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aea differences

Æ Differences between
A m e r ic a n E n g l is h a n d B r it is h E n g l is h
Zdeněk Benedikt
The English language, whether it be spoken in North America, the British Isles, Australia or any other place in the whole world, is one
language and its different varieties “equal” siblings. Although the size of the territory where the varieties are used and the number
of people living there are not always comparable, linguistically, however, they enjoy equal status, and therefore it would be wrong
to say that one of them is the sole representative of correct English with the others representing substandard forms.
I would like to stress the fact that even after four hundred years of physical separation, the American and British varieties of the English
language, which we will primarily be focusing on, have maintained a great deal of sameness or similarity and that although there
will be many individual differences discussed and pointed out between these two most frequently encountered varieties, we need to
keep in mind that these have been purposefully dug out and presented in detail, while the everyday communication between
Englishmen and Americans is not hampered to such an extent as may be the false impression resulting from the long list of differences
presented to you in this research paper.
This material is based on my own personal experience of an English teacher and a speaker of predominantly American English, as well
as on research carried out using and exploiting different materials of both academic and non-academic nature. (see bibliography)

Æ

What is an AMERICANISM?

• a word or one of its meanings, which is currently used in American English and has a different equivalent in the British variety

(elevator – lift, gasoline – petrol)
• a word which refers to sth exclusively characteristic of American realia (convention, caucus, fraternity, bayou)
• a word which originated in American English but has since spread to other varieties of English, even British English (bike, bulldozer,
boom, boost, boss)
• a word or an expression which originated in British English but is no longer used among the Brits, i.e. is extinct in the English of the
British Isles, but is still used on the North American continent (apartment, baggage, bug, rooster, fall, gotten, guess, sick)
American English maintains certain features of old British English, which it comes from. So does Canadian French carry with itself
a certain air of old 17th century French, as it was spoken before the French revolution. (We have gotten a new car since you last saw
us.)
Dnešní americká výslovnost odráží stav jihoanglické výslovnosti v době vypuknutí roztržky mezi mateřskou zemí a 13 koloniemi,
tj. kolem roku 1770. (Peprník, str.15)

In many cases, when speaking about American and British equivalents, the distinction is not really a matter of one nation having one
word/expression which the other variety is not familiar with and vice versa. It’s more a matter of one of the expressions being prevalent
and most widely used in one of the varieties, while the majority of speakers using the other variety of the two are more familiar and
comfortable with the other, if the equivalents form a pair, which is not always the case. (fall is the most frequently used term for one of
the four seasons of the year but autumn, which is considered a purely British expression, can also be found in the writing of American
authors, mainly when striving for a higher stylistic form)
One word/phrase often has different connotations/meanings in the two varieties. (mudguard – BrE blatník auta, AmE blatník bicyklu;
suspenders – BrE podvazky, AmE šle)
Sometimes the two connotations carry totally opposite meanings. (“I am through”, when given to a partner in a telephone
conversation, would mean a totally different thing to a Brit than to an American. The Brit would think it means “We’ve made the
connection, we can talk.”, whereas the American would suppose the phone call is over as the Brit is apparently implying “I am finished,
it’s over.”; another example is the adjective “inflammable", which in American English means that it is not possible to set the material
on fire, while in British English it means Watch out! This material can go ablaze very easily)
Here are a few examples of “Briticisms” (a term not as common as Americanism) which have entered and were absorbed by American
English: A-level, au-pair girl, back bencher, bank holiday, redbrick university, terraced houses, bloody, bobby, dustman, headmaster,
fortnight, pram, mackintosh, ring sb up, Establishment, posh, postman, shop, tabloid, luggage
On the other hand, a great many Americanisms have been adopted by Britons and can be commonly heard on both sides of the
Atlantic. These are more plentiful as American English seems to affect all the other varieties of English more than any other form, mostly

Æ1


Æ2

due to the impact of show business (ie. the movies, popular music) as well as the economic and political influence of the United States
around the world. Here are the most well-known examples: talk with sb, I wouldn’t know, blizzard, get the hang of sth, blurb, editorial,
commuter, rock in the sense of stone, be on the air, top secret, double talk, baggage in connection with traveling on a ship, etc.

