English vs. American

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One of the things tourists in England notice first is the way everyone around them is speaking. While there are certainly many more varieties of the English language, England is where it all began, and their general dialect is very distinctive. Still, it is often compared with American English, which is the other English dialect taught most often in English programs around the world. If you speak American English and are visiting England, it can be very helpful to know the differences. Even if you speak a different dialect altogether— such as Australian or New Zealand English, reading this can be useful if you are heading to England anytime soon.

Use of the Present Perfect

In British English, the present perfect tense is used to express a recent past action that is currently affecting the present. In American English, this is acceptable, but the past tense is used just as frequently if not more. This tense is not correct in British English. For example:

British English:
I've just seen him.

American English:
I just saw him OR I've just seen him.

Possession – Have v. Have Got

“Have” or “Have got” are both used to express possession in British English. Both are acceptable in each dialect, but “Have got” is more common in British English while “have” is more common in American English. For example:

British English:
Have you got your own house?

American English:
Do you have your own house?

Get v. Gotten

The past participle of the verb “get” is correctly “gotten” in American English. In British English, however, you’ll hear their correct language as “got.” For example:

British English:
He's got much better at playing football.

American English:
He's gotten much better at playing soccer.

Note that in this example, British English uses “football” while American English uses “soccer.” This leads us to the next section:

Vocabulary

The most noticeable differences by far between the British and American English dialects are in the specific words and vocabulary used. There are so many examples that can be used here, so many that it is near impossible to use them all in this space. So, here are ten noticeable differences:

1. Toilet
For Americans, this is the porcelain furniture, but for the British, this is the room that contains that porcelain furniture.

2. Quite
For Americans this means “very”, but for the British this means “somewhat”.

3. Homely
Americans use this to describe a plain, unattractive person, while English people use this term to describe something comfortable and like home.

4. Flat
In American English, this is a just descriptive word for a surface. It can also be this is British English, but it also is a noun that means “apartment.”

5. Pants
The British say “trousers” more often than Americans, but that’s not to say they don’t use the word “pants”. However, when they do use it, it more often refers to underwear, as in “underpants”. That never happens in American English.

6. Dumb
This more commonly means “mute” in British English, but in American English, it’s more commonly a term for “stupid”.

7. Fag
While in American English this is a derogatory term, in British English it most often means “cigarette”.

8. Republican
British republicans would like the United Kingdom to be a republic instead of a monarchy, and they are likely left wing politically, while an American Republican is almost synonymous with conservatism socially and fiscally.

9. Subway
While the New York City subway is a railway running beneath the city’s streets, in London it refers to a pedestrian path beneath them.

10. Half 
“Half-eight” in British English means “8:30”. This terminology is practically nonexistent in American English.

Spelling

Aside from word differences, spelling between American and British English is noticeably different in certain situations. For example:

Words ending in the American “or” typically ends in “our” in British English— color/colour, flavor/flavor, humor/humour, etc.


Words ending in the American “ize” become “ise” in British English—recognize/recognise, patronize/patronise, realize/realise etc.

Past Simple/Past Participles

Certain verbs have two acceptable forms of the past simple/past participle in both American and British English, but in British English the “t” is more commonly used to end verbs while in American English, “ed” is preferred. For example:

British English:
He dreamt that he burnt it.

American English:
He dreamed that he burned it.

Distinguishing between dialects may not appear all that important, but the more time you spend in England, the more important it becomes. The English itself is the same language, but as you can see there are differences. If, for example, you are an American student studying at a British university, you’ll need to spell and use grammar as the Brits do. Additionally, using slang that is appropriate in one country may not be appropriate in the other, so choose carefully.