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How British English and US English are Different?

54 states declare English as their national language. Nevertheless, English is commonly associated with the United Kingdom and the USA (by the way, 31 of the States build more than half of all English-speaking State formations).

That's ultimately British and US regulations and rules of written and spoken English that underline teaching English as a second language outside these two countries. For instance, in Russia, CIS International School offers British study programs (please call to learn more on terms of enrolment for children of various ages from kindergarten with native English-speaking nurses).

It is well known, that there are significant differences between American and British variants of English. What are these differences and how did they emerge?

Historic Reference - Where British English and US English Come From?

The base of the West-German language which we now call English comprises of Anglo-Frisian dialect that was brought to Britain by Germanic conquerors back in the 5th - 7th centuries AD. During the next two centuries, its development had been highly dependent on North-German colonisers, and it was not before the Middle Ages that the spelling system which is used to this day was established. It's thought that it can be said of the so-called Shakespeare's language starting from the 16th century, and the modern language that we now speak. has evolved late in the 17th century.

The distribution of this language tool across the globe was boosted by British colonialism, and the new continent of America fell under this influence. Although the United States of America could defend its independence by the end of the 18th century, it was the English language that came shining with glorious victory out of the American melting pot and became one of the unifying icons of the rising nation.

However, US English isn't the same as British English on every language level - English which is spoken in the US has a range of distinctive traits that were influenced by various internal and external factors.

Pronunciation and Spelling Difference Between British English and US English

The most obvious source of difference is phonetics because spelling out and intonation help us to define which variant of the language is used by the person you are talking to. The most common examples of US English:

  • presence (or at least the hint of presence) of [r] after a vowel (its disappearance in such words as 'part' or 'girl' is an exact trait of British English);
  • omitting [j] in such words like 'Tuesday' or 'tune' (in the US, they pronounce it like 'toosday', 'toon');
  • reduction of vowels (it is thought that the "noble" British pronounce is linked with the prolonged sound of vowels).

The difference between British and US English is not limited to just pronunciation because, after all, different grammar norms significantly influence speech, and there are plenty of these distinctions.

Grammar for the Brits and for the Americans

In the view of grammar rules, US English tends to be more simplistic. For example, Americans seem to be not bothered to use all 16 classic tenses; even with more traditional tense makers such as 'already' or 'just' they can easily use Past Simple instead of mandatory British Present Perfect, and ditto regarding Past Perfect.

This simplification can also be observed in the following areas:

  • building conditional sentences and subordinate clauses of orders (for the last, they often use subjunctive);
  • verbs can be transitive and completed, arbitrary usage of auxiliary verbs;
  • specific usage of adverbs, prepositions, and articles (such as denial to use the mandatory for the Brits definite article 'the' in the structures such as 'play piano', 'tell time');
  • coordination of substantives (for example, using singularia tantumnouns exclusively in singular).

Derivation rules also differ. This includes the formation of adverbs that describe a habit to do something at a specific time by adding suffix -s to nouns that have the meaning days of the week, the time of day, months, and etc. (morning, Wednesday, weekend).

Now, spoken variants are increasingly used in US English with reduced forms that are not allowed in British English. For example, instead of 'I want to' they can use 'I wanna' or instead of 'I got to' they can use 'I gotta'.

British Vs US Vocabulary

The difference between the aforementioned languages is even more significant in the area of vocabulary. Firstly, American English vocabulary is profound with neologisms and includes a lot of abbreviations.

The following three variety of vocabulary units can be classified to compare US and British English:

1. basic word stock includes the words that match in both variants in their meaning (and there is the absolute majority of them);

2. general concepts that can be expressed by two different words, for example:

  American  British   
квартира    аpartment  flat   
аккумулятор    battery  accumulator   
жареный (мясо)    broiled  grilled   
печенье    cookie    biscuit 


3. words and phrases that do not have equivalents (for example, American expression meaning 'become angry' (to fly into rage) has nothing in common with British expression 'to blow one's top' and they would say about a stolen car in the US 'to take over … by force', while in the United Kingdom they use the verb 'hijack').

However, now the Americanisms are increasingly infiltrating the British vocabulary and often the difference in the word stock can be hardly traced.

Conclusions - Should We Learn Both Variants of English?

This is a serious and disputed question, and the response depends on the goals of learning English. Of course, for immigration purposes it is a good idea to choose the variant which is preferred in the destination country, and in case you have other goals there are some options.

When you are proficient in both dialects, you have obvious benefits:

  • improving your chance to fit into any live conversation with native speakers;
  • learning various language nuances that sharpen the picture of something you have read, heard, or watched (in books, films, songs, video blogs, and more.);
  • minimizing the lost-in-translation instances when communicating with people that came from different continents.
  • It should be noted that those who speak both dialects can better understand each other so ultimately that's the quality of the learning that is more important and not just the choice between the US and British English.

    That is why priority should be given to the organisations where professional teachers are engaged in the educational process (ideally, native speakers) and all learning materials meet the requirements of the appropriate application education program.

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