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  1. African American Vernacular English
  2. American and British English differences
  3. American and British English pronunciation differences
  4. American English
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  17. Century Dictionary
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  19. Dictionary of American Regional English
  20. English-language vowel changes before historic l
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  23. Inland Northern American English
  24. Intervocalic alveolar flapping
  25. List of British idioms
  26. List of British words not widely used in the United States
  27. L-vocalization
  28. Maine-New Hampshire English
  29. Names of numbers in English
  30. New Jersey English
  31. New York dialect
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  33. Nigga
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  35. North American regional phonology
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  38. Northern cities vowel shift
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  43. Phonological history of English low back vowels
  44. Phonological history of English short A
  45. Pittsburgh English
  46. Pronunciation respelling for English
  47. Regional vocabularies of American English
  48. Rhotic and non-rhotic accents
  49. Southern American English
  50. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
  51. The American Language
  52. Tidewater accent
  53. Utah English
  54. Vermont English
  55. Whilst
  56. Y'all
  57. Yat
  58. Yooper dialect

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American and British English differences

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


This is one of a series of articles about the differences between American English and British English, which, for the purposes of these articles, are defined as follows:

  • American English (AmE) is the form of English used in the United States.
  • British English (BrE) is the form of English used in the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Isles. It includes all English dialects used within the British Isles.

American English in its written form is standardized across the U.S. (and in schools abroad specializing in American English). Though not devoid of regional variations, particularly in pronunciation and vernacular vocabulary, American speech is somewhat uniform throughout the country, largely because of the influence of mass communication and geographical and social mobility in the United States. After the American Civil War, the settlement of the western territories by migrants from the east led to dialect mixing and levelling, so that regional dialects are most strongly differentiated in the eastern part of the country that were settled earlier. The General American accent and dialect (sometimes called 'Standard Midwestern'), often used by newscasters, are traditionally regarded as the unofficial standard for American English.

British English has a reasonable degree of uniformity in its formal written form. On the other hand, the forms of spoken English – dialects, accents and vocabulary – used across the British Isles vary considerably more than in any other English-speaking areas of the world, and more so than in the United States, because of a much longer history of dialect development in the English speaking areas of Great Britain and Ireland. Dialects and accents vary, not only between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (which constitute the United Kingdom), and the Republic of Ireland, but also within these individual countries. There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in any particular region. Received Pronunciation (RP) (also referred to as BBC English or the Queen's English) has traditionally been regarded as 'proper English' – 'the educated spoken English of south-east England'. The BBC and other broadcasters now intentionally use a mix of presenters with a variety of British accents and dialects, and the concept of 'proper English' is now far less prevalent.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world; for instance, the English-speaking members of the Commonwealth of Nations often (if not usually) closely follow British orthography, and many new Americanisms quickly become familiar outside of the United States. Although the dialects of English used in the former British Empire are often, to various extents, fairly close to standard British English, most of the countries concerned have developed their own unique dialects, particularly with respect to pronunciation, idioms, and vocabulary; chief among them are, at least for number of first-language speakers, Australian English and Canadian English.

Historical background

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in the late 16th century. Similarly, the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British colonization elsewhere and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, held sway over a population of about 470–570 million people: approximately a quarter of the world's population.

Over the past 400 years, the form of the language used in the Americas – especially in the United States – and that used in the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Isles have diverged in many ways, leading to the dialects now commonly referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, lexis, spelling, punctuation, idioms, formatting of dates and numbers, and so on, with a small number of words having completely different meanings between the two dialects or even being unknown or not used in one of the dialects. One particular contribution towards formalizing these differences came from Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary (published 1828) with the intention of showing that the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain.

This divergence between American English and British English once caused George Bernard Shaw to say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language"; a similar comment is ascribed to Winston Churchill. Likewise, Oscar Wilde wrote, "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language" (The Canterville Ghost, 1888). Henry Sweet predicted in 1877 that within a century, American English, Australian English and British English would be mutually unintelligible. It may be the case that increased world-wide communication through radio, television, the Internet, and globalization has reduced the tendency to regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct (as, for instance, truck has been gradually replacing lorry in much of the world) or in the acceptance of wide variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere. Often at the core of the dialect though, the idiosyncrasies remain.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that although spoken American and British English are generally mutually intelligible, there are enough differences to cause occasional misunderstandings or at times embarrassment – for example, some words that are quite innocent in one dialect may be considered vulgar in the other.


Main article: American and British English pronunciation differences


Formal and notional agreement

In BrE, collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is, respectively, on the body as a whole or on the individual members; compare a committee was appointed ... with the committee were unable to agree ...[1][2] Some of these nouns, for example staff,[3] actually combine with plural verbs most of the time.

In AmE, collective nouns are usually singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree ... AmE however may use plural pronouns in agreement with collective nouns: the team take their seats, rather than the team takes its seat(s). However, such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats.

The difference occurs for all collective nouns, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example, where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,

BrE: The Clash are a well-known band; AmE: The Clash is a well known band.
BrE: Indianapolis are the champions; AmE: Indianapolis is the champion.

Proper nouns which are plural in form take a plural verb in both AmE and BrE; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Colts are the champions.


Verb morphology

See also: List of English irregular verbs
  • The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell (only in the word-related sense), burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). BrE allows both irregular and regular forms, but the irregular forms tend to be used more often by the British (especially by speakers using Received Pronunciation), and in some cases (learnt, smelt, leapt) there is still a strong tendency to use them; in other cases (for example, dreamed), in current British usage, the regular form is more common. The forms with -ed are preferred by many careful writers of English since they are regular verbs. In AmE, the irregular forms are never or hardly ever used (except for leapt and dreamt).
    Nonetheless, as with other usages considered nowadays to be typically British, the t endings are often found in older American texts. However, usage may vary when the past participles are actually adjectives, as in burnt toast. (Note that the two-syllable form learnèd /'lɜːnɪd/, usually written simply as learned, is still used as an adjective to mean "educated", or to refer to academic institutions, in both BrE and AmE.) Finally, the past tense and past participle of dwell and kneel are more commonly dwelt and knelt on both sides of the Atlantic, although dwelled and kneeled are widely used in the U.S. (but not in the UK).
  • Lit as the past tense of light is more common than lighted in the UK; the regular form enjoys more use in the U.S., although it is somewhat less common than lit. By contrast, fit as the past tense of fit is much more used in AmE than BrE, which generally favours fitted.
  • The past tense of spit "expectorate" is spat in BrE, spit or spat in AmE.[4]
  • The past participle gotten is rarely used in modern BrE (although it is used in some dialects), which generally uses got, except in old expressions such as ill-gotten gains. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "The form gotten is not used in BrE but is very common in North American English, though even there it is often regarded as non-standard." In AmE, gotten emphasizes the action of acquiring and got tends to indicate simple possession (for example, Have you gotten it? versus Have you got it?). Interestingly, AmE, but not BrE, has forgot as a less common alternative to forgotten for the past participle of forget.
  • The past participle proven is frequently used in AmE, although some speakers avoid it, and it remains[citation needed] proved in BrE (except in adjectival use; and usage is different in Scots law).
  • AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove) or sneak (snuck), and often mixes the preterite and past participle forms (springsprang (U.S. also sprungsprung), sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrankshrunk) to have a further form, thus shrunkshrunken. These uses are often considered nonstandard; the AP Stylebook in AmE treats some irregular verbs as colloquialisms, insisting on the regular forms for the past tense of dive, plead and sneak. Dove and snuck are usually considered nonstandard in Britain, although dove exists in some British dialects and snuck is occasionally found in British speech.
  • By extension of the irregular verb pattern, verbs with irregular preterites in some variants of colloquial AmE also have a separate past participle, for example, "to buy": past tense bought spawns boughten. Such formations are highly irregular from speaker to speaker, or even within idiolects. This phenomenon is found chiefly in the northern U.S. and other areas where immigrants of German descent are predominant, and may have developed as a result of German influence.[1] Even in areas where the feature predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as "standard" usage.