Æ

Main differences in PRONUNCIATION

Br [a:] before -f, -s, -S, m, n is pronounced [æ] (ask, after, half, path, chance, plant, sample)
Br [o] in words such as not, block, cross, stop, college, doctor, comedy is pronounced [a:]
Br [i] in timid, America is often pronounced [?]
Br [a] in but, hurry is pronounced closer to [?]
AmE does not leave out the r-sounds in better, perceive, bird, here, poor
Br [ju:] after consonants d, t, n is pronounced [u:], eg. duty, tune, new
Br [t] betw. a vowel and a voiced consonant or vowels is pron. more like [d] latter, putting
BrE reduces the secondary stress more than AmE, eg. secretary, secondary, necessary
Suffix -ile is pronounced [-?l] in AmE and [-ail] in BrE, eg. agile, fertile, hostile, mobile
The British diphthong [?u] is replaced by [ou], which does not exist in BrE at all, eg. Oh, no!
Některé z rysů obecné americké angličtiny působí nelibě na britské ucho, zejména retroflexní [r], neredukování nepřízvučných slabik,
nazalizace a intonace. Brit vyrostlý v jihoanglickém standardu vnímá americkou výslovnost jako příliš robustní, drsnou až hrubou,
její nazalizace mu připadá vulgární. Naopak Američanovi se zdá jihoanglická výslovnost usekaná (clipped), příliš zjemnělá
a afektovaná.
(Peprník, str. 15)

Sounding or not sounding the r’s is not a clear-cut matter which would distinguish the two varieties from each other. For example, in
Great Britain, there are many areas, such as Scotland, Lancashire or Ireland, where the r’s would be sounded pretty much like they are
in General American. On the other hand, many Americans would tend to leave the r sound out, especially around metropolitan New
York, in Eastern New England or in the coastal south of the United States.
– eg. car, bar, beer, clear, fear, the letter ‘r’
The past tense forms of the two following verbs are pronounced differently.
BrE
AmE
shine – shone [šon]
shine – shone [šoun/ša:n]
eat – ate [et]
eat – ate [eit]
Here are a few examples of words which are pronounced differently in the U.S. than in the U.K.
BrE
AmE
resource
[ri’zo:s]
[ri:so:s]
figure
[fig?]
[figj?r]
leisure
[lež?]
[li:ž?r]
either
[aið?]
[i:ð?r]
research
[ri’s?:č]
[ri:s?:rč]
glacier
[glæsi?]
[gleiš?r]
schedule
[šedju?l]
[skedž?l]
clothes
[kl?uðz]
[klouz]
twenty
[twenti]
[twenđi]
Asia
[eiša]
[eiž?]
garage
[gæra:ž, gæridž]
[g?’ra:ž, g?’ra:dž]
lever
[li:v?]
[lev?r]
can’t
[ka:nt]
[kænt]
record
[reko:d]
[rek?rd]
advertisement
[?d’v?:tism?nt]
[ædv?r’taizm?nt]


Æ3

Æ

Main differences in GRAMMAR

BrE

AmE

half an hour
half a bottle

a half hour
a half bottle

pneumonia
tuberculosis

the pneumonia
the tuberculosis

five cents a copy
five dollars a pair

(five cents the copy)
(five dollars the pair)

in hospital
at university

in the hospital
at the university

administration are
council are
crew are
crowd are
jury are
team are
government are
company are

administration is
council is
crew is
crowd is
jury is
team is
government is
company is

plenty of time
a couple of months
half of the world

plenty time
a couple months
half the world

break the news to him
carry her things for her
pays no attention to me

break him the news
carry her her things
pays me no attention

need it badly
mightily dangerous
really hard
drive slowly

need it bad
mighty dangerous
real hard
drive slow

now
here

right now
right here

have you got…?
I haven’t got…

do you have…?
I don’t have…

don’t let’s

let’s not

Have you ever heard…?
I have just got here.
Have you eaten yet?

Did you ever hear…?
I just got here.
Did you eat yet?
in AmE the use of subjunctive is more frequent:
The President urges that we be patient.
I insist that he go with us.
I suggest we stay right here.


