US vs UK English

To-may-to, to-mah-to, po-tay-to, po-tah-to… It’s that simple isn’t it? But not really. The difference between US and UK English are actually more complicated AND more interesting.

But before we get into it, let’s settle the right-and-wrong debate around it. The truth is that American English began evolving as soon as the America’s were colonised. Especially during its early national history, many efforts were put in to distinguish the country from its previous colonial overlords. As such it is important to understand American English as an authentic and independent branch of the English tongue.

What that means is that no, UK English is not superior, more correct or better. What it is, is different. While a lot of these differences manifest themselves in grammatical, spelling and pronunciation changes, what they are all rooted in is a difference in culture.

The Grammar Differences

  • American English uses the present perfect far less than UK English. Americans are more likely to use the past simple tense.
  • Verb agreement for collective nouns in English almost always uses the singular form (the team is winning)
  • Americans use ‘take’, the British ‘have’
  • The use of auxiliary verbs is very different
  • Preposition use varies widely
  • Past tense forms of a range of verbs are different.

If you are interested in exactly what this all looks like, please click here to read this in-depth article which contains all the grammatical explanations.

Spelling Differences

The most noticeable difference in spelling is the US use of the letter ‘z’ where in UK English an ‘s’ is used such as ‘authorize’. Other difference include the dropping of unspoken noun sounds (colour – color) and many variations on standard UK spelling. A lot of these changes seem focussed on making English spelling more phonetic and therefore simple to use. For those of you who are spellingaficionado’s. Here is a long, but not exhaustive list online. Click here:

Differences in Meaning

But further than grammar and spelling, some words have totally different meanings depending on where you are when you use them. A classic example is the word ‘toilet.’ To an American, that is a specific piece of porcelain. For a British person it is also the room that contains that piece of porcelain. Perhaps the best known example however is ‘quite’. For the American it basically means ‘very’ and for the Brits it means ‘somewhat’ or ‘sort of’.

We’ve also found a list of common word differences for you here:

TalenInstituut Learning Tip:

If you’re learning English for business use, find out which form of English is in most common use. Some of these differences might seem small and unimportant, but as you already know, they can have a big impact. Make sure you practice the correct English variant in your studies.

Here at TalenInstituut Nederland (The Dutch Language Institute) we understand the needs that companies face as well as the fears individual learners feel. This is why we offer flexible, fully customised Business language courses (including French and Dutch) to businesses and individuals. Through a process of interviews and meetings we establish the unique needs and competence of our clients and design each and every course around those. To find out more about our Business Language courses, visit our website and ask us for a quote:

© Taleninstituut Nederland

By: David Chislett
Trainer Business English