English is often considered one of the most practical foreign languages someone can learn, but when you decide to learn it, you also have to decide which English variant you’ll speak. The English language has several variants that have developed and evolved over the years, through domination and colonization. The most commonly used, and most commonly required by ESL/EFL classes, are American and British.
Some of the most noticeable differences that often lead to mistakes for learners and foreign speakers include:
- Prepositions & Some Tenses
Please note: Just try to be consistent. If you decide to use the British pronunciation or spelling, don’t use American vocabulary.
Prepositions & Some Tenses
Between British English and American English, there are some differences in the use of on, at, in, and to.
“On the weekend” might sound wrong, but Americans use “on” instead of “at” and “in” .For example, On a team sounds correct in the US.
In addition to this, pay attention to the “to“. Americans like getting rid of it but, again, it is a serious mistake for the British. For example: Please write to me soon/please write me soon
Present Perfect Tense
In British English, the present perfect is used to express an action that has happened in the near past, but it still have an effect on the present.
Example: Saying “I’ve lost my wallet. Can you help me look for it?” is British English. But an American could say “I lost my wallet. Can you help me look for it?”
Can you see the differences? Americans often omit the auxiliary “have“, but this is a serious mistake for British people.
Another difference includes the use of the adverbs already, just and yet in this tense.
- I’ve just had lunch
- I’ve already read that book
- Have you finished your homework yet?
- I just had lunch / I’ve just had lunch
- I’ve already read that book / I already read that book
- Have you finished your homework yet / Did you finish your homework yet?
Past Simple vs. Past Participles
Some verbs, both in British and American English, have two correct forms for the past simple and the past participle. The irregular verbs are more common in British rather than American English. Here is a list of these verbs:
- Burn – Burnt vs. Burned
- Dream – Dreamt vs. Dreamed
- Lean – Leant vs. Leaned
- Smell – Smelt vs. Smelled
- Spell – Spelt vs. Spelled
- Spill – Spilt vs. Spilled
- Spoil – Spoilt vs. Spoiled
Choosing the right vocabulary for a particular situation or environment is very important. There are many things that are called by different names in Britain from what they’re called in America.
Some examples (British – American):
- Lift – Elevator
- Boot – Trunk (of a car)
- Trainers – Sneakers
- Jumper – Sweater
- Chips – French Fries
- Biscuit – Cookie
- Flat – Apartment
- Underground – Subway
- Rubber – Eraser
- Holiday – Vacation
- Torch – Flashlight
Being familiar with these differences can help keep you out of some awkward situations, because oftentimes the term in Britain for one thing means something completely different in America. For example, in British English, “chips” refers to what Americans call “french fries”, but in America “chips” means what in Britain are called “crisps”.
For more examples, look here.
Last but not least, spelling causes some differences when writing in English.
Those words ending in –or (American) / –our (British) such as:
- color – colour
- humor – humour
- flavor – flavour
Also words ending in –ize (American) and –ise (British):
- recognize – recognise
- patronize – patronise
- apologize – apologise
Which do you prefer? British English or American English?
When it comes down to choosing, it’s really a matter of preference and what’s available to you. Both American and British English have their benefits, but sometimes only one is available in live classes depending on where you live, and sometimes not from a native speaker. Lucky for you, we have teachers available who are from America and Britain, as well as from other places that speak English, such as Australia, South Africa, and Canada. Get your first Skype lesson for free when you sign up!