Æ4

get hit
get rained on
if he were not busy

if he was not busy

burn – burnt – burnt
dream – dreamt – dreamt
mow – mowed – mowed/mown
shine – shone – shone
learn – learnt – learnt

burn – burned – burned
dream – dreamed – dreamed
mow – mowed – mowed
shine – shined – shined
learn – learned – learned

bet – betted – betted
dive – dived – dived
pleaded – pleaded -pleaded
get – got – got

bet – bet – bet
dive – dove – dived
plead – pled – pled
get – got – gotten

I have got (= bought/received)

I have gotten

try to help them
help me to stand up
let’s go to see the film
go and see if

try help them
help me stand up
let’s go see the movie
go see if

Æ

Main differences in VOCABULARY

The so called Standard American does not differ from the Standard British English nearly as much as do the individual substandard
colloquial or dialectal spheres of the language. That is to say that when two university professors, one from the U.S. and the other from
the U.K., are speaking to each other, they have less difficulty understanding each other than if we had two uneducated speakers of
different regional or even social dialects from the two countries having a conversation.
American English seems to be have been more creative in the past couple of centuries. Many new words have been coined based on
otherwise well-known and commonly used vocabulary.
Suffixes
-dom (bachelordom)
-ee (retiree)
-eer (racketeer)
-ette (launderette)
-ician (mortician)
-itis (Americanitis)
-ize (burglarize)
-ster (gangster)
-teria (cafeteria)
Prefixes
anti- (antiperspirant)
be- (bespectacled)
de- (debugging)
mid- (mid-January)
semi- (semi-annual)
New expressions combining two or more words, resulting in a set phrase/compound noun
cottonwood
copperhead


Æ5

log cabin
ghost town
disk jockey
soap opera
sweat shop
rowing boat BrE
sailing boat BrE
sparking plug BrE

rowboat AmE
sailboat AmE
spark plug AmE

Phrasal verbs often take on an additional particle
meet up with sb
visit with sb
write up on sth

Expressions existing in both varieties, however with different meanings.
freight
freight
(refers exclusively to a load transported
(in AmE the meaning of freight has become broader
across a body of water)
and includes pretty much all kinds of cargo, even
one transported solely by the railroads)
lumber
(stuff which is in the way,
trash or rubbish)

lumber
(originally the word had the same meaning in AmE
as it did in BrE but as the building timber stacked
alongside the streets in American cities started to be
in the way, people began calling this timber
’lumber’, which even sounded similar.

corn (meaning grain in general)

corn (meaning one special kind of grain, otherwise
called maize in BrE)

(bed) bug
– very unpleasant kind of insect which
is found in the beds
of the poorest and dirtiest slums

bug
– meaning any kind of insect

faucet
– exists only in regional dialects of BrE
– Standard BrE uses tap

faucet
– standard AmE

homely
– pleasant

homely
– not good looking

List of equivalents in BrE in the left column and their counterparts in AmE on the right.
BrE
AmE
grilled steak

broiled steak

staff

faculty

wireless

radio

auto parts
saloon

sedan


Æ6

windscreen
gear lever
boot
bonnet
hood
dynamo
mudguard
sparking plug

windshield
gear shift
trunk
hood
top
generator
fender
spark plug

loo, toilet
public toilets

bathroom
restrooms

bring to the boil

bring to a boil

do the washing

do the laundry

curriculum vitae

résumé, personal history

the cinema

the movies, the movie theater

lift

elevator

sunglasses

shades

block of flats

apartment building

lorry

truck

pavement

sidewalk

road surface

pavement

taxi

cab

(book)shop

(book)store

rubbish

garbage

subway

underpass

underground, tube

subway

in Franklin Street, in the square

on Franklin Street, on the square

tin, tinned meat

can (of coke), canned meat

washbasin

sink

cottage

cabin

sweets

candy

biscuit

cookie


Æ7

mad

crazy

angry

mad

chemist’s

drugstore

ground floor

first floor

motorway

freeway

headteacher, headmaster

principal

dustbin

garbage can

post

mail

maths

math

trousers

pants

fanny OBSCENE!!!
bumbag

fanny (meaning buttocks)
fanny pack

crisps

potato chips

return (ticket)

round trip

timetable

schedule

cooker

stove

holiday

vacation

fill in a form

fill out a form

stay at home

stay home

meet sb, visit sb

meet with sb, visit with sb

Monday to Friday

Monday thru Friday

ten to eleven, ten past two

ten of eleven, ten after two

rubber

eraser

rucksack

backpack

pub

bar, tavern

sweet

dessert

nappy

diaper

torch

flashlight


Æ8

chips

French fries

tram

streetcar

zip

zipper

tick

check

smart (elegant)

smart (intelligent)

queue

line

caravan

trailer

diversion

detour

tea-towel

dish towel

toll motorway

turnpike

get a rise

get a raise

pram

baby carriage

garden

yard

collect

pick up

petrol

gas, gasoline

off-licence

liquor store

railway line

railroad tracks

mean

stingy

bloke, chap

guy, buddy, dude

spanner

wrench

revise

review

at the weekend

on the weekend, over the weekend

set homework

give homework

sit (for) an exam

take an exam

take a decision

make a decision

different to

different from, different than

club (for university students)

fraternity


Æ9

knickers

panties

football

soccer

secondary school

high school

basic school

elementary school

arsehole OBSCENE!!!

asshole OBSCENE!!!

