#TipforTuesday – British or American English?




The English language is spoken by approximately 1.5 billion people around the world. Often referred to as the global language, English finds itself localised, colloquialised, mixed in with native tongues and absorbing words from other languages. A bit of a mongrel language, English is made up of German, Latin, French, and a whole host of other regions. Did you know for example, that ‘mattress’ and ‘algorithm’ originate from Arabic whilst ‘shampoo’ and ‘pyjamas’ originate from India? In its current form however, English tends to be taught in one of two versions, British English or American English. Although on the surface both seem relatively similar, there are many differences which make teaching one or the other highly important.


Why is British and American English different?


The difference between British and American English has a lot to do with politics and a lot to do with wanting to be different – but not too different. Many of the first settlers in America travelling over from the UK were poor labourers or those who opposed the Church of England who wanted to take the chance and make a life for themselves across the pond. They spread themselves out around the country and quickly developed communities, continuing to use English but developing their own regional accents.


As English developed in Britain, with different language trends such as French becoming the language of the elite and educated, and those in the south choosing to drop an elongated ‘r’ sound at the end of words, such as ‘fatherrrr’ or pronouncing ‘a’ in ‘bath’ like ‘ah’, those in America continued to use the original form of English. Some historians believe that across North America, the English used is actually an older form than that in Britain which has undergone so much transformation.


When it came to American independence in 1776, America wanted to continue to use the language of commerce, English, but make the language their own, splitting off from English and forging their own identity. Noah Webster, seeing the importance of language and independence, took it upon himself to create the Webster Dictionary, full of English words with new, adapted spelling and word which were seen as distinctly American. His dictionary was hugely influential and is still the most popular American English dictionary today.


Although many former colonies of the UK learn British English, often times it is hard to track exactly when American or British English is used, and often even the British sometimes don’t know when something has been Americanised. With the proliferation of Hollywood films, American pop songs and American literature, the boundary between both can seem a little hazy. Differences aren’t just a few words like ‘elevator’ and ‘lift’, or spelling, such as ‘through’ and ‘thru’, but also grammatically and structurally – not to mention pronunciation. Both are fine to be taught at IQBar, but Breadies choose which they would like to learn - for Buddies at IQBar who are native speakers, but not from Britain or America, it’s important to be able to identify exactly which English you are speaking. Sometimes it may surprise you!




Grammatical differences


Formal speech – British English is more likely to use the formal speech than in American English. An example is ‘shall’, as in ‘we shall dance’ or ‘shall we call a taxi?’, whereas Americans will instead use ‘will’ or ‘should’.


‘Whilst’ is another word that is used by British English users, but one not found in American English. ‘Whilst I was out, the postman delivered a package.’ In America ‘while’ would suffice here.


Collective nouns – In American English, collective nouns are considered singular, for example, one could say ‘the choir is singing’, whereas in British English, the plural form is most often used ‘the choir are singing’.


'Gotten' – One Americanism that has seeped into British English in recent years is the use of ‘gotten’, the past tense of got. In British English, it should be ‘I got’, however now we see an amalgamation of ‘I have gotten’ or ‘I had gotten’ which for some reason can infuriate British English teachers!






Perhaps the most obvious difference between British and American English is pronunciation, particularly between the hard a sound found in American ‘tomato’ like ‘tom-ay-to’ compared to the British ‘tom-ah-to’.





The British Council has put together and excellent list of the different spellings and pronunciations between American and British English which you can find below:


British English

American English

-oe-/-ae- (e.g. anaemia, diarrhoea, encyclopaedia)

-e- (e.g. anemia, diarrhea, encyclopedia)

-t (e.g. burnt, dreamt, leapt)

-ed (e.g. burned, dreamed, leaped)

-ence (e.g. defence, offence, licence)

-ense (defense, offense, license)

-ell- (e.g. cancelled, jeweller, marvellous)

-el- (e.g. canceled, jeweler, marvelous)

-ise (e.g. appetiser, familiarise, organise)

-ize (e.g. appetizer, familiarize, organize)

-l- (e.g. enrol, fulfil, skilful)

-ll- (e.g. enroll, fulfill, skillfull)

-ogue (e.g. analogue, monologue, catalogue)

-og (e.g. analog, monolog, catalog)

*Note that American English also recognizes words spelled with –ogue

-ou (e.g. colour, behaviour, mould)

-o (e.g. color, behavior, mold)

-re (e.g. metre, fibre, centre)

-er (e.g. meter, fiber, center)

-y- (e.g. tyre)

-i- (e.g. tire)





British English

American English





bonnet (the front of the car)


boot (the back of the car)













French fries



fizzy drink

















So let us know what you think! Are you a British English speaker or an American English speaker? Which do you think is better? Comment below or send us an email at socialmedia@iqbar.co.uk!





2019-01-23 01:27


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