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English vs British
English - to know
Summary : The grammar of British English and American English is very
similar. There are a few differences but not very many, and most of them are
minor point

The main differences between British and American English are in pronunciation and
in some items of vocabulary. A good dictionary such as the Oxford Wordpower
Dictionary or the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary will give American variants in
spelling, pronunciation and usage. The Hutchinson British-American Dictionary by
Norman Moss explains the meanings of words which are familiar in one country but
not in the other. 303 Differences with verbs 1 Linking verb + noun phrase The British
can use a noun phrase after a linking verb such as be, seem, look, feel. • 9(1) Mainly
GB: It looks a lovely evening. She seemed (to be) a competent pilot. The Americans
do not use this pattern except with be and become. US: It looks like/It looks to be a
lovely evening. She seemed to be a competent pilot.

2 Do for an action:
The British sometimes use do to refer to an action. • 38 (2c) GB: He practises the
piano, but not as often as he might (do). You should reply if you haven't (done)
already. This usage is not found in American English. US: He practices the piano,
but not as often as he might. You should reply if you haven't already. But Americans
use do so. GB/US: You should reply if you haven't done so already.

3 Do for emphasis:
The British can use do to emphasize an offer or invitation in the imperative form. GB:
(Do) have a glass of wine. This usage is less common in American English. US:
Have a glass of wine. Americans also avoid the emphatic Do let's... and the negative
Don't let's... • 19 (6a) GB/US: Let's not invite them. GB only: Don't let's invite them.
NOTE Let's don't invite them is possible in informal American English but not in

4 Question tags Americans use tags much less often than the British.
The British may use them several times in a conversation, but this would sound
strange to an American. Americans use tags when they expect agreement. They do
not often use them to persuade or argue. GB/US: Mary likes ice-cream, doesn't she?
GB only: You'll just have to try harder, won't you? Americans often use the tags
right? and OK? Mainly US: You're going to meet me, right? We'll take the car, OK?

5 Have, have got and have gotten

a Have and have got GB: I've got/I have some money. US (spoken): I've got some
money. US (written: I have some money
b Negatives and questions with have and have got GB/US: We don't have much
time. Do you have enough money? Mainly GB: We haven't got much time. Have you
got enough money? GB only: We haven't much time. Have you enough money?
c Negatives and questions with have to and have got to GB/US: You don't have to
go. Do you have to go? GB only: You haven't got to go. Have you got to go?
d Got and gotten GB: He's got a new job. (= He has a new job.) Your driving has got
better. (= It has become better.) US: He's got a new job. (= He has a new job.) He's
gotten a new job. (= He has found a new job.) Your driving has gotten better. (= It
has become better.)
e Get someone to do something and have someone do something GB/US: We got
the waiter to bring another bottle. Mainly US: We had the waiter bring another bottle.

6 Present perfect and past simple

Both the British and the Americans use the present perfect for something in the past
which is seen as related to the present. • 65(2) GB/US: I've just met an old friend.
Dave has already eaten his lunch. Have you ever seen St Paul's Cathedral? I've
never had a passport. But Americans sometimes use the past simple in such
contexts especially with just, already, yet, ever and never. Mainly US: I just met an
old friend. Dave already ate his lunch. Did you ever see the Empire State Building? I
never had a passport

7 Gone and been

The British use been for 'gone and come back', • 84(6), but the Americans mostly
use gone. GB/US: Have you ever been to Scotland? US only: Have you ever gone to

8 Will and shall

The British use will or shall in the first person, • 71(2). Americans do not often use
shall. GB: We will/shall contact you. US: We will contact you.The British use shall in
offers, but Americans prefer should. Mainly GB: Shall I meet you at the entrance?
Mainly US: Should I meet you at the entrance? The British can also use Shall we... ?
in suggestions. Mainly GB: Shall we go for a walk? Americans would say How about
a walk? or Would you like to take a walk?

9 Need and dare Need,

• 92(3), and dare, •101 , can be ordinary verbs. The British can also use them as
modal verbs. GB/US: He doesn't need to see the inspector. Do we dare to ask?
Mainly GB: He needn't see the inspector. Dare we ask?

10 Can't and mustn't

In Britain one use of must is to say that something is necessarily true, • 95(1). The
negative is can't. Americans can also use mustn't. GB/US: There's no reply. They
can't be home. US only: There's no reply. They mustn't be home.