Words which have infiltrated the other variety and are now known in both of the Englishes. The arrow indicates where the word originated and who
adopted it.
Å talk with sb
the more British phrase is talk to
Å I wouldn’t know.
Å blizzard
used side by side with snowstorm
Å get the hang of something
Æ
dressing gown
dinner jacket
Æ replaced tuxedo, which sounds a little sub-standard
luggage (esp. air travel)
Æ
Å blurb
used interchangeably with leading article
Å editorial
Å commuter
Å rocks in the sense of stones which can be thrown
Å be on the air
Å top secret
Å double talk
A-level
Æ
au-pair girl
Æ in AmE the expression governess is more common
Establishment
Æ
postman
Æ
tabloid
Æ
Expressions frequently found in American English but unacceptable even for Americans
Annie and me
anyways instead of anyway
six mile down the road instead of using the plural
… and I says “xxxxx"
Political correctness has first become an issue in the United States, that is why most of the following expressions were first made up and used in
American English:
physically challenged
colored person
weight challenged
acoustically challenged
vision impaired
literacy challenged
sanitation engineer
flight attendant
(no wonder Brits often accuse Americans
of long-wordedness)


Æ 10

Æ

Words adopted by Americans from foreign languages

Indian languages
– there were over 300 Indian languages spoken in what is now called the United States of America when Europeans started to settle
down in large numbers on the North American continent.
– Over twenty-six states within the Union have their official name taken from one of the Indian languages which were once spoken on
their territory.
Here are a few expressions that originated in one of the many Indian tongues but are now known by virtually all speakers of the English
language, not only its American variety.
– squash, raccoon, skunk, squaw, woodchuck, bury the hatchet, pale face, sequoia, moose, moccasin, potlatch, powwow, teepee,
wigwam, iron horse

The influence of Spanish
The second most influential language to have infiltrated into American English would most probably be Spanish. Just to illustrate the
ancient roots of the Spanish element in Central and North America, let me just mention the fact that Santa Fe, one of the oldest cities to
be founded on American soil, was settled and run by Spaniards. And, by the way, the Spanish-speaking community, comprised of
immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America or even Spain itself, constitute the second largest ethnic minority in the U.S.A.,
second only to the African-American community.
From the plentiful examples of Spanish words used in English on daily basis let me name only the most well-known.
– alligator, banana, barbecue, canyon, chocolate, potato, tomato, cockroach, marijuana, tornado, yucca
Expressions characteristic mainly of American English would then be:
– adobe (raw material brick), alfalfa (type of grain), cafeteria (canteen in BrE, canteen in AmE means a special military-like drink bottle
used for hiking), mustang, patio, rodeo, saguaro, sierra

Words adopted from French
Especially in the South of the United States, around the city of New Orleans, and in the St. Laurence River area higher to the north, there
were main strongholds of the French culture for a long time coexisting side by side with the predominantly English-speaking Americans.
These have long dissipated but the linguistic influence can be tracked down even today. Some French vocabulary has infiltrated into
General American. Most of the following examples would be familiar among speakers of British English as well.
– bureau, depot, cache, chute, crevasse, prairie, pumpkin, rapids, rotisserie, croissant

Æ

Differences in SPELLING

Major simplification of English spelling can be attributed to one of the most distinguished linguists of the 19th century America, Noah
Webster. This man authored the first dictionary of American English, which was first published in 1828. The changes he had made
(although many of the suggested changes have never been respected and were never used) reflected the practical/pragmatical and
anti-elitist spirit of the American public.
Here are the most basic differences between British and American spelling patterns which you are sure to find when reading works
originating on both sides of the Atlantic.
BrE