Use of tenses

  • BrE uses the present perfect tense to talk about an event in the recent past and with the words already, just and yet. In American usage, these meanings can be expressed with the present perfect (to express a fact[citation needed]) or the simple past (to imply an expectation[citation needed]). This American style has become widespread only in the past 20 to 30 years; the "British" style is still in common use as well.
    • "I've just got(ten) home." / "I just got home."
    • "I've already eaten." / "I already ate."

(Recently the American use of just with simple past has made inroads into BrE, most visibly in advertising slogans and headlines such as "Cable broadband just got faster".)

  • Similarly, the pluperfect is occasionally replaced by the preterite in the U.S.[citation needed]; this is generally regarded as sloppy usage by those Americans who consider themselves careful users of the language. U.S. usage sometimes substitutes the conditional for the pluperfect ("If I would have cooked the pie we could have had it for lunch")[citation needed].
  • In BrE, have got or have can be used for possession and have got to and have to can be used for the modal of necessity. The forms which include got are usually used in informal contexts and the forms without got in more formal contexts. In American speech the form without got is used more than in the UK. AmE also informally uses got as a verb for these meanings, for example, "I got two cars," "I got to go"; but these are nonstandard and will be considered sloppy usage by most American speakers.
  • The subjunctive mood is more common in AmE in expressions such as: "They suggested that he apply for the job". BrE would have "They suggested that he should apply for the job" (or even "They suggested that he applied for the job", although this last sentence can be ambiguous). However, the British usage ("should apply") is also heard in the United States, but is often regarded as erroneous in writing.

Verbal auxiliaries

  • Shall (as opposed to will) is more commonly used by the British than by Americans. [2][3]. Shan't is no longer used in AmE (almost invariably replaced by won't or not going to), and very much less so amongst Britons. American grammar also tends to ignore some traditional distinctions between should and would [4]; however, expressions like I should be happy are rather formal even in BrE.



The following verbs show differences in transitivity between BrE and AmE.

  • agree: Transitive or intransitive in BrE, usually intransitive in AmE (agree a contract/agree to or on a contract). However, in formal AmE legal writing one often sees constructions like as may be agreed between the parties (rather than as may be agreed to between the parties).
  • catch up ("to reach and overtake"): Transitive or intransitive in BrE, strictly intransitive in AmE (to catch sb up/to catch up with sb).
  • cater ("to provide food and service"): Intransitive in BrE, transitive in AmE (to cater for a banquet/to cater a banquet).
  • claim: Sometimes intransitive in BrE (used with for), strictly transitive in AmE.
  • meet: AmE uses intransitively meet followed by with to mean "to have a meeting with", as for business purposes (Yesterday we met with the CEO), and reserves transitive meet for the meanings "to be introduced to" (I want you to meet the CEO; she's such a fine lady), "to come together with (someone, somewhere)" (Meet the CEO at the train station), and "to have a casual encounter with". BrE uses transitive meet also to mean "to have a meeting with"; the construction meet with, which actually dates back to Middle English, appears to be coming back into use in Britain, despite some commentators who preferred to avoid confusion with meet with meaning "receive, undergo" (the proposal was met with disapproval). The construction meet up with (as in to meet up with someone), which originated in the U.S., has long been standard in both dialects.
  • provide: Strictly monotransitive in BrE, monotransitive or ditransitive in AmE (provide sb with sth/provide sb sth).
  • protest: In sense "oppose", intransitive in BrE, transitive in AmE (The workers protested against the decision/The workers protested the decision). The intransitive protest against in AmE means "to hold or participate in a demonstration against". The older sense "proclaim" is always transitive (protest one's innocence).
  • write: In BrE, the indirect object of this verb usually requires the preposition to, for example, I'll write to my MP or I'll write to her (although it is not required in some situations, for example when an indirect object pronoun comes before a direct object noun, for example, I'll write her a letter). In AmE, write can be used monotransitively (I'll write my congressman; I'll write him).

