British English and American English

British English and American English

Do you know any differences between British and American English? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these sentences. Do you know which sentences are more typical of British English or American English?

Shall I open the door for you?
He's taking a shower.
France have won the World Cup.
I'm not hungry. I just ate.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Exercise: British English and American English: Grammar test 1

Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

The main difference between British English and American English is in pronunciation. Some words are also different in each variety of English, and there are also a few differences in the way they use grammar. Here are five of the most common grammatical differences between British and American English.

1. Present perfect and past simple

In British English, people use the present perfect to speak about a past action that they consider relevant to the present. 

The present perfect can be used in the same way in American English, but people often use the past simple when they consider the action finished. This is especially common with the adverbs already, just and yet.

British English American English

He isn't hungry. He has already had lunch.
- Have you done your homework yet?
- Yes, I've just finished it.

He isn't hungry. He already had lunch.
- Did you do your homework yet?
- Yes, I just finished it.

2. got and gotten

In British English, the past participle of the verb get is got

In American English, people say gotten.

** Note that have got is commonly used in both British and American English to speak about possession or necessity. have gotten is not correct here.

British English American English

You could have got hurt!
He's got very thin.
She has got serious about her career.

BUT:
Have you got any money?
We've got to go now.

You could have gotten hurt!
He's gotten very thin.
She has gotten serious about her career.

BUT:
Have you got any money? (NOT Have you gotten ...)
We've got to go now. (NOT We've gotten to ...)

3. Verb forms with collective nouns

In British English, a singular or plural verb can be used with a noun that refers to a group of people or things (a collective noun). We use a plural verb when we think of the group as individuals or a singular verb when we think of the group as a single unit.

In American English, a singular verb is used with collective nouns.

** Note that police is always followed by a plural verb.

British English American English

My family is/are visiting from Pakistan.
My team is/are winning the match.
The crew is/are on the way to the airport.

BUT:
The police are investigating the crime.

My family is visiting from Pakistan.
My team is winning the match.
The crew is on the way to the airport.

BUT:
The police are investigating the crime.

4. have and take

In British English, the verbs have and take are commonly used with nouns like bath, shower, wash to speak about washing and with nouns like break, holiday, rest to speak about resting. 

In American English, only the verb take (and not the verb have) is used this way.

British English American English

I'm going to have/take a shower.
Let's have/take a break.

I'm going to take a shower.
Let's take a break.

5. shall

In British English, people often use Shall I ...? to offer to do something and/or Shall we ...? to make a suggestion. 

It is very unusual for speakers of American English to use shall. They normally use an alternative like Should/Can I ...? or Do you want/Would you like ...? or How about ...? instead. 

British English American English

It's hot in here. Shall I open the window?
Shall we meet in the café at 5?
Shall we try that again?

It's hot in here. Can I open the window?
Do you want to meet in the café at 5?
How about we try that again?

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Exercise: British English and American English: Grammar test 2

Language level

Average: 4.5 (82 votes)

Hi LE12345,

I'm not an American English speaker, but I believe that the past simple would be commonly used and accepted in American English in all the examples you gave (while the present perfect would be preferred in British English). As the explanation above states: "The present perfect can be used [...] in American English, but people often use the past simple when they consider the action finished." You can see more information about this also on this Cambridge Dictionary page (see the "British and American English: verb tense forms" section), which explains: "The present perfect is less common in AmE than BrE. AmE speakers often use the past simple in situations where BrE speakers use the present perfect, especially with words such as already and yet".

As for why some people you asked didn't agree, I'm afraid I can't really explain that!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hi Jonathan R,
Thank you for your answer.
I am familiar with the use of simple past of American speakers for a single action.
For example: I bought a car. Would you like to try driving?

But for my examples in my comment, all of 3 examples refer to repeated actions (not a single action), so I am not sure if American speakers use the simple past in such cases.
For example, in the first sentence, I would like to give my friend advise on nice place to visit:

I visited/ have visited Paris two times. It is a beautiful city. I think you should visit it once in your life.

