or waste
cinemamovie theatera place where you can watch movies in public
filmmoviemoving images on a screen that tell a story
fizzy drinksoda
pop
carbonated drinks that usually are sweet
flatapartmenta small rented home in a larger building
footballsoccera sport in which two teams use their feet to score goals with a ball
holidayvacationa trip to a different place as a break from school or work
jumpersweater
sweatshirt
a piece of clothing with long sleeves that you wear on the top of your body
liftelevatora machine that takes you from one floor of a building to another
lorrytruck
a large vehicle that can carry cargo
mathsmathabbreviation for "mathematics"
mobile phonecell phonea small portable phone
nappydiapera thing babies wear so they don't poop and pee all over the place
pantsunderwear
panties
a piece of clothing for your private area
trouserspantsa piece of clothing that covers your legs
pavementsidewalka place where people can walk, between the street and the buildings
petrolgasolinefuel that most cars use
postmailletters that are hand-delivered
pramstrollera small chair on wheels that you push around to transport a baby
queuelinea group of people that form a line to wait for a service or to enter a place
to ringto callto use the telephone to contact someone
rubbererasera small object that you rub on paper to remove pencil marks or mistakes
sweet(s)candytreats that are made out of sugar
toilet (general)
loo (informal)
bathroom (private)
restroom (public)
a room that has at least a toilet
trainerssneakers
tennis shoes
athletic shoes
the underground
the Tube (London)
the subwaythe transportation system of trains in underground tunnels
wardrobecloseta large piece of furniture where you can store your hanging clothes
z ("zed")z ("zee")the last letter of the English alphabet

 

So there you go! I hope that you learned something or that you thought something was interesting. Happy speaking and happy travels!

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe

Close