Presence or absence of syntactic elements

  • Where a statement of intention involves two separate activities, it is acceptable for speakers of AmE to use to go plus bare infinitive. Speakers of BrE would instead use to go and plus bare infinitive: thus where a speaker of AmE might say "I'll go take a bath", BrE speakers would say "I'll go and have a bath". (Both can also use the form to go to instead to suggest that the action may fail, as in "He went to take/have a bath, but the bath was full of children.") Similarly, to come plus bare infinitive is acceptable to speakers of AmE, where speakers of BrE would instead use to come and plus bare infinitive: thus where a speaker of AmE might say "come see what I bought," BrE speakers would say, "come and see what I've bought" (notice the present perfect tense: a common British preference).
  • Use of prepositions before days denoted by a single word. Where British people would say "She resigned on Thursday", Americans often say "She resigned Thursday", but both forms are common in American usage. Occasionally, the preposition is also absent when referring to months: "I'll be here December" (although this usage is generally limited to colloquial speech). The first of these two examples of omitting prepositions may be seen as yet another German influence on American English.
  • In the UK, from is used with single dates and times more often than in the United States. Where British speakers and writers may say "the new museum will be open from Tuesday," Americans most likely say "the new museum will be open starting Tuesday." (This difference does not apply to phrases of the pattern from A to B, which are used in both BrE and AmE.) A variation or alternative of this is the mostly American "the play opens Tuesday" and the mostly British "the play opens on Tuesday".
  • The verb prevent can be found in two different constructions: "prevent someone from doing something"; "prevent someone doing something." The latter is well established in BrE, but not in AmE.
  • Some verbs can take either a to-infinitive construction or a gerund construction (e.g., to start to do something/doing something). Although both constructions are accepted in both dialects, their actual distribution may vary. For example, the gerund is more common:
    • In AmE, with start[5] and begin[6];
    • In BrE, with love[7].
  • A few 'institutional' nouns take no definite article when a certain role is implied: for example, at sea (as a sailor), in prison (as a convict), and at/in college (for students). Among this group, BrE has in hospital (as a patient) and at university (as a student), where AmE requires in the hospital and at the university. (When the implied roles of patient or student do not apply, the definite article is used in both dialects.) Likewise, BrE has in future and American has in the future.
  • In BrE numbered highways usually take the definite article (for example "the M25", "the A14") while in America they usually do not ("I-495", "Route 66"). Southern California is an exception, where "the 5" or "the 405" are the standard. A similar pattern is followed for named roads, but in America there are local variations and older American highways tend to follow the British pattern ("the Boston Post Road").
  • AmE distinguishes in back of [behind] from in the back of; the former is unknown in the UK and liable to misinterpretation as the latter. Both, however, distinguish in front of from in the front of.
  • The use of the function word out as a preposition to denote an outward movement, as in "out the door" and "out the window", is standard in AmE, but not quite in British writing, where out of is generally the preferred choice, although the "American" usage, usually considered regional or dialectal by British dictionaries, is gaining ground in UK speech.
  • American legislators and lawyers always use the preposition of between the name of a legislative act and the year it was passed, while their British equivalents do not. Compare Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
  • Dates usually include a definite article in UK spoken English, such as "the 11th of July", or "July the 11th", while American speakers say "July 11".

Different prepositions in certain contexts

  • In the United States, the word through can mean "up to and including" as in Monday through Friday. In the UK Monday to Friday, or Monday to Friday inclusive is used instead; Monday through to Friday is also sometimes used. (In some parts of Northern England the term while can be used in the same way, as in Monday while Friday, whereas in Northern Ireland[citation needed] Monday till Friday would be more natural.)
  • British athletes play in a team; American athletes play on a team. (Both may play for a particular team.)
  • The word heat meaning "mating season" is used with on in the UK and with in in the U.S.
  • The intransitive verb affiliate can take either with or to in BrE, but only with in AmE.
  • The verb enrol(l) usually takes on in BrE and in in AmE (as in "to enrol(l) on/in a course") and the on/in difference is also used when enrolled is dropped (as in "I am (enrolled) on the course that studies....").
  • In AmE, one always speaks of the street on which an address is located, whereas in BrE in can also be used in some contexts. In suggests an address in a city street, so a service station (or a tourist attraction or indeed a village) would always be on a major road, but a department store might be in Oxford Street. Moreover, if a particular place on the street is specified then the preposition used is whichever is idiomatic to the place, thus "at the end of Churchill Road", and thus also the lyric "our house, in the middle of our street" from "Our House" by the British band Madness, whose intended meaning is "halfway along our street" but is confusing to many Americans—in AmE, the lyric suggests that the house is literally in the middle of the roadway.
  • The preposition used with the word weekend is on in the U.S. and at (sometimes on; the ratio in the British National Corpus is about 9:1) in Britain - for example, in "at the weekend/at weekends" vs. "on the weekend/on weekends". Such usages as "this weekend", "over the weekend", etc. are found in both dialects, but the use of "weekends" adverbally (and also "Mondays", etc.), with no preposition, is AmE rather than BrE.
  • After talk American can use the preposition with but British always[citation needed] uses to (that is, "I'll talk with Dave / I'll talk to Dave". The American form is sometimes seen as more politically correct in British organisations, inducing the ideal of discussing (with), as opposed to lecturing (to). This is, of course, unless talk is being used as a noun, for example: "I'll have a talk with him" in which case this is acceptable in both BrE and AmE.
  • In both dialects from is the preposition prescribed for use after the word different: "American English is different from British English in several respects." However, different than is also commonly heard in the U.S., and is often considered standard when followed by a clause ("American English is different than it used to be"), whereas different to is the alternative common in BrE.
  • It is common in BrE to say opposite to as an alternative to opposite of, the only form normally found in AmE. The use of opposite as a preposition ("opposite the post office") has long been established in both dialects, but appears to be more common in British usage.
  • The noun opportunity can be followed by a verb in two different ways: opportunity plus to-infinitive ("the opportunity to do something") or opportunity plus of plus gerund ("the opportunity of doing something"). The first construction is the most common in both dialects, but the second has almost disappeared in AmE and is often regarded as a Briticism.
  • Both British and Americans may say (for example) that a river is named after a state, but "named for a state" would rightly be regarded as an Americanism.
  • BrE sometimes uses to with near ("we live near to the university"), while AmE avoids the preposition in most usages dealing with literal, physical proximity ("we live near the university"), although the "to" reappears in AmE when "near" takes the superlative form, as in, "Of all of us, she lives nearest to the deranged axe murderer's house."
  • In BrE, you call (or ring) someone on their telephone number; in AmE, you call someone at their telephone number.

Phrasal verbs

  • In the U.S., forms are usually but not invariably filled out, but in Britain they can also be filled in. However, in reference to individual parts of a form, Americans may also use in ("fill in the blanks"). In AmE the direction "fill it all in" (referring to the form as a collection of blanks, perhaps) is as common as "fill it all out."
  • Britons facing extortionate prices may have no option but to fork out, whereas Americans are more likely to fork (it) over or sometimes up; both usages are however found in both dialects.
  • British thugs will beat someone up, while their American counterparts will also beat on (as both would for an inanimate object, such as a drum) or beat up on their victim, though "beat up on" is only used in some locations, and would generally be avoided by Americans who consider themselves well-educated. Both beat on and beat up on are often considered slang in AmE.
  • When an outdoor event is postponed or interrupted by rain, it is rained off in the UK and rained out in the U.S.

