British and American English
Most of the differences between the English of the UK (which we shall call BrE) and the English of North America (which we shall call AmE) are vocabulary differences and differences in pronunciation and spelling. However, there are some differences in the way grammar is used. Almost all of the structures in this book are used in both varieties, but there are often differences in how common a structure is in one variety or the other. There are fewer differences in writing than in speaking.
Grammar is always changing, and many new ways of using grammar in BrE come from AmE, because of the influence of American popular culture, American media and the Internet.
British and American English: verbs
Be going to
AmE speakers often use be going to (and the informal short form gonna) when giving street directions, which is not a typical use in BrE. BrE speakers normally use imperatives (with and without you), and present simple or future forms with will:
You’re gonna go three blocks and then you’re gonna see an apartment building on the left with 1228 above the door.
Take this street here on the right, then go about two hundred yards till you come to a set of traffic lights.B:
You turn left at the lights, go about another hundred yards and you’ll see the station.B:
Great. Thanks very much.
Burn, learn, dream, etc.
In BrE, we can spell the past simple and -ed participle of verbs such as burn, dream, lean, learn, smell, spell, spill with either -ed (learned, spilled) or -t (learnt, spilt). AmE prefers the -ed ending:
She had dreamt of being a dancer when she was young. (or She had dreamed …)
As a boy, he had dreamed about being on the basketball team.
He learnt to speak fluent Spanish and Portuguese. (or He learned …)
She learned to play the violin.
In BrE, the past simple form of fit is usually fitted. In AmE, the past simple form of fit is most often fit:
The sweater fitted her perfectly.
[a woman is remembering her poor childhood, AmE]
But we always looked nice. You know. We were always very clean. The clothes were clean and they fit.
In BrE, the three forms of get are get (base form), got (past simple) and got (-ed form). In AmE, get has an -ed form gotten:
The weather has gotten colder this week and we’re expecting snow.
Get + to-infinitive is common in AmE to refer to achievements, meaning ‘manage to’ or ‘be able to’. This usage is less common in BrE:
[talking about American football, AmE]
Did you get to go to very many games?B:
I went to four games this year, actually.
[talking about a camping trip in the forest, AmE]
We got to see a lot of deer.
Have and have got
The present simple form of have got referring to possession or relationships is much more common in spoken BrE than in AmE. AmE speakers often prefer to use the verb have on its own:
I’ve got a picture of you when you were a teenager. D’you want to see it?
I have two cousins in Ohio.
Have got to and have to
Have got to is much more common in BrE than AmE. Have to (without got) is more common in AmE than in BrE:
We’ve got to take my mother back to the hospital a week on Friday.
We have to be back in San Francisco next Sunday to fly home again.
BrE speakers often use shall with I and we in statements when referring to the future, especially in more formal situations. AmE prefers will:
I shall be back in a minute. (formal)
We shall be talking about this in detail tomorrow.
I’ll call you early tomorrow morning.
We will see what happens after the new company takes us over.
Substitute verb do
BrE speakers often add the substitute verb do to short clauses with modal verbs, especially in short answers. AmE speakers prefer to use the modal verb on its own:
[a group of students talk about the grades they might get in an exam, BrE]
I don’t reckon I’ll get all As this time.B:
I might do, but I doubt it.
Yeah, so you think you might get an exercise bicycle?B:
Oh, I might. I have a regular bicycle out in the garage, but it’s been kind of raining and stuff around here lately.
British and American English: verb tense forms
The present perfect
The present perfect is less common in AmE than BrE. AmE speakers often use the past simple in situations where BrE speakers use the present perfect, especially with words such as already and yet:
We’ve already booked our holiday for next year.
What do you do with your free time? Did I already ask you that? (BrE: Have I already asked you that?)B:
Have you had a reply from the bank yet?
Did they pick the golf team yet? (BrE: Have they picked the golf team yet?)
The past perfect
The past perfect is more common in AmE than in BrE, especially in situations where the speaker sees one event as happening before another in the past:
[talking about a TV series shown over several nights, AmE]
Did you watch it?B:
We had watched it, uh, I guess Sunday night and Monday night, but we didn’t get to watch it tonight.
We watched the news, then we watched a documentary.
[A is asking B about his past, AmE]
You had said your family is from back east?B:
Then they’ve moved out here for business reasons?B:
Yeah. My dad’s in banking. He got moved to Seattle and then moved here.
[A is asking B about his past, BrE]
You said your father died when he was quite young?B:
Well, he was, as far as I can remember, he was thirty-eight.
British and American English: prepositions
At the weekend/on the weekend
BrE prefers at the weekend; AmE prefers on the weekend:
What are you doing at the weekend? D’you want to get together for some music?
So we’ll get together and barbecue on the weekend.B:
That sounds good.
In + period of time after a negative
In and on with street names
AmE uses through in many situations where BrE prefers to or till when referring to the end points of periods of time:
Actually she leaves the house at eleven and gets home at four so …B:
And that’s Monday through Friday? (BrE preferred form Monday to Friday)A:
[an elderly woman is talking about her working life, BrE]
I was doing twelve hours a day from Monday till Friday and twelve and a half on a Saturday. (AmE preferred form Monday through Friday)B:
And how old were you?A:
Fourteen years old.
