British English Vs. American English: What’s The Difference?

As English speakers who are neither American nor British, we Indians sometimes find ourselves confused over the correct spelling or pronunciation of a particular word.

Officially, India follows the rules of British English, but due to greater exposure to American popular culture, our vocabulary has become mixed up. While neither variety of the language is better or worse, it is best to stick to one form while communicating, in order to avoid confusion.

 

America vs Britain Cultural Differences
It’s not just language that divides the two countries; cultural differences play a major role in it.

 

Here’s a look at the major differences between British and American English.

Vocabulary

While the differences in spelling and pronunciation are easy to note, you might not have picked up the differences in the vocabulary used in the UK and the US unless you have spent time in one of the places.

Some examples of British vs American vocabulary are “rubber” v/s “eraser”, “bill” v/s “check”, “full stop” v/s “period”, and “lift” v/s “elevator”.

British vs American sweets
They even have different names for the most common sweets.

 

Prepositions and Idioms

There are also notable differences in the use of certain prepositions and idioms.

You’ll find that while Brits play “in the basketball team”, Americans are “on the basketball team”. Other examples include “Monday to Friday” v/s “Monday through Friday”, and “talk to him” v/s “talk with him”.

Coming to idioms, while Brits “touch wood” for luck, Americans “knock on wood”. The British prefer to “sweep it under the carpet” instead of the  American proverbial “rug“.

Spelling

The differences in spellings are owed mainly to Noah Webster, who published An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, simplifying the spellings of many words in order to make them more logical and easier to pronounce.

In Webster’s dictionary, “colour” became “color”, “travelling” became “traveling”, “centre” became “center”, “apologise” became “apologize”, “defence” became “defense”, and “dialogue” became “dialog”.

Slang

Street slang, of course, is completely different in the two countries. But while the British have picked up “cool” American slang from popular culture, Americans are still largely ignorant of British slang due to lack of exposure.

Americans ask people to “get lost”, whereas Brits ask them to “get stuffed.” When you are “upset” or “exhausted” in America, you’d be considered “gutted” or “knackered” in Britain. If someone inquires the time at 8:30, a Brit would answer “half eight” instead of the American norm of “half past eight”.

Homographs

There are many English words which could get you in trouble if you’re in the wrong country because Brits and Americans have different meanings for the same words.

Homographs in American and British English
English probably wouldn’t be such a funny language if not for these homographs.

 

“Pissed”, for example, means “drunk” in the UK and “angry” in the US. In America, “fanny” is just a nice way to say “butt”, but in Britain it means “vagina”. When you “blow off” someone in America, you are ignoring them, but to “blow off” means to fart in the UK.

If you ask for “chips” in the UK, you’ll get french fries, whereas in America you’ll get potato crisps. Pulling up your “pants” in America just means pulling up your trousers, but when Brits say it, they are talking about underwear.

Pronunciation

Like any other language, English has its own standard form in addition to numerous regional accents. Therefore, pronunciation varies widely according to region in both countries. A difference of a few miles can make a big difference in how people speak English.

The sound of British and American English accents.
The sound of British and American English.

 

So, next time you get into a debate over the correct usage, spelling or pronunciation of a word, make sure both parties are clear as to which variant of English is being used as the reference point!


If you liked this article, you’d also like to read:

Merder of the English Tung

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here