Miscellaneous grammatical differences

  • In AmE, some prescriptionists feel that which should not be used as an antecedent in restrictive relative clauses. According to The Elements of Style (p. 59), "that is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive." This distinction was endorsed by Fowler's Modern English Usage, but the use of which as a restrictive pronoun is common in great literature produced on both sides of the Atlantic[5].
  • In names of American rivers, the word river usually comes after the name (for example, Colorado River), whereas for British rivers it comes before (as in River Thames). One exception present in BrE is the Fleet River, which is rarely called the River Fleet by Londoners outside of official documentation. Exceptions in the U.S. are the River Rouge and the River Raisin, both in Michigan and named by the French. This convention is mixed, however, in some Commonwealth nations, where both arrangements are often seen.
  • In BrE the word sat is often colloquially used to cover sat, sitting and seated: "I've been sat here waiting for half an hour." "The bride's family will be sat on the right-hand side of the church." This construction is not often heard outside the UK. In the 1960s, its use would mark a speaker as coming from the north of England but by the turn of the 21st century this form had spread to the south. Its use often conveys lighthearted informality, as many speakers intentionally use an ungrammatical construction they would probably not use in formal written English. This colloquial usage is widely understood by British speakers. Similarly stood can be used instead of standing. To an American these usages are passive, and may imply that the subject had been involuntarily forced to sit or stand, or directed to hold that location.
  • In most areas of the United States, the word with is also used as an adverb: "I'll come with" instead of "I'll come along". However, in some British Dialects, 'come with' is used as an abbreviation of 'come with me', as in "I'm going to the office - come with" instead of "I'm going to the office - come with me". This particular usage is also used by speakers in Minnesota and parts of the adjoining states: "Want to come with?" Possibly, this is another expression arising from German (kommst du mit?) in parts of the United States with high concentrations of German American populations. It is similar to South African English, where the expression comes from Afrikaans, and is also used by Dutch speakers when speaking in English.
  • The word also is used at the end of a sentence in AmE (just as as well and too are in both dialects), but not so commonly in BrE, although it is encountered in Northern Ireland. Additionally, sentence-ending as well is more formal in AmE than in BrE.

Word derivation and compounds

  • Directional suffix -ward(s): British forwards, towards, rightwards, etc.; American forward, toward, rightward. In both dialects, distribution varies somewhat: afterwards, towards, and backwards are not unusual in America; while in Britain forward is common, and standard in phrasal verbs like look forward to. The forms with -s may be used as adverbs (or preposition towards), but rarely as adjectives: in Britain as in America one says "an upward motion". The Oxford English Dictionary in 1897 suggested a semantic distinction for adverbs, with -wards having a more definite directional sense than -ward; subsequent authorities such as Fowler have disputed this contention.
  • AmE freely adds the suffix -s to day, night, evening, weekend, Monday, etc. to form adverbs denoting repeated or customary action: "I used to stay out evenings"; "the library is closed Saturdays". This usage has its roots in Old English, but many of these constructions are now regarded as American (for example, the OED labels nights "now chiefly N.Amer. colloq."; but to work nights is standard in BrE).
  • In BrE, the agentive -er suffix is commonly attached to football (also cricket; often netball; occasionally basketball). AmE usually uses football player. Where the sport's name is usable as a verb, the suffixation is standard in both dialects: for example, golfer, bowler (in Ten-pin bowling and in Lawn Bowls), and shooter. AmE does, however, sometimes use baller as slang for a basketball player, as in the video game "NBA Ballers."
  • English writers everywhere occasionally (and from time immemorial) make new compound words from common phrases; for example, health care is now being replaced by healthcare on both sides of the Atlantic. However, AmE has made certain words in this fashion which are still treated as phrases in most Commonwealth countries. For example, Americans write trademark, but some other countries write trade-mark or trade mark.
  • In compound nouns of the form <verb><noun>, sometimes AmE favours the bare infinitive where BrE favours the gerund. Examples include (AmE first): jump rope / skipping rope; racecar / racing car; rowboat / rowing boat; sailboat / sailing boat; file cabinet / filing cabinet; dial tone / dialling tone.
  • More generally, AmE has a tendency to drop inflectional suffixes, thus favouring clipped forms: compare cookbook / cookery book; Smith, age 40 / Smith, aged 40; skim milk / skimmed milk. The first form is rarely encountered in British usage.
  • Singular attributives in one country may be plural in the other, and vice versa. For example, the UK has a drugs problem while the United States has a drug problem (although the singular usage is also commonly heard in the UK); Americans read the "sports" section of a newspaper, while the British are more likely to read the "sport" section. However, BrE maths is singular, just as AmE math is: both are abbreviations of mathematics.


Most[citation needed] of the differences are in connection with concepts originating from the nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century, where new words were coined independently; almost the entire vocabularies of the car/automobile and railway/railroad industries (see Rail terminology) are different between the UK and America, for example. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms, where frequent new coinage occurs, and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations even within the U.S. or the UK can create the same problems.

General trends

While the use of American expressions in the UK is often noted, movement in the opposite direction is less common. But such words as book (meaning "to reserve") and roundabout (otherwise called a traffic circle or rotary) are clearly current in AmE, although often regarded as British. Some other "Briticisms", such as go missing (as an alternative to disappear), bespoke (for custom-made or made-to-order), or run-up (for "period preceding an event") are increasingly used in AmE, and a few (for instance, early on) are now completely standard.

Words mainly used in a single form

Though the influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each others regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English, and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language. For instance: an American using the word "chap" or "mate" to refer to a friend, would be heard in much the same way as an American using the Spanish word "amigo".

Words mainly used in British English

See also: List of British words not widely used in the United States

Speakers of AmE are likely to be aware of some BrE terms, such as lorry, biscuit, queue, chap, bloke, loo, and shag although they would not generally use them, or may be confused as to whether one means the American or British meaning of some (such as biscuit). They will be able to guess approximately what is meant by some others, such as driving licence. However, use of many other British words, such as naff (unstylish - though commonly used to mean "not very good"), risks rendering a sentence incomprehensible to most Americans.

Words mainly used in American English

See also: List of American words not widely used in the United Kingdom

Speakers of BrE are likely to be aware of some AmE terms, such as sidewalk, gas (gasoline/petrol), cookie or elevator, although they would not generally use them. They will be able to guess approximately what is meant by some others, such as cotton candy. However, use of some other American words such as semi (articulated lorry), stroller (pram/pushchair) or kitty-corner (diagonally opposite) risks rendering a sentence incomprehensible to most British people.

Words with differing meanings

See: List of words having different meanings in British and American English

Words like "bill" (AmE "paper money", BrE "police") and "biscuit" (AmE: BrE's "scone", BrE: AmE's "cookie") are used regularly in both AmE and BrE, but mean different things in each form.

Word choice

  • In Southern Britain the word whilst is used almost interchangeably with while and whilst is the more common term[citation needed]. Whilst is more often used in instruction manuals, legal documents, etc. To Americans the word whilst, in any context, seems very archaic or pretentious or both. The words amidst (as opposed to amid), and to a lesser extent amongst (as opposed to among) are also rarer in AmE. ("In the midst of" is a standard idiom in both.)
  • In the UK generally the term fall meaning "autumn" is obsolete. Although found often in Elizabethan and Dickensian literature, understanding of the word is usually ascribed to its continued use in America.
  • In the UK, the term period for a full stop is now obsolete, even when used as a phrase, such as "Don't do that. Period." This in itself, though, is likely to be an American import; the use of full stop in its place is often preferred, as shown by the NSPCC Full Stop campaign.
  • Fitted is used in both conventions as an adjective ("fitted sheets" are the same size as the mattress) and as the past tense of fit ("to suffer epilepsy", for example, "Leavitt fitted" in The Andromeda Strain); however fit and fitting do not denote epileptic seizure in ordinary British use (though that usage is common within medical circles), as the same effect is achieved by to have a fit or to throw a fit.


