American English versus British English

Many of you will be very familiar with American TV, but perhaps less so with British TV – although you can probably tell the difference with the accents.

What sort of English do you want to learn? Is American better – or the British version – which is where English originated from?

Which pronunciation or accent is better?

Remember the song from "My Fair Lady" as Henry Higgins deplores the state of Britain's English pronunciations ... "why can't the English teach their children how to speak? ..... why in America they haven't spoken it for years!" (paraphrased)


Should you use British English (where the language originated from) OR American English (a country that has a lot more people speaking English than Britain?

What sort of English do you want to learn?


It is your choice – either is correct – just be consistent and use one or the other.

There is actually very little difference – some spellings and a few grammar points – the main difference is in pronunciations and accents.

The same idea or principle applies to other native English speaking countries – Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and so on.

Even in England, there are variations in pronunciation from place to place – which can be confusing to a person who visits England or watches British TV – even native speakers like me. Likewise in America – the people in the South sound quite different than a New Yorker for instance.

What I recommend is that you don’t try to speak English like an American, or an Englishman. Rather try to learn to speak English correctly and well – with your own accent! After all many of you are from countries you can be proud of – and in many cases have a history and culture far older than ours in the countries that are native English speakers.

In addition, most native English speakers like to hear English spoken with an accent – provided your pronunciation is clear, and the grammar generally correct. Your own accent makes it more interesting to listen to! For example, I like English spoken by the Irish – while English is their native language – to my ear it is spoken with an accent.

So be yourself – learn and enjoy English. In written English the few differences between American and British English will not usually concern people you work for or teachers at your university.

Some of those differences

      British / American
      chemist / pharmacist
      lift / elevator
      tap / faucet
      bonnet / hood (of a car)
      boot / trunk (of a car)
      windscreen / windshield (of a car)
      biscuit / cookie
      scone / biscuit
      wardrobe / closet
      lollies or sweets / candy
      torch / flashlight
      flat / apartment
      jam / jelly
      jelly / jello
      mobile phone / cell phone
      tyre / tire
      garbage / trash
      nappies / diapers
      holiday / vacation
      rubber / eraser
      condom / rubber
      centre / center
      antenna / aerial
      autumn / fall

Moot: In British English it means debatable; worth arguing about.

In American English it means ‘null and void’ that is, there is nothing to debate, it’s finished with.

Often words ending in ‘ise’ in British English have an ‘ize’ ending in American English

Realise / realize; emphasise/emphasize; tyre/tire;

Likewise words ending in ‘or’ have an ‘our’ ending in British English

Colour/color; flavour/flavor; favourite/favorite; humour/humor

Most computers will have the dictionary set for American English – so it will show as an error if you use British English – as mine does as I write this. Ignore or change your dictionary setting.

Anecdotes abound about the misunderstandings that arise when foreigners come to the United States thinking that they know the language. • In one anecdote, a young man, in the course of a passionate courtship, tells his American girlfriend, "I'll give you a ring tomorrow." All he meant was that he would call her by telephone. But she understood him to have offered betrothal, and the relationship didn't survive the misunderstanding.

In Britain, one concludes a restaurant meal by asking for the bill, and conceivably paying by cheque; in America, one asks for the check and pays with bills.

Try this link – it ‘translates’ British English into American and American into British

You can also Google “American English versus British English” and find lots more information

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