- A brief history of the English language
- American vs British: cooking and food
- American vs British: clothes
- American vs British: other words
- Rule of thumb
- American vs British: grammar differences
- American vs British: differences in pronunciation
- The task
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
“England and America are two countries
separated by a common language”
George Bernard Shaw
The British actually introduced the language to the Americas when they reached these lands by sea between the 16th and 17th centuries. At that time, spelling had not yet been standardised. It took the writing of the first dictionaries to set in stone how these words appeared.
In the UK, the dictionary was compiled by London-based scholars. Meanwhile, in the United States, the lexicographer was a man named Noah Webster. Allegedly, he changed how the words were spelled to make the American version different from the British as a way of showing cultural independence from its mother country.
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 have diverged in a few minor ways, leading to the versions now occasionally referred to as American English and British English.
Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, and formatting of dates and numbers, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much less than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings in the two versions or are even unknown or not used in one of the versions. 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 people in the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain, much like a regional accent.
As the most-spoken second language on the planet, English has to be flexible. While there are certainly many more varieties of English, American English and British English are the two varieties that are taught in most educational programs. Generally, it is agreed that no one version is “correct” however, there are certainly preferences in use.
The three major differences between between American and British English are:
differences in both vowel and consonants, as well as stress and intonation
differences in nouns and verbs, especially phrasal verb usage and the names of specific tools or items
differences are generally found in certain prefix and suffix forms
AMERICAN VS BRITISH: COOKING AND FOOD
AMERICAN VS BRITISH: CLOTHES
sport shoes (trainers)
under the shirt
over the shirt
AMERICAN VS BRITISH: OTHER WORDS
I’m standing in a line
TO BE FULL OF BEANS
TO BE FULL OF BEANS
RULE OF THUMB
The most important RULE OF THUMB is to try to be consistent in your usage. If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling, this is of course not always easy — or possible.
bonnet (the front of the car)
boot (the back of the car)
fortnight, two weeks
ground floor, first floor, etc.
first floor, second floor, etc.
mean (opposite of ‘generous’)
windscreen (on a car)
zed (the name of the letter ‘z’)
There are also differences between idioms in the two varieties.
a storm in a teacup
sweep under the carpet
see the wood for the trees
put a spanner in the works
skeleton in the cupboard
blow one’s own trumpet
a drop in the ocean
flogging a dead horse
a tempest in a teapot
sweep under the rug
knock on wood
see the forest for the trees
throw a (monkey) wrench
skeleton in the closet
blow (or toot) one’s own horn
a drop in the bucket, a spit in the ocean
beating a dead horse
AMERICAN VS BRITISH: GRAMMAR DIFFERENCES
Aside from spelling and vocabulary, there are certain grammar differences between British and American English. For instance, in American English, collective nouns are considered singular (e.g. The band is playing). In contrast, collective nouns can be either singular or plural in British English, although the plural form is most often used (e.g. The band are playing).
The British are also more likely to use formal speech, such as ‘shall’, whereas Americans favour the more informal ‘will’ or ‘should’.
Americans, however, continue to use ‘gotten’ as the past participle of ‘get’, which the British have long since dropped in favour of ‘got’.
‘Needn’t’, which is commonly used in British English, is rarely, if at all used in American English. In its place is ‘don’t need to’.
In British English, ‘at’ is the preposition in relation to time and place. However, in American English, ‘on’ is used instead of the former and ‘in’ for the latter.
British and American English can use certain prepositions differently as in the examples below:
live in X street
Monday to Friday
in a team
at the weekend
ten past four
ten to four
talk to John
check something (out)
live on X street
Monday through Friday
on a team
on the weekend
ten after/past four (time)
ten to/of/before/till four
talk with John
AMERICAN VS BRITISH: DIFFERENCES IN PRONUNCIATION
The diphthong [ əʊ ] is pronounced with greater lip rounding than in British English.
The sound [ e ] is pronounced more openly and is reminiscent of the sound [ ɛ ]. In British English the word is pronounced again [ə’gen], as in the American version [ə’gen] [ə‘geɪn].
The sound [ ju: ] after consonants usually has a weakly pronounced [ j ], which in the speech of many Americans almost disappears and the words student, new, duty sound like [ stu:dent ], [ nu: ], [ `du:ti ].
The vowel [ ɒ] sounds like [ a ] in the diphthongs [ ai ], [ au ] as the core have a very forward sound [ʌ], which almost coincides with [ æ ]. In SBE we telling Laboratory [ lə’brɔ ə tri ], and in Americans [ ‘læbrətɔ ri ]. Instead the vowel [ a: ] in words like class, plant, answer to pronounce the sound [ æ ].
American English pronunciation is characterized by nasal vowels.
The sound [ r ] is pronounced in the middle of a word, and in the end, why the speech of Americans sounds more abruptly, than the speech of the British. For example, in SBE leisure [ ‘leʒə ], but in Americans version [ ‘leʒər ] (see table).
An example of some differences:
[ lə’brɔə tri ]
[ ‘sek rə tri ]
[ ‘leʒə ]
[ ‘∫ed ju:l ]
[ da:ns ]
[ kla:rk ]
[ et ]
[‘bæ lei ]
[ ‘læbrətɔri ]
[ ‘sek rə teri ]
[ ‘leʒər ]
[ ‘skedju:l ]
[ ‘daɪnə sti ]
[ dæns ]
[ klз:rk ]
[ eɪt ]
[ bæ’lei ]