You may have wondered, “What differentiates American English from British English? Aren’t they both the same thing?” Yes, they are both English, but they each have their own unique aspects. Thankfully, you need not worry too much about the differences – all you need to know are their key distinctions.
Why are American English and British English different?
When the United States claimed its independence from British rule, it wanted its primary language to be distinct from the main language of its former colonizer. As a result, American linguists made some aspects like spelling and vocabulary different from British English in order to create “American English,” leading to the English differences today.
Spelling is one of the most recognizable differences between American and British English. For some words, certain letters are either switched around or removed completely.
Here are some examples:
- Odor versus odour
- Labor versus labour
- Categorise versus categorize
- Liter versus litre
- Traveled versus travelled
Word preferences vary wildly between American English and British English. For example:
- “Pants” in American English and “trousers” in British English
- “Truck” in American English and “lorry” in British English
- “Drugstore” in American English and “chemist” in British English
- “Chips” in American English and “crisps” in British English
- “Stove” in American English and “cooker” in British English
- “Elevator” in American English and “lift” in British English
Each of these words means the same thing as their other English counterparts. Regardless, you have to keep these in mind to anticipate or avoid misunderstandings.
Some expressions are shared between American English and British English. However, there are also some that are exclusive to each one.
In British English, some examples of everyday expressions are:
- “Taking the piss” (out of someone) – Used to mock or insult someone
- “Bob’s your uncle” – Another way of saying “done” or “in conclusion”
- “Bloody” – Used as an adjective to emphasize something (e.g. “bloody door,” “bloody window”)
For American English, some examples are:
- “Beating around the bush” – Avoiding going straight to the point
- “Take a raincheck” – Refusing an invitation or expressing that you’re unable to go but would like to propose another time.
- “Take five” – Another way of saying “take a break”
The common perception of American English speakers of British English speakers is how their grammar usually sounds “proper.” On the other hand, British English speakers see the way American English speakers talk as “informal.”
These notions are actually true – there are real-life grammatical differences between American English and British English:
- British English speakers usually make more complete utterances, whereas American English speakers sometimes drop some words for the same meaning (e.g. “I’ll call you” for British English versus “I’ll call” for American English).
- With verbs, British English speakers prefer speaking in the present perfect tense when referring to past actions. American English speakers prefer the past simple tense (e.g. “She forgot her bag’ for American English versus “She has forgotten her bag” for British English speakers)
- When speaking in future tense, American English speakers prefer using the word “will” or “should.” British English speakers prefer using “shall.”
- With collective nouns, American English speakers refer to collective nouns as singular; British English speakers refer to them as plural.
In terms of formatting, American English and British English mainly differ in two aspects:
- Dates. American English speakers write dates in the month-day-year format, while British English speakers use the day-month-year format.
- Comma. The use of the Oxford comma, which is the comma after the second-to-the-last item in a series of items, is hotly debated, especially in the academe. Nevertheless, the Oxford comma enjoys more usage among British English speakers compared to American English speakers.
These are only some of the differences between American English and British English. In any case, what’s important is that you’re aware of the key distinctions so you can keep up with regular conversations with speakers of either English.
However, if you’re concerned with skills like transcription and captioning, deep knowledge and expertise in both Englishes are a must. It can take a long time to develop a firm grasp of both before you can correctly transcribe or caption. Use your time more efficiently by outsourcing your transcribing or captioning tasks to a transcription service like TranscriptionWing. We have experts in both American English and British English who can do transcriptions or captions in either English.