3 Differences Between American and British English Explained for Students in ESL Courses

ESL courses

There are many different accents and dialects of English. Two of the most common are American English and British English. If you study English, the good news is that American and British English are very similar. While each one has some unique aspects, American English speakers and British English speakers can usually easily understand each other.

As you advance in your English studies, you should be aware of some of the biggest differences between American and British English. Let’s look at three of the most important differences below.

1. British and American English Have Some Spelling Variations

American and British English feature some spelling differences. However, these differences are very small. For example, in British English, a number of words use ‘-ise’ at the end, like ‘organise’, ‘familiarise’, and ‘itemise’. In American English, ‘-ise’ is often replaced with ‘-ize’, so Americans spell the above three words as ‘organize’, ‘familiarize’, and ‘itemize’. Also, in British English, some words are spelt with an ‘-ou’, but in American English the ‘u’ is dropped. For example, ‘colour’, ‘behaviour’, and ‘mould’ are British spellings, but in America these words are spelled ‘color’, ‘behavior’, and ‘mold’. Also, in Britain you would write ‘centre’, ‘enrol’, ‘jeweller’, and ‘licence’, but in America you would write ‘center’, ‘enroll’, ‘jeweler’, and ‘license’.

American and British English have some small spelling differences

American and British English have some small spelling differences

2. Students in ESL Courses Should Watch Out for Vocabulary Differences

British and American people sometimes have completely different words for the same thing. For example, in Britain the front of a car is a ‘bonnet’, but in America it is a ‘hood’. In America, people live in ‘apartments’, but in Britain apartments are called ‘flats’. Americans wear ‘pants’ and ‘sweaters’, but British people wear ‘trousers’ and ‘jumpers’. If you need medicine, you go to the ‘drugstore’ in America, but to the ‘chemist’ in Britain.

The words ‘football’ and ‘chips’ are especially tricky! In Britain you play a game of ‘football’, which in America is called ‘soccer’. But Americans also say ‘football’, except it refers to a game that is closer to rugby. If you asked for ‘crisps’ in Britain, you’d get what are called ‘chips’ in America. But British people do say ‘chips’, except in Britain ‘chips’ are what Americans call ‘French fries’! While these differences can be confusing for students in ESL courses, don’t worry too much about them. Even native English speakers sometimes get confused about British and American vocabulary, but they can still communicate without any major problems.

In America, these are called ‘chips’, but in Britain they’re called ‘crisps’

In America, these are called ‘chips’, but in Britain they’re called ‘crisps’

3. Grammatical Differences Between British and American English Are Rarer

Fortunately, grammatical differences between British and American English are less common than vocabulary differences. There are a few that you should keep in mind, however. For example, Americans often say ‘gotten’ as the past participle of ‘get’. In Britain, ‘gotten’ is rarely used and instead ‘got’ is more common. For example, when studying English courses in California you may hear the cashier at the grocery store ask you, “Have you gotten what you need?” but in Britain you are more likely to hear “Have you got what you need?”

British people also tend to use ‘shall’ to refer to things that will be or should be done in the future. For example, a British person might say, “I shall call my mother today.” In America, however, ‘shall’ sounds very formal and old-fashioned. Instead, you’re more likely to hear “I will call my mother today” or “I’m going to call my mother today.” These grammatical differences are fairly minor, however. Just remember that there is more in common between British and American English than there are differences!

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