See also: Names of numbers in English

When saying or writing out numbers, the British will insert an "and" before the tens and units, as in "one hundred and sixty-two" and "two thousand and three", whereas Americans will typically drop the "and" as in "two thousand three"; however, "two thousand and three" is also common. The same rule applies when saying numbers in their thousands or millions: "four hundred and thirteen thousand" would be said by a British speaker, "four hundred thirteen thousand" by an American speaker.

American schools teach students to pronounce decimally written fractions (".5") as though they were longhand fractions ("12"), though this formality is often dropped in common speech. For example, "five hundred thirteen and seven tenths" for 513.7 — in the UK, this would be read "five hundred and thirteen point seven", although if it was written 513 710, it would still be pronounced "five hundred and thirteen and seven tenths").

Up to 1,900 it is common in both varieties of English to count in hundreds - so 1,200 may be "twelve hundred". But Americans use this pattern more consistently and for much higher numbers than is the norm in British English, referring to "twenty-four hundred" where British English would always use "two thousand four hundred"[citation needed]. Even below 2,000, Americans are more likely than the British to read numbers like 1,234 as "twelve thirty-four", instead of "one thousand, two hundred and thirty-four".

In the case of years, however, "twelve thirty-four" would be the norm on both sides of the Atlantic for the year 1234. The year 2000 and years beyond it are read as "two thousand", "two thousand (and) one" and the like by both British and American speakers, although the BBC has recently taken the step of reading dates as "twenty-oh-six" for 2006.

For the house number (or bus number, etc) "272" British people would tend to say "two seven two" while Americans would tend to say "two seventy-two".

There was also a historical difference between billions, trillions, and so forth. Americans use "billion" to mean one thousand million (1,000,000,000), whereas in the UK, until the latter part of the 20th century, it was used to mean one million million (1,000,000,000,000) (although historically such numbers were not often required outside of mathematical and scientific contexts). One thousand million was sometimes described as a "milliard", the definition adopted by most other European languages. However, the "American" version has since been adopted for all published writing, and the word "milliard" is obsolete in English, as are billiard (but not billiards, the game), trilliard and so on. All major British publications and broadcasters, including the BBC, which long used "thousand million" to avoid ambiguity, now use "billion" to mean thousand million.

Many people have no direct experience with manipulating numbers this large, and many non-American readers may interpret "billion" as 1012 (even if they are young enough to have been taught otherwise at school); also usage of the "long" billion is standard in some non-English speaking countries. For these reasons, defining the word may be advisable when writing for the general public. See long and short scales for a more detailed discussion of the evolution of these terms in English and other languages.

When referring to the numeral 0, British people would normally use "zero", "nought", "oh", or "nil" in instances such as sports scores and voting results. Americans use the term "zero" most frequently; "oh" is also often used (though never when the quantity in question is nothing), and occasionally slang terms such as "zilch" or "zip". Phrases such as "the team won two-zip" or "the team leads the series, two-nothing" are heard when reporting sports scores. The digit 0, for example, when reading a phone or account number aloud, is nearly always pronounced "oh" in both language varieties for the sake of convenience.

When reading numbers in a sequence, such as a telephone or serial number, British people will usually use the terms double or treble/triple. Hence 007 is "double oh seven". Exceptions are the emergency telephone number 999, which is always "nine nine nine" and the apocalyptic "Number of the Beast" which is always "six six six". The directory enquiries prefix 118 is also "one one eight" in Britain due to its extensive advertising campaign with the slogan read out as "One one eight, what's your number?"; however, in Ireland it is "eleven-eight". In the U.S., 911 (the U.S. emergency telephone number) is almost always read "nine-one-one", while 9/11 (in reference to the September 11, 2001 attacks) is usually read "nine-eleven".

Monetary amounts

  • Monetary amounts in the range of one to two major currency units are often spoken differently. In AmE one may say "a dollar fifty" or "a pound eighty" whereas in BrE these amounts would be expressed "one dollar fifty" and "one pound eighty". For amounts over a dollar, an American will generally either drop denominations or give both dollars and cents, as in "two-twenty" or "two dollars and twenty cents" for $2.20. An American would not say "two dollars twenty." On the other hand, in BrE, "two pounds twenty" would be the most common form. It is more common to hear a British-English speaker say "one thousand, two hundred dollars" than "a thousand, two hundred dollars" although the latter construct is common in AmE. The term "twelve hundred dollars", popular in AmE, is frequently used in BrE but only for exact multiples of 100 up to 1900. Amounts over 1900 expressed in hundreds, for example "twenty-three hundred" are very rarely heard by speakers of BrE.
  • The BrE slang term "quid" is roughly equivalent to the AmE "buck" and both are often used in the two respective dialects for round amounts, as in "fifty quid" for £50 and "twenty bucks" for $20. "A hundred and fifty grand" in either dialect could refer to £150,000 or $150,000 depending on context.
  • A user of AmE may hand-write the mixed monetary amount $3.24 as $324 or $324 (often seen for extra clarity on a check); BrE users will always write this as £3.24, £3·24 or, for extra clarity on a cheque as £3—24. In all cases there may or may not be a space after the currency symbol, or the currency symbols may be omitted depending on context.[citation needed]
  • In order to make explicit the amount in words on a cheque, Americans write three 24100 (using this solidus construction or with a horizontal division line): they do not need to write the word "dollars" as it is usually printed on the cheque. Britons write three pounds and 24 pence, three pounds 24 or three pounds 24p, since the currency unit is not preprinted. To make unauthorized amendment difficult, it is useful to have an expression terminator even when a whole number of dollars/pounds is in use: thus Americans would write three 00100 on a three-dollar cheque (so that it cannot easily be changed to, for example, three million) and Britons would write three pounds only, or three pounds exactly.[citation needed]
  • The term 'pound sign' in BrE always refers to the currency symbol "£", whereas in AmE 'pound sign' means the number sign, which the British call the 'hash' symbol, "#".
  • In BrE, the plural of the word pound is often considered to be "pound" as opposed to "pounds." For example, a Briton would say "three pound forty," to mean three pounds and forty pence. He would not apply this practice to all currencies however, and would most likely say "two dollars eighty" if stating an amount in dollars.