Some of my American friends agree that the simple past is acceptable, but some doesn't.

Hello LE12345,

I hope you don't mind me stepping in. I thought it might be appropriate since I grew up in the US and lived there for 35 years.

Regarding the last sentence you mention ('I visited / have visited Paris two times. It is a beautiful city. I think you should visit it once in your life.'), both forms can be correct, but in certain contexts, only one of them would be correct. The people you asked probably didn't consider all the possibilities, especially if they're not English teachers!

In general, people would use the present perfect here because we use this tense to refer to life experience. The idea here is '(In my lifetime) I've visited Paris twice'. Presumably, the person still thinks they have further time in this life and so it's possible, for example, that they could visit Paris again one day.

In a more specific context, the present perfect would not be correct and the past simple would be. For example, imagine the person saying this now lives in the US, but lived in Europe for 10 years when they were younger. If they are thinking about that 10-year period when they lived in Europe, they would say 'I visited Paris twice' and not 'I have visited Paris twice' because the 10-year period already occurred and that time is now finished.

Now this doesn't mean it's impossible for this person to say 'I have visited Paris twice'; if they were thinking of their entire life experience instead of that 10-year period, the appropriate tense would be the present perfect.

I hope that helps you make sense of it, but please let me know if not.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

 

Repeated actions completed in the past can take either the simple past verb (I visited) or past participle (I have visited) and mean the same thing in American English.

I don't know about British English, but in America, the pronoun "some" takes a plural verb, so "doesn't" is not acceptable in that case.

"Some of my American friends agree that the simple past is acceptable, but some don't" is correct.

Does anyone know how to change the iphone SE settings from US English to UK English?
The difference being words like licence vs license etc
All the instructions online of how to do it don't make any changes at all. Still US English

Hello Lena_AU,

I'm not sure this is the best site for a question like this, but perhaps someone will be able to help you.

It sounds like you want to change the spell checking on your phone. In that case you may have to do it app by app, but I'm no expert. To change the general language setting it's Settings>General>Language & Region>Preferred Languages.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Americans use past perfect to show an event occurring over time. However, they will use either tense for an event occurring in the past.
"I have visited Paris two times" or "I visited Paris two times" are both correct and mean the same thing. That is true of every example that you have provided.

The difference between the two is subtle.
"I have walked this same route every day for a year" means I have walked the route and will probably continue to do this.
"I walked this same route every day for a year" means you walked the route in the past, but you are not now continuing to do this.

Submitted by Ankorr on Fri, 19/05/2023 - 09:27

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Dear Team,

Could you please help me with the following question? Is it grammatically correct to say 'I haven't any money'? And if it is, which of the grammar rules is applicable here?

Usually we need to use auxiliary verbs to form negatives - 'I don't have' or 'I haven't got'. But here 'not' is just added to 'have' - 'I haven't ...' Is it really possible to say it this way?

Some people say that it is purely British, while Americans would say 'I don't have any money'. Is it true?

Thank you so much for your great help!

Hi Ankorr,

Yes, it is correct in British English, but it is somewhat formal and old-fashioned in style. In this usage, "have" is a main verb, but it behaves a bit like an auxiliary verb.

  • I have some money.
  • I haven't any money. (negative form, rather than the standard form "I don't have any money" or "I haven't got any money?").
  • Have you any money? (question form, rather than the standard form "Do you have any money?" or "Have you got any money?")

Because of its formal and old-fashioned style, it is fairly uncommon in British English, apart from in some fixed expressions (e.g. "Have you no shame?"), and it is very uncommon in American English (as far as I know).

Hope that helps to understand it!

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by AffanArif025 on Sat, 27/08/2022 - 16:51

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Can you please explain whether we also need to stick to US/UK grammatical structures? Or we can mix them both? I know we cannot mix the spellings, but I am confused regarding the grammatical structures.