UK English vs US English

There are many language pairs that are pretty similar: Spanish and Italian, Finnish and Norwegian, Persian and Dari, Polish and Ukrainian, etc. However, none of them is as similar as two versions of English: British and American. Sure, there are other dialects used by, for instance, Canadians. But these two are the most commonly used and recognized. So, how to avoid confusing situations and misunderstanding when deciding on which form of an English word or proverb to apply?

Historically, American population used to speak classical British English. The “split-off point” appeared in the mid 18-th century when the Declaration of Independence was being prepared. To stress their independence from the United Kingdom and Great Britain, in particular, the local population started developing own language rules, forms, idioms, and, as the result, slang. Just such places as NY, Eastern New England, and Coastal South were maintaining classical language for a while.

The Revolutionary War came, and all at once the “indigenous emigrants” from the Old World turned to American English.

Today we can hear hundreds of different dialects. Some were formed by the slavery, others were implemented by modern Afro-Americans, some are relevant only for the Southern part, others – for the North, closer to Canada. Canadians, in their turn, have added a lot of French issues to enrich and change the language. Are all those differences significant? Well, e.g. two vivid features of American English are rhoticity (pronouncing “r” at the end of the words) and the usage of an unrounded vowel in words like “lot” and “cod” (“last,” “cahd,” etc). British English along with its strict rules and variety of dialects is spoken only in London. For the rest of the world, you may not hesitate to speak American by breaking all possible rules. But do not go overboard with your formal, business, or academic writing! As for the business, however, there is also own vocabulary full of marketing and management terms, applied on and not on purpose.

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Here is the list of other essential differences between these two, let’s say, dialects.

1) Spelling

Most of the differences between these two arise from Greek and Latin-rooted spellings. These peculiarities may be noticed in the unstressed word endings.

Latin examples:

American English - British English

  • Glamor - Glamour
  • Behavior - Behaviour
  • Flavor - Flavour

Greek words:

American English - British English

  • Organize - Organise
  • Catalogue - Catalog
  • Analyze - Analyse 

2) Pronunciation

The part of the words are spelled the same in any English version, but few are pronounced with a various stress: controversy and schedule are just a few. Some existing words possess both differing spelling and pronunciation: US “defense” vs. British “defence” and US “axe” versus British “ax.”

3) Vocabulary

The meaning of particular words in two separate versions can often be different or even controversial. For instance, ‘boot’ in American refers to a pair of shoes, but in British this word means a trunk of a car, as in: ‘just getting my tire out of the boot’. As we can see, nothing in common. Here is a brief dictionary from us:

American English –> British English

  • Pharmacy –> Chemist
  • French Fries –> Chips
  • Highway –> Carriageway
  • Trash –> Dustbin

4) Phrasing

Phrases such as ‘Saturday week’ that identify a week in the future tense are common for British people; however, they may make the American stuck in an own guess. At the same time, ‘fortnight Monday’ determines two weeks following this exact Monday.

In the UK, dates, as a rule, are written in the numerical forms. E.g., Valentine’s Day 2015 is marked as 14/2/15, with the day preceding the month.

5) Punctuation

The most common form of differing punctuation is seen through titles. In American English titles such as Dr., Mrs., Ms., Mr., are spelled with the use of a period while it's not uncommon for the British version will omit the period altogether.

On the whole, you may not worry that you won’t be able to find common speech and reach a compromise with anyone in the world speaking almost the same language as you. Frankly speaking, I know a lot of people who managed to survive in the countries which language was absolutely strange to them. I’ll give you a hint: gestures and gentle smile.