Normally, Britons tell the time and Americans tell time. Fifteen minutes after the hour is called quarter past in British usage and a quarter after or, less commonly, a quarter past in American usage. Fifteen minutes before the hour is usually called quarter to in British usage and a quarter of, a quarter to or a quarter till in American usage; the form a quarter to is associated with parts of the Northern U.S., while a quarter till is found chiefly in the Appalachian region. Thirty minutes after the hour is commonly called half past in both BrE and AmE. In informal British speech the preposition is sometimes omitted, so that 5:30 may be referred to as half five (by contrast, the German halb fünf is half-an-hour before five, i.e. 4:30). Half after is sometimes heard in both countries, and used to be predominant in the U.S. The AmE formations top of the hour and bottom of the hour are not commonly used in BrE. Forms like eleven forty are common in both dialects. See below for variation in written forms.

Selected lexical differences

Levels of buildings

There are also variations in floor numbering between the U.S. and UK. In most countries, including the UK, the "first floor" is one above the entrance level while the entrance level is the "ground floor"; whereas normal American usage labels the entrance level as the "first floor" and does not use "ground floor." Some American buildings have a "ground floor" or another name for the entrance level, usually as part of a plan to cater to cosmopolitan persons. (This may also be the case in buildings built on hillsides or uneven ground, where the basement on one side of the structure may be at street level on the other.) Nonetheless, the rest of the floors are numbered in the usual American manner.

Figures of speech

Both BrE and AmE use the expression "I couldn't care less" to mean the speaker does not care at all. In AmE, the phrase "I could care less" (without the "n't") is synonymous with this in casual usage. Intonation no longer reflects the originally sarcastic nature of this variant, which is not idiomatic in BrE and might be interpreted as anything from nonsense (or sloppiness) to an indication that the speaker does care.

In both areas, saying "I don't mind" often means "I'm not annoyed" (for example, by someone's smoking), while "I don't care" often means "the matter is trivial or boring". However, in answering a question like "Tea or coffee?", if either alternative is equally acceptable, an American may answer "I don't care", while a British person may answer "I don't mind". Either sounds odd to the other.

In BrE, the phrase "I can't be arsed [to do something]" is a vulgar equivalent to the British or American "I can't be bothered [to do something]". This can be extremely confusing to Americans, as the Southern British pronunciation of the former sounds the same as "I can't be asked...", which sounds either defiantly rude or nonsensical.

In Appalachia, some speakers use "I don't care to" (as in "I don't care to talk to him") as the equivalent of "I don't mind (talking to him)." This usage is confusing (and sometimes offputting) to both non-Appalachian users of AmE and users of BrE.

Older BrE often uses the exclamation "No fear!" where current AmE has "No way!" An example from Dorothy L. Sayers:

Q.: Wilt thou be baptised in this faith?
A.: No fear!
— from A Catechism for Pre- and Post-Christian Anglicans

This usage may confuse users of AmE, who are likely to interpret and even use "No fear!" as enthusiastic willingness to move forward.


A number of English idioms that have essentially the same meaning show lexical differences between the British and the American version; for instance:

In some cases the "American" variant is also used in BrE, or vice versa.


In the UK, a student is said to study a subject (or, at Oxford or Cambridge, to read a subject), while in the U.S., a student either studies the subject or majors in it (except at a few Ivy League schools, such as Princeton University, Brown University, and Harvard University, where one "concentrates" in it). Unlike most of the world where university students pursue a single field of study, United States universities often require a variety of courses. To major refers only to the student's principal course of study, while to study may refer to any class being taken.

At the tertiary level in BrE, a module is taught by a lecturer, while in AmE, a class is generally taught by a professor (at some institutions, "professor" is reserved for tenure-track faculty with other members of the faculty referred to as "lecturers" or "instructors"). At the primary and secondary levels the term "teacher" is used instead in both BrE and AmE. The term "lecturer," in an educational context, would be perceived in AmE as denoting anyone, professor or special guest, giving an actual lecture before a class.


"She studied history at Bristol."
"She read history at Oxford."


"She majored in history at Yale."
"He majored in Elementary Education at the University of Minnesota."

The word course is ambiguous in American usage. It may refer to a student's major (as in the phrase "course of study") but more commonly it refers to the study of a restricted topic (for example, "a course in Early Medieval England", "a course in Integral Calculus") and is equivalent to a module at a British University.

In the UK, a student revises or does revision for an examination, while in AmE, the student reviews for it. In the UK, a student is said to sit or take an exam, while in the U.S., a student takes an exam. The expression he sits for an exam also arises in BrE, but only rarely in AmE; American lawyers-to-be sit for their bar exams, and American master's and doctoral students may sit for their comprehensive exams, but in nearly all other instances, Americans take their exams. Examinations are supervised by invigilators in the UK and proctors (or (exam) supervisors) in the U.S. In the UK, a teacher sets an exam, while in the U.S., a teacher writes or gives an exam.


"I sat my Spanish exam yesterday."
"I plan to set a difficult exam for my students, but I haven't got it ready yet."


"I took my exams at Yale."
"I spent the entire day yesterday writing the exam. I'm almost ready to give it to my students."

Another source of confusion is the different usage of the word college. (See a full international discussion of the various meanings at college.) In the U.S., this refers to a post-high school institution that grants bachelor's degrees, while in the UK it refers primarily to a tertiary institution between secondary school and university (normally referred to as a Sixth Form College after the old name in secondary education for Years 12 and 13, the 6th form) where intermediary courses such as A Levels or NVQs can be taken and GCSE courses can be retaken, with the interchangeability of college with secondary school being rare but not unknown. It should be noted, however, that in the case of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Durham universities, all members are also members of a college, for example, one is a member of St. Peter's College, Oxford and hence the University.

In both the U.S. and UK, college can refer to some division within a university such as the "college of business and economics". Institutions in the U.S. that offer two to four years of post-high school education often have the word college as part of their name, while those offering more advanced degrees are called a university. (There are exceptions, of course: Boston College, Dartmouth College and The College of William and Mary are examples of colleges that offer advanced degrees.) (An obvious sign that an educational institution aspires to a better station in life may be seen when it drops "college" from its name and substitutes "university.") American students who pursue a bachelor's degree (four years of higher education) or an associate degree (two years of higher education) are college students regardless of whether they attend a college or a university and refer to their educational institutions informally as colleges. A student who pursues a master's degree or a doctorate degree in the arts and sciences is in AmE a graduate student; in BrE a post-graduate student although graduate student also sometimes used. Students of advanced professional programmes are known by their field (business student, law student, medical student, the last of which is frequently shortened to med student). Some universities also have a residential college system, the details of which may vary from school to school but generally involve common living and dining spaces as well as college-organized activities.

"Professor" has different meanings in BrE and AmE. In BrE it is the highest academic rank, followed by Reader, Senior Lecturer and Lecturer. In AmE "Professor" refers to academic staff of all ranks, with (Full) Professor (largely equivalent to the UK meaning) followed by Associate Professor and Assistant Professor.

