8 Differences Between US and UK English
In today’s post we are going to be taking a look at the differences between English from the UK and the USA. Although both countries speak the same language there are quite a few differences between the two.
Strangely enough this has always been the case. The English brought their language to the USA somewhere between the 16th and 17th centuries, however Noah Webster (the author of the first standardised dictionary intentionally changed the spelling of many words as a sign of rebellion against the English imperialists! One of the key spelling differences between US and UK English is the removal of the letter u from words like colour (color in US English) or honour (honor in US English. Some other spelling differences between the two include:
- Past Tense words that end in T in UK English typically end in ED in US English – For example: Burnt/Burned.
- Words that end in ence normally end in ense in US English – For Example: Defence/Defense
- Words that include ise are typically changed to ize in US English – For Example: Organise/Organize
- Words that are spelt ou in UK English are spelt o in US English. For example the site cleverneighbor.com (UK – neighbour)
Over time more and more differences between UK and US English emerged. The original English settlers actually spoke in an accent more similar to how North Americans speak nowadays with a more pronounced ‘R’ sound. The upper class British people at this point wanted to distinguish themselves further from the lower classes so they began to speak with a softer ‘R,’ this way of speaking became more and more common until it became the standardised way of speaking in England.
In English we use collective nouns when we are talking about a group of individuals, for example team, government, family.
In UK English collective nouns can be both singular or plural when used in a sentence. So for example you could say both:
- The family is going to the cinema tonight.
- The family are going to the cinema tonight.
However, in North American English collective nouns are always singular so a US English speaker would say something like:
- The government is on strike.
This one is a bit harder to see as US popular culture has influenced the way people speak English in the UK so much that they have adopted these certain ‘Americanisms.’ Some examples of differences in how UK and US English speakers use prepositions are
- I went to the beach at the weekend (UK)/ I went to the beach on the weekend. (US)
- I normally work Monday to Friday (UK)/ I normally work Monday through (US)
- My life is very different to yours (UK)/ My life is very different than yours (US)
Have & Take
In British English we can use both verb have and take with nouns like shower and holiday. For example:
- I’m going to have/take a shower
However in US English they only use the verb take with these nouns, for example:
- I need to take a holiday.
There are plenty of examples of differing vocabulary between US and UK English. A good example of this is housing vocabulary. In UK English we tend to refer to a building with lots of flats in it as a block of flats, whereas in US English they normally refer to this as an apartment building.
Additionally there is often confusion when talking about what floor you are on. In UK English we typically refer to the bottom floor of a building as the ground floor whereas US English speakers will often refer to it as the first floor.
The Present Perfect
In general there are few grammatical differences between US and UK English, however there is a slight difference in the way we use the present perfect.
In UK English we can use the present perfect to talk about something that has happened in the recent past and had an effect on the present, for example:
- I’ve lost my car, can you help me find it?
However in US English they would use the past simple for this sentence:
- I lost my car, can you help me find it?
The difference in the way that dates are presented between UK and US English is the source of a lot of frustration. In the UK, similar to the majority of the rest of the world, we write our dates day/month/year, so for example the 25th December 2021 would be written like this: 25/12/2021.
In the USA however, they write their dates month/day/year so they would write the 25th December 2021 as: 12/12/2021. Understandably this can cause a lot of confusion…
So there you have it, 8 key differences between UK and US English. There are many more of these slight variations between the two languages but there isn’t a blog post in the world big enough to list them all!