British vs American English

British vs. American English: The age-old debate.

Here’s how the argument goes: The English language originated in Great Britain. Obviously British English is more correct than American English, right?

Wrong.

They’re simply different–and we’ll be taking a look at some of those differences today.

It would be natural to assume that England has preserved the real thing, and that America has corrupted the English language. The truth, though, is much more complicated. American English has actually preserved some words and expressions that were gradually forgotten in the British Isles. For example, Americans still use “fall” to refer to the season after summer; in UK, most people use “autumn.”

Another factor to keep in mind is that English has changed drastically over the past 1500+ years. What’s correct at one time is wrong at another. For example, the word “silly” originally meant “innocent.” Today it means foolish. Which is right? The answer is that both are correct – at different times in the history of the language.

But let’s stick to today’s subject: The differences between American and British English. Here are a few of the most important ones. You can learn more at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_American_and_British_English

Punctuation

  • The British tend to use more commas than Americans do, especially with introductory words and phrases.
  • In the UK, periods and commas are placed after quotation marks. In the US, periods and commas have to be placed inside.

Joe said, “Let’s go out for a pizza.”  AMERICAN

Joe said, “Let’s go out for a pizza”.  BRITISH

Incidentally, quotation marks are called inverted commas in the UK, and periods are called full stops.

WORD CHOICES

This chart lists some of the most common differences between British and American words:

American

British

vacation

holiday

diaper

nappy

cent

pence

toward

towards

among

amongst

while

whilst

hood (of a car)

bonnet

trunk (of a car)

boot

elevator

lift

truck

lorry

mail

post

soccer

football

Spelling

Noah Webster (1758 – 1843) was an American lexicographer and spelling reformer who simplified some English spellings. Those changes live on today. For example, the British centre became center, theatre became theater (although many American institutions still use theatre, as does The New Yorker magazine), colour became color. All right is often spelled alright in the UK, even in formal writing.

Usage

In the UK, collective nouns often take a plural verb: The team are ready to play. In the US, they rarely do. Technically a plural verb can be used to signify disagreement (The team are quarreling about the proposed new rules), but most American writers would simply write it this way: The team members are quarreling about the proposed new rules.

Slang

Common expressions can have very different meanings when you cross the ocean in either direction. In the US, knock up is a vulgar expression meaning to get a woman pregnant. In the UK, knocked up can mean tired; knock up can also refer to knocking on a door to wake someone up the morning.

Which is Better? Neither!

If you (like me!) speak American English, don’t apologize. Our version of our wonderful language is just as rich and valid as the British version. Different doesn’t necessarily translate into one-is-better-and-one-is-worse.

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