There is additionally a difference between American and British usage in the word school. In British usage "school" by itself refers only to primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools, and to sixth forms attached to secondary schools — if one "goes to school", this type of institution is implied. By contrast, an American student at a university may talk of "going to school" or "being in school". U.S. law students and med students almost universally speak in terms of going to "law school" and "med school," respectively. However, the word is used in BrE in the context of higher education; to describe a division grouping together several related subjects in a university, for example a "School of European Languages" containing departments for each language, and also in the term "art school".

Among high school and college students in the United States, the words freshman (or the gender-neutral term frosh or first year), sophomore, junior and senior refer to the first, second, third, and fourth years, respectively. It is important that the context of either high school or college first be established, or else it must be stated directly (that is, "She is a high school freshman." "He is a college junior."). Many institutions in both countries also use the term first-year as a gender-neutral replacement for freshman, although in the U.S. this is recent usage, formerly referring only to those in the first year as a graduate student. One exception is the University of Virginia; since its founding in 1819, the terms "first-year", "second-year", "third-year", and "fourth-year" have been used to describe undergraduate university students. At the United States military academies, at least those operated directly by the federal government, a different terminology is used, namely "fourth class", "third class", "second class", and "first class" (note that the order of numbering is the reverse of the number of years in attendance). In the UK, first year university students are often called freshers, especially early in the academic year; however, there are no specific names for those in other years, nor for school pupils. Graduate and professional students in the United States are known by their year of study (a "second-year medical student" or a "fifth-year doctoral candidate"; law students are generally not referred to as "nth-year law students", but rather "1L", "2L", or "3L").

While anyone in the U.S. who finishes studying at any educational institution by passing relevant examinations is said to graduate and to be a graduate, in the UK only degree and above level students can graduate. Student itself has a wider meaning in AmE, meaning any person of any age studying at any educational institution, whereas in BrE it tends to be used for people studying at a post-secondary educational institution.

In the UK, the U.S. equivalent of a high school is often referred to as a secondary school regardless of whether it is state funded or private. Secondary education in the United States also includes middle school or junior high school, a two or three year transitional school between elementary school and high school.

A public school has opposite meanings in the two countries. In the U.S. this is a government-owned institution supported by taxpayers. In England and Wales, the term strictly refers to a select group of prestigious private independent schools funded by students' fees, although it is often more loosely used to refer to any independent school. Independent schools are also known as private schools, and the latter is the correct term in Scotland and Northern Ireland for all such fee-funded schools. Strictly, the term public school is not used in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the same sense as in England, but nevertheless, Gordonstoun, the Scottish private school which Charles, Prince of Wales attended, is sometimes confusingly referred to as a public school. Government-funded schools in Scotland and Northern Ireland are properly referred to as state schools — but are sometimes confusingly referred to as public schools (with the same meaning as in the U.S.); whereas in the U.S., where most public schools are administered by local governments, a state school is typically a college or university run by one of the states.

Speakers in both the United States and the United Kingdom use several additional terms for specific types of secondary schools. A prep school or preparatory school is an independent school funded by tuition fees; the same term is used in the UK for a private school for pupils under thirteen, designed to prepare them for fee-paying public schools. An American parochial school covers costs through tuition and has affiliation with a religious institution. In the UK, the state-funded education system grew from parish schools organised by the local established church, the Church of England (C.of E., or C.E.), and many schools, especially primary schools (up to age 11) retain a church connection and are known as church schools, C.E. Schools or C.E. (Aided) Schools. There are also faith schools associated with the Roman Catholic church and other major faiths, with a mixture of funding arrangements.

In the U.S., a magnet school receives government funding and has special admission requirements: students gain admission through superior performance on admission tests. The UK has city academies, which are independent privately sponsored schools run with public funding, and which can select up to 10% of pupils by aptitude.


Main article: Car terminology

Americans refer to transportation, while British people refer to transport. As transportation in Britain was a penalty for a crime, that is, deportation, the British use the word communication to include goods and persons, whereas in America the word primarily refers to messages sent by post or electronics. The British devised the term telecoms for this last use; it is not quite standard in America.

Differences in terminology are especially obvious in the context of roads. The British term dual carriageway, in American parlance, would be a divided highway. Central reservation on a motorway in the UK would be a median on a freeway, expressway, highway, or parkway in the U.S. The one-way lanes that make it possible to enter and leave such roads at an intermediate point without disrupting the flow of traffic are generally known as slip roads in the UK, but U.S. civil engineers call them ramps, and further distinguish between on-ramps (for entering) or off-ramps (for leaving). When American engineers speak of slip roads, or slip ramps, they are referring to on-ramps and off-ramps that have been rearranged (through use of a grade separation) to minimize weaving on a freeway segment between two interchanges that are too close together. These last two terms are almost never used by the general public in the U.S.

In the UK, the term outside lane refers to the higher-speed overtaking lane (passing lane in the U.S.) closest to the center of the road, while inside lane refers to the lane closer to the edge of the road. These terms have the opposite meanings in AmE, with the outside lane being the one near the edge and the inside lane being the one closer to the median. In much of the U.S., outside lane is only used in the context of a turn, in which case it depends on which direction the road is turning (i.e. if the road bends right the left lane is the outside lane, but if the road bends left the right lane is the outside lane). Both also refer to slow and fast lanes (even though all actual traffic speeds may be at or even above the legal speed limit). UK traffic officials, firefighters, and police officers refer to Lanes 1, 2 and 3, referring to the 'slow', 'middle' and 'fast' lanes respectively. In the U.S. the meanings are exactly reversed with Lane 1 referring to the fast lane and so on.

In the UK, drink driving is against the law, while in the U.S. the term is drunk driving. The legal term in the U.S. is "driving while intoxicated" (D.W.I.) or "driving under the influence" of alcohol (D.U.I.). The equivalent legal phrase in the UK is to be found "drunk in charge" of a motor vehicle (DIC).


When Christmas is explicitly mentioned in a greeting, the universal phrasing in North America is Merry Christmas. In Britain and Ireland, Happy Christmas is common, although Merry Christmas is often used. It is worth noting, however, that Americans quite often say "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" when referring to all winter holidays (Christmas, New Year's Day, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa) as a single event.



