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: 4.3 (103 votes)
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Submitted by knlistman on Mon, 09/10/2023 - 20:12

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I am an American who writes training. We use "shall" all of the time for emphasis. Every question including shall is incorrect. We never a say "Can I get you a coffee." it is "some coffee," "a cup of coffee" or simply "coffee."?
This site contain inaccurate information. I was hoping to find words that are spelled differently, but there is no list.

Hello knlistman,

Regarding 'shall', I agree that our explanation should be more specific -- it should specify that Americans don't typically use 'shall' in the way the British people to offer to do something. That was the intention behind our explanation, but I can see how it might be confusing. I'll bring this up with the team.

Could you please tell us more about how you hear 'shall' being used for emphasis in American English? I also am American and although it's been some time since I lived there, I did live there for 35 years and visit every year. So I'd really be grateful if you could give some examples of what you mean.

Thanks for sharing your point about 'a coffee', and we will look into that. In any case, the point of that sentence was to identify the use of 'can' to make an offer instead of 'shall'.

We chose not to provide a list of words spelled differently since such lists are easy to find on the internet, whereas less information about different uses of grammar are available.

Thanks for your feedback.

All the best,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by charifitoufik on Sat, 12/08/2023 - 06:17

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Hello Toufik
I'd say yes, I love American English because it's really nice .

Submitted by LE12345 on Fri, 19/05/2023 - 11:35

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Here are some examples about choosing the present perfect and the simple past tense:

1. [Context] I want to give advice to my friend on where she should visit

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

2. [Context] My friend planned to visit my country for a week. He has been staying in my country for three days now and I want to know which places he visited / has visited, so that I can recommend him other places to visit. Which question would be correct? I don't know which tense would be correct to use.

Where did you visit since you came here? // Where have you visited since you came here?
I visited X, Y, Z. / I have visited X, Y,Z.

3.[Context] I am tired of died roses, so I complain with my friend:

Every time I planted/'ve planted roses in the garden, they died/'ve died. I may try planting some geraniums instead.

Some US native people tell me that I can use the simple past in all of my examples, but some don't agree to use the simple past. This makes me confused. Could you please help me clarify this?

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