AmE

colour, honour, labour, neighbour
behaviour

color, honor, labor, neighbor
behavior
spelling of Saviour has not changed, though
(religious talk has its own rules and often uses
grammar from the old times)

calibre, centre, fibre, theatre

caliber, center, fiber, theater

travelled, cancelled, labelled

traveled, canceled, labeled


Æ 11

kidnapped, worshipped

kidnaped, worshiped

skilful, wilful, enrolment

skillful, willful, enrollment

defence, offence, pretence

defense, offense, pretense

abridgement, judgement

abridgment, judgment

shy – shyer, sly – slyer

shy – shier, sly – slier

catalogue, dialogue, monologue

catalog, dialog, monolog

enquire, enquiry, encase, enclose

inquire, inquiry, incase, inclose

authorise, characterise, colonise,
criticise, nationalise, realise, subsidise

authorize, characterize, colonize
criticize, nationalize, realize, subsidize
(does not apply to comprise, despise, disguise,
exercise)

miscellaneous:
ageing
cheque
curb
tsar
draught
grey
gypsy
gaol
jewellery
mould
pyjamas
plough
programme
sceptic
storey
tyre
vice
waggon
woollen
worshipping

Æ

aging
check
kerb
czar
draft
gray
gipsy, gypsy
jail
jewelry
mold
pajamas
plow
program
skeptic
story (floor)
tire
vise
wagon
woolen
worshiping

James Russell Lowell

– 19th century man of letters in America
– in response to a rather savage attack upon the American version of English, he commented that “It was a great pity that our American
ancestors had nothing better to bring with them than the language of Shakespeare.” (Jamestown, the first permanent colony in Virginia
was settled in 1607, only 9 years before Shakespeare died. )

Æ

Professor Randolf Quirk of University College, London:

– on the sometimes ignorance-based attitudes and fallacies of Brits towards Americans professor Quirk reiterates a story: My own
favourite (story) is one of the mid-nineteenth century when a fashionable Boston debutante was visiting London. She was at a society
ball one night and was dancing with a young British Guards officer and he made no attempt to conceal his admiration for her (which
was all right, of course), but equally he made no attempt to conceal his surprise at being with an American girl that he could
understand. He had the nerve to compliment her on her English and even went so far as to suppose that she must be unique among her


Æ 12

countrywomen in speaking English so well. To this, I’m glad to say, the young lady had the wit and presence of mind to reply, ‘Oh, yes,
but then I had unique advantages; there was an English missionary stationed near my tribe.’

Æ

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

– the author points out the differences which exist even among speakers of one variety, ie. American English:
Oklahoma man: I knowed you wasn’t Oklahoma Folk. You talk queer kinda. – Tht ain’t no blame, you understan’?
Arkansas woman: Ever’body says words different. Arkansas folks says ‘em different, and Oklahomy folks says ‘em different. And we
seen a lady from Massachusetts, an’ she said ‘em differentest of all. Couldn’ make out what she was sayin’.

Æ

Professor H. Marckwardt of Princeton University to the hesitant and confused teachers:

“When foreign teachers are worried about which English they should teach – British or American – it seems to me that we’ve now
arrived at the point where we can say without hesitation: Teach the form that you know and that you have the resources to teach.”

Æ

Professor Marckwardt commenting on those who intentionally use British accent:

… reminds me of a time I was sitting in a little lunch-room in the United States, and an American woman of some social pretensions
came in with her husband; when the waitress showed them a seat, she looked across the room and said (in what she clearly thought
was a superior accent) “Can’t [ka:nt] you put us over there?” But a couple of moments later, talking more naturally just to her husband,
I heard her say “Is it half [hæf] past six yet?” It sounded ridiculous to hear her mix her forms of language, though certainly she thought
that her [ka:nt] was better than her ordinary pronunciation as represented by [hæf].

Æ

Professor Quirk:

Do you know that old one (joke) about the American lady who is supposed to have said to someone in England, ‘Do you have many
children?‘ and the reply was, ‘Oh no, only one every couple of years.‘ This rests on the rather dubious existence of a tendency in England
to use do in questions with the verb have only when habitual actions are referred to.

Æ

Professor Marckwardt:

Well, then there’s the one about the Englishman coming to New York and trying to buy a saloon; he was directed to the government
bureau concerned with liquor licensing, because of course although he only wanted a car, he is supposed to have wanted to open a bar,
a pub.

Æ

Bibliography:

Peprník, Jaroslav: Slovník amerikanismů, Praha 1982
Marckwardt A. – Quirk R.: A Common Language, Washington 1965
Baker D. – Varandíková E.: A Book of American Slang and Conversation, Ostrava 1994
Dreher, Hans: 2,000x Minuten-Training Amerian English, Munich 2000



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