Main article: American and British English spelling differences


  • Full stops/Periods in abbreviations: Americans tend to write "Mr.", "Mrs.", "St.", "Dr." etc., while British will usually, but not always, write "Mr", "Mrs", "St", "Dr", etc., following the rule that a full stop is used only when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the complete word. However, many British writers would tend to write other abbreviations without a full stop, such as "Prof", "etc", "eg", and so on (so recommended by some Oxford dictionaries). The rationale behind this usage is that it is typographically more elegant, and that the omitted full stops/periods are essentially superfluous, as the reader recognizes the abbreviation without them. It also removes ambiguity by reserving the period for ending sentences. However, the "American" usage of periods after most abbreviations is also widely used in the UK. Note that in either case it is incorrect to put a period after units such as kg for kilogram or Hz for hertz, as these are considered unit symbols, not abbreviations; however, in non-scientific contexts, the unit for "inch" is often written "in.", as it would be ambiguous without the period.
  • It is sometimes believed[citation needed] that BrE does not hyphenate multiple-word adjectives (e.g. "a first class ticket"). The most common form is as in AmE ("a first-class ticket"), but some British writers omit the hyphen when no ambiguity would arise.
  • Quoting: Americans start with double quotation marks (") and use single quotation marks (') for quotations within quotations. In general this is also true of BrE, but can be the opposite when used in book publishing, for example. In journals and newspapers, quotation mark double/single use depends on the individual publication's house style.
  • Contents of quotations: Americans are taught to put commas and periods inside quotation marks, whereas British people will put the punctuation inside if it belongs to the quote and outside otherwise. This means that direct speech retains punctuation inside the quotation marks in BrE also, with a full stop changing into a comma if followed by explanatory text.
    • Carefree means "free from care or anxiety." (American style)
    • Carefree means "free from care or anxiety". (British style)
    • "Hello, world," I said. (both styles)
The American style was established for typographical reasons, an historical holdover from the days of the handset printing press. It also eliminates the need to decide whether a period or comma belongs to the quotation. However, many people find the usage counterintuitive. Hart's Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors call the British style "new" or "logical" quoting; it is similar to the use of quotation marks in many other languages (including Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan, Dutch, and German). For this reason, the more "logical" British style is increasingly used in America, although formal writing still generally calls for the "American" style. In fact, the British style is often the de facto standard among Americans for whom formal or professional writing is not a part of their daily life; many are in fact unaware that the normative American usage is to place commas and periods within the quotation marks. (This rule of placing all punctuation inside quotation if and only if it belongs to the quotation is expressly prescribed by some American professional organisations such as the American Chemical Society; see ACS Style Guide.) According to the Jargon File, American hackers have switched to using "logical" British quotation system, because including extraneous punctuation in a quotation can sometimes change the fundamental meaning of the quotation. More generally, it is difficult for computer manuals, online instructions, and other textual media to accurately quote exactly what a computer user should see or type on their computer if they follow American punctuation conventions.
In both countries, the "British" style is used for quotation around parentheses, so in both nations one would write:

"I am going to the store. (I hope it is still open.)"


"I am going to the store (if it is still open)."

  • Letter-writing: American students in some areas have been taught to write a colon after the greeting in business letters ("Dear Sir:") while British people usually write a comma ("Dear Sir,") or make use of the so-called open punctuation ("Dear Sir"). However, this practice is not consistent throughout the United States[citation needed], and it would be regarded as a highly formal usage by most Americans.

Titles and headlines

Use of capitalisation varies.

Sometimes, the words in titles of publications, newspaper headlines, as well as chapter and section headings are capitalised in the same manner as in normal sentences (sentence case). That is, only the first letter of the first word is capitalised, along with proper nouns, etc.

However, publishers sometimes require additional words in titles and headlines to have the initial capital, for added emphasis, as it is often perceived as appearing more professional. In AmE, this is common in titles, but less so in newspaper headlines. The exact rules differ between publishers and are often ambiguous; a typical approach is to capitalise all words other than short articles, prepositions, and conjunctions. This should probably be regarded as a common stylistic difference, rather than a linguistic difference, as neither form would be considered incorrect or unusual in either the UK or the U.S. Many British tabloid newspapers (such as The Sun, The Daily Sport, News of the World) use fully capitalised headlines for impact, as opposed to readability (for example, BERLIN WALL FALLS or BIRD FLU PANIC). On the other hand, the broadsheets (such as The Guardian, The Times, and The Independent) usually follow the sentence style of having only the first letter of the first word capitalised.


Date formats are usually written differently in the short (numerical) form. Christmas Day 2000, for example, is 25/12/00 or 25.12.00 (dashes are occasionally used) in the UK and 12/25/00 in the U.S., although the formats 25/12/2000, 25.12.2000, and 12/25/2000 now have more currency than they had prior to the Year 2000 problem. Occasionally other formats are encountered, such as the ISO 8601 2000-12-25, popular among programmers, scientists, and others seeking to avoid ambiguity. The difference in short-form date order can lead to misunderstanding. For example, 06/04/05 could mean either 4 June 2005 (if read as U.S. format), 6 April 2005 (if seen as in UK format), or even 5 April 2006 if taken to be an older ISO 8601-style format where 2-digit years were allowed.

A consequence of the different short-form of dates is that in the UK many people would be reluctant to refer to "9/11", although its meaning would be instantly understood. On the BBC, "September the 11th" is generally used in preference to 9/11, although 9/11 is commonplace in the British press.

When writing long-form dates, the format "December 25, 2000" is widely encountered in primarily the U.S. and sometimes the UK, and it is the form generally used in the U.S. In the UK and elsewhere, it is more common to use the format "25 December 2000" or "25 December 2000", more so than Americans. It is, however, acceptable in the U.S., and the American grammarians Strunk and White, among others, recommend it. Similarly, in American speech, "December twenty-fifth" is the most likely form, though "the twenty-fifth of December" is also not uncommon. For example, many Americans refer to Independence Day as the "fourth of July". In the UK the latter is more likely, and even when the month is presented first the definite article is usually inserted in speech, thus "December the twenty-fifth". American military usage follows the British model: "25 December 2000" and "25/12/00".

The use of the word "week" is different in British and U.S. English. Phrases such as "a week today", "a week tomorrow", "a week on Tuesday", and "Thursday week" in Britain and Ireland are unknown in the U.S., where "a week from today" or "a week from tomorrow" is the standard construction. "Friday week" in Britain and Ireland is rare but similarly rendered as "a week from Friday" in the U.S.


Americans always write digital times with a colon, thus 6:00, whereas Britons often use a full stop, 6.00, although it is becoming increasingly popular[citation needed] to use a colon. Also, the 24-hour clock (18:00 or 1800), which in the UK would be considered normal in many applications (for example, air/rail/bus timetables) is largely unused in the U.S. outside of military or medical applications.

Keyboard layouts

See: British and American keyboards

See also

  • List of dialects of the English language
  • Classification of Germanic Languages
  • Anglic languages
  • Scots language
  • Yinglish
  • Regional accents of English speakers


  • Hargraves, Orin (2003). Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-515704-4
  • McArthur, Tom (2002). The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3.
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.


  1. ^ Peters, p. 23
  2. ^
  3. ^ Peters, p. 24
  4. ^ Peters, p. 512
  5. ^ Peters, p. 515.
  6. ^ Peters, p. 67.
  7. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary.

External links

  • Proper Treatment: British vs. American (Harvard University)
  • List of American and British spelling differences
  • An English/American Dictionary
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