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 (86 votes)
Profile picture for user Melis_06

Submitted by Melis_06 on Sun, 18/02/2024 - 15:24

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Hi! I searched a lot but just couldn't find. What does the phrase 'it was only then' means in the sentence 'It was only then that the truth came out.' ? Thanks in advance!

Hi Melis_06,

The phrase means "at that moment, and not before". The phrase emphasises how late (rather than early) the truth came out.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Hello! I'm not that good at English, but from my knowledge, it basically means "It wasn't revealed until now"

I think it's supposed to mean sort of "it built up to this moment"

Profile picture for user JERRY ELEVEN

Submitted by JERRY ELEVEN on Thu, 28/12/2023 - 20:45

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Hi to all of You.
I finished That activite With 7/8, was Hard But I try.
I am begginner.

Submitted by Kamransiraj on Tue, 26/12/2023 - 10:56

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Greet All
Hope everyone doing well, I finished my test with 8 out of 8.Nice to be a part of this activity.

Profile picture for user vsanchez75

Submitted by vsanchez75 on Sat, 18/11/2023 - 21:57

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To me like as someone who is learning english and I am from Latinomerica, I can not see the diferences but I can recognize the acent of americans and british people. I think is the same when we speal spanish in America and Spain, de sound and the nouns are the main diference.
Thanks for your support

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?