Not all English is the Same

British and American Differences

Yes, there are certainly differences between British (UK) and American (US) English. And, if you are new to writing in English, it can be very confusing. It is helpful to learn some key points about differences in spelling, grammar and vocabulary. While these lists are not exhaustive, they cover the main areas.

Spelling

-er and -re

Most words that finish in -re in UK English, are spelt -er in US English:

UK: litre; meagre
US: liter; meager

However, there are the following exceptions:

  • Where c precedes -re, the same spelling applies in US English:
    mediocre
    acre
    massacre

  • The words ogre and macabre are spelt the same in both US and UK English

pp and p

While UK English uses pp, kidnaper, worshiper can be spelt with one ‘p’ in US English. Note that handicapped and handicapping are spelt with pp in both American and British English.

-our and -or

UK spelling uses -our and US spelling tends to use -or:

UK: favour, labour, humour, colour
US: favor, labor, humor, color

-ise and -ize

UK English uses -ise and US English prefers -ize

memorise/memorize
utilise/ utilize
modernise/modernize

l and ll

UK English uses l, where US English tends to use ll.

enrol/enroll
instal/install
skilful/skillful

However, note that American English tends to double the final l only in words with stressed syllables. For example:

rebel; rebelled; rebelling
patrol; patrolled; patrolling

The exceptions, also relating to American spelling, include:

counsel; counselled; counselling; counsellor
council; councilor
dial; dialed; dialing
travel; traveled; traveling
pedal; pedaled ; pedaling
marvel; marveled; marveling; marvelous
jewel; jeweled; jeweler; jewelry
libel; libeled; libeling; libelous

crystallize and crystalline have ll in both British and American English.

-logue and -log

UK: catalogue; analogue; epilogue
US: catalog; analog; epilog

oe, ae and e

American English usually replace ae and oe with e in words of Latin and Greek derivation:

haemoglobin/ hemoglobin
diarrhoea/diarrhea
aeon/eon
anaesthesia/anesthesia
oestrogen/estrogen
encyclopaedia /encyclopedia
anaemia/anemia

-se and -ce

You will see there are differences in spelling with a few exceptions:

UK: offence; defence; pretence
US: offense; defense; pretense
UK: practice (noun) and practise (verb)
US: practice (noun and verb)
UK: licence (noun) and license (verb)
US: license (noun and verb)

Other variations in spelling (UK/US)

programme/program draught/draft learned/learnt aluminium/aluminum jewellery/jewelry manoeuvre/maneuver plough/plow sceptic/skeptic tyre/tire vice (a tool)/vise axe/ax sulphur/sulfur pyjamas/pajamas grey/gray

Vocabulary Differences

British English and American English have several variations in their nouns. For example:

UK
bonnet (of a car)
boot (of a car)
chemist
biscuit
holiday
rubbish
shop
university
dustbin (nowadays ‘wheelie bin’)
fizzy drink
US
hood
trunk
drugstore
cookie
vacation
garbage
store
college
trashcan
soda

Grammar

Prepositions – at and on, in

British English uses the preposition at in relation to time and place. I am meeting them at Bond St at the weekend. American English use on and in. I am meeting them on Bond St, in the weekend.

Past participle – got and gotten

Where the British use ‘got’ as the past tense of ‘get’, American English uses ‘gotten’.

For example:
UK I have got used to the longer days.
US I have gotten used to the longer days.

Whatever style you choose when writing, it is important you are consistent throughout your document. For example, don’t mix American and British spelling. Choose one and stick with it. Another thing to remember is when you are looking for a synonym for a word (a similar word) be careful of slight changes in meaning.

What about New Zealand (NZ) and Australian English?

New Zealand and Australia tend to follow British English in spelling, grammar and vocabulary. However, there have been influences from North America. For example, many people write practice for both noun and verb and ignore practise.

Although there are some words which are different in NZ and Australia, as below, these countries mostly follow UK English:

UK sweets
US candy
Australia & NZ lollies

A holiday cottage/home in the UK, is often called a cabin or chalet in the US, while it is called either a bach, crib, cottage, holiday home, or beach house in NZ and a holiday home or weekender in Australia.

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