11 Learned and learnt

Some verbs have both regular and irregular forms: learned or learnt, dreamed
/dri:md/ or dreamt /dremt/ etc. The irregular forms are not very usual in America. The
British say dreamed or dreamt; the Americans say dreamed. The verbs dive and fit
are regular in Britain but they can be irregular in America. GB/US: dive - dived -
dived fit - fitted - fitted US only: dive - dove - dived fit-fit-fit NOTE Fit is irregular in
America only when it means 'be the right size'. GB: The suit fitted him very well. US:
The suit fit him very well. It is always regular when it means 'make something the
right size' or 'put something in the right place'. GB/US: The tailor fitted him with a
new suit

12 The subjunctive
We can sometimes use the subjunctive in a that-clause, • 242. In Britain the
subjunctive is rather formal. Americans use it more often. Mainly GB: My parents
prefer that my brother lives/should live at home. Mainly US: My parents prefer that
my brother live at home.

Differences with noun phrases

1 Group nouns
The British can use a singular or a plural verb after a group noun. • 156 GB: The
committee needs/need more time. Holland isn't/aren't going to win. The Americans
prefer a singular verb. US: The committee needs/need more time. After a name the
Americans always use a singular verb. US: Holland isn't going to win.

2 Two nouns together When we use two nouns together, the first is not normally
plural: a grocery store, a word processor, • 147(4). There are some exceptions in
Britain but Americans almost always use a singular noun. GB: a careers adviser an
antique/antiques dealer US: a career counselor an antique dealer

3 The with musical instruments

The British use the with a musical instrument (play the piano), but Americans
sometimes leave it out (play piano).
4 The with hospital and university
The British talk about a patient in hospital and a student at (the) university, • 168.
Americans say that someone is in the hospital or at the university.

5 This and that on the telephone

People in both countries say This is... to say who they are, but usage is different
when they ask who the other person is. GB: Who is that? Mainly US: Who is this?

6 The pronoun one

Americans do not often use one meaning 'people in general'; and they do not use
one's or oneself. GB: One must consider one's legal position. US: You must consider
your legal position. People must consider their legal position.

7 Numbers
The British use and between hundred and the rest of a number, but Americans can
leave it out. GB/US: two hundred and fifty US only: two hundred fifty

8 Dates
There are a number of different ways of saying and writing dates, • 195(2).
Americans often say July fourth. In Britain the fourth of July and July the fourth are
the most usual

Differences with adjectives and adverbs

1 Well, ill etc

The adjectives well, fine, ill and unwell referring to health usually come in predicative
position. • 200(2) GB/US: Our secretary is ill. But they can be attributive, especially in
America. Mainly US: an ill man NOTE Sick and healthy can go in both positions. In
Britain be sick means to vomit, to bring up food. GB: Trevor's daughter was sick all
over the carpet.

2 Adjectives and adverbs In informal speech

we can sometimes use an adjective form instead of an adverb. Americans do this
more than the British. GB/US: That was really nice of her. It certainly is raining.
Mainly US: That was real nice of her. It sure is raining

3 Somewhere and someplace

In informal American English everyplace, someplace and noplace can be used as
well as everywhere, somewhere and nowhere. GB/US: Let's go out somewhere. US
only: Let's go out someplace.

Differences with prepositions

1 Out (of) and round/around
The British normally say look out of the window, although look out the window is
possible in informal speech. Americans prefer look out the window. The British say
either round the park or around the park. Americans prefer around the park.

2 Except for and aside

from Where the British use except for, Americans can also use aside from. GB/US:
I'm all right now, except for a headache. US only: I'm all right now, aside from a

3 Through and till/until

Americans can use through for the time when something finishes. US: They will stay
in New York (from January) through April. GB/US: They will stay in London (from
January) till/until April. With through April, the time includes the whole of April. With
until April they may leave before the end of April. We can also express the meaning
of through like this. GB/US: They will stay in London until the end of April. In British
English we can also use inclusive. This is rather formal. Mainly GB: Monday to
Friday inclusive US only: Monday through Friday

4 Idiomatic uses

5 Prepositions after different

GB Your room is different from/to ours. US: Your room is different from/than ours.

Differences with conjunctions

1 Go/Come and...
Americans can leave out and from this pattern. GB/US: Go and take a look outside.
Mainly US: Go take a look outside.

2 In case and lest

The British use in case meaning 'because something might happen', • 259(7).
Americans use so or lest. Lest is formal.
Mainly GB: Go quietly in case anyone hears you.
GB/US: Go quietly so no one can hear you.
Mainly US: Go quietly lest anyone hear you. (formal).
In America, in case often means 'if.
US: If you need/In case you need any help, let me know.

3 Immediately
Americans do not use immediately as a conjunction.
GB/US: As soon as I saw him, I recognized him.
GB only: Immediately I saw him, I recognized him.

American spelling

Some words end in our in Britain but in or in America: color, labor, neighbor.
Some words end in tre in Britain but in ter in America: center, liter.
Some verbs can end either with ize or with ise in Britain but only with ize in
America: apologize, organize, realize.
In Britain there is doubling of l in an unstressed syllable; • 293(3) Note. In some
American words there is no doubling: marvelous, signaled, councilor.
Here are some words with different spellings.

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