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?


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 these links:


  • The British tend to use more commas than Americans do, especially with introductory words and phrases.
  • The British often use ‘inverted commas’ for quotations.
  • In the UK, periods are called full stops.
  •  In the US, periods and commas have to be placed inside quotation marks:

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

The UK uses a different system and offers several choices for quotations and direct speech. You can learn more here:


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















hood (of a car)


trunk (of a car)











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.


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.


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.


2 thoughts on “British vs American English

  1. Jaime Stewart

    You’re not correct about the use of inverted commas/quotation marks in British English. We put the comma AFTER the quotation marks if we are quoting something (as is often the case with, for example, the writing of history), but BEFORE the quotation marks when reporting speech, as one tends to do when writing a fictional story. Hence:

    Joe said, “Let’s go out for a pizza.”
    Alice replied, “Yes, let’s.” BUT
    When Joe said “Let’s go out for a pizza”, he was not thinking of a sourdough pizza.

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Hi, Jaime! Thanks for the comment. Over the years I’ve had a number of discussions about quotation marks with British friends. The consensus seems to be that…there is no consensus. British books I’ve examined are just as confusing. For example, I just leafed through a book published by the Cambridge University Press in 2015. All punctuation is outside, even with direct quotes, and only inverted commas are used.
    I just went to the grammar website for Sussex University. It explains that inverted commas used to be the default punctuation in the UK, but double quotation marks (American style) are becoming more common.
    It also explains that there are two ways of punctuating quotations and direct speech. One option is placing everything outside, no matter what. The other option is placing it inside sometimes and outside sometimes. Here’s an example: “The only thing we have to fear”, said Franklin Roosevelt, “is fear itself.”
    You can read more here:
    Your feedback made me realize that this quotation marks issue is more complicated than I’d thought! I revised my post. Here’s the link – feedback is welcome!

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