Adjectives and adverbs
In informal spoken AmE, speakers often use real instead of really before an adjective. This is considered non-standard by many AmE speakers:
That’s real funny! (BrE preferred form really funny)
I thought it was a real good movie. (BrE preferred form really good film)
Well and good
AmE speakers often use good where BrE prefers well. However, the AmE form is becoming more common in BrE, especially after greetings such as How are you?, How’s it going?:
How are you?B:
I’m good. (BrE preferred form I’m well or I’m fine)
It all worked out real good. (BrE preferred form really well)
AmE allows the use of likely as an adjective (in the same way as probable, possible, etc.), or as an adverb (in the same way as probably, possibly, etc.). In BrE, likely is normally only used as an adjective:
There will likely be other announcements before the end of this year. (likely as an adverb; BrE preferred form There are likely to be)
The focus on the economy will likely continue when the new President takes office. (BrE preferred form is likely to continue)
And what’s likely to happen? (likely as an adjective, also common in BrE)
Question tags are much more common in BrE than in AmE, but a wide range of question tags are used in both varieties:
She’s Swedish, isn’t she?
Elvis wasn’t your favourite rock star, was he?
In informal situations, AmE speakers often use a tag with rising intonation in responses which show surprise or emotional involvement. The tag has the same form as the statement the speaker is responding to (affirmative statement → affirmative tag; negative statement → negative tag). This is not common in BrE:
I took the Chinese course last semester.B:
Oh, you di↗d? (BrE preferred form Oh, did you? with fall-rise or rising intonation)A:
My sister still lives with my mom.B:
She does? (BrE preferred form Does she?)A:
Tags at the end of affirmative statements which have an affirmative form occur in both varieties but are quite rare in AmE:
He works really hard, he does.
And so when she went to a nursing home, in the beginning, I think she kind of liked it. She did art work there, she did, yeah.
Both varieties use the tag right, but it is more common in AmE:
She’s studying geography, right?B:
(“British and American English” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press.)
- Adjectives and adverbs
Easily confused words
- Above or over?
- Across, over or through?
- Advice or advise?
- Affect or effect?
- All or every?
- All or whole?
- Allow, permit or let?
- Almost or nearly?
- Alone, lonely, or lonesome?
- Along or alongside?
- Already, still or yet?
- Also, as well or too?
- Alternate(ly), alternative(ly)
- Although or though?
- Altogether or all together?
- Amount of, number of or quantity of?
- Any more or anymore?
- Anyone, anybody or anything?
- Apart from or except for?
- Arise or rise?
- Around or round?
- Arouse or rouse?
- As or like?
- As, because or since?
- As, when or while?
- Been or gone?
- Begin or start?
- Beside or besides?
- Between or among?
- Born or borne?
- Bring, take and fetch
- Can, could or may?
- Classic or classical?
- Come or go?
- Consider or regard?
- Consist, comprise or compose?
- Content or contents?
- Different from, different to or different than?
- Do or make?
- Down, downwards or downward?
- During or for?
- Each or every?
- East or eastern; north or northern?
- Economic or economical?
- Efficient or effective?
- Elder, eldest or older, oldest?
- End or finish?
- Especially or specially?
- Every one or everyone?
- Except or except for?
- Expect, hope or wait?
- Experience or experiment?
- Fall or fall down?
- Far or a long way?
- Farther, farthest or further, furthest?
- Fast, quick or quickly?
- Fell or felt?
- Female or feminine; male or masculine?
- Finally, at last, lastly or in the end?
- First, firstly or at first?
- Fit or suit?
- Following or the following?
- For or since?
- Forget or leave?
- Full or filled?
- Fun or funny?
- Get or go?
- Grateful or thankful?
- Hear or listen (to)?
- High or tall?
- Historic or historical?
- House or home?
- How is …? or What is … like?
- If or when?
- If or whether?
- Ill or sick?
- Imply or infer?
- In the way or on the way?
- It’s or its?
- Late or lately?
- Lay or lie?
- Lend or borrow?
- Less or fewer?
- Look at, see or watch?
- Low or short?
- Man, mankind or people?
- Maybe or may be?
- Maybe or perhaps?
- Nearest or next?
- Never or not … ever?
- Nice or sympathetic?
- No doubt or without doubt?
- No or not?
- Nowadays, these days or today?
- Open or opened?
- Opportunity or possibility?
- Opposite or in front of?
- Other, others, the other or another?
- Out or out of?
- Permit or permission?
- Person, persons or people?
- Pick or pick up?
- Play or game?
- Politics, political, politician or policy?
- Price or prize?
- Principal or principle?
- Quiet or quite?
- Raise or rise?
- Remember or remind?
- Right or rightly?
- Rob or steal?
- Say or tell?
- So that or in order that?
- Sometimes or sometime?
- Sound or noise?
- Speak or talk?
- Such or so?
- There, their or they’re?
- Towards or toward?
- Wait or wait for?
- Wake, wake up or awaken?
- Worth or worthwhile?
- Nouns, pronouns and determiners
Prepositions and particles
- Among and amongst
- At, in and to (movement)
- At, on and in (place)
- At, on and in (time)
- Beneath: meaning and use
- By + myself etc.
- For + -ing
- In front of
- In spite of and despite
- In, into
- Near and near to
- On, onto
- Prepositional phrases
- Words, sentences and clauses
- discourse markers
- emphasising and downtoning
- people and places
types of English (formal, informal, etc.)
- British and American English
- Double negatives and usage
- Formal and informal language
- Newspaper headlines
- Standard and non-standard language
- Swearing and taboo expressions
- useful phrases
Word of the Day
a painting, photograph, drawing, etc. of a person or, less commonly, of a group of people