British English and American English

Do you know any differences between British and American English?

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

Intermediate: B1

Nice lesson I've learn soo much how to use American English and British English but there is a question that can get out of my mind can we use American English and British English together?

Hello emidepegaso,

I think a lot of English users speak a kind of 'transatlantic English' which combines elements of UK and US dialects. The only thing I would be careful of is consistency in writing. It's not a good idea to mix US and UK spelling, so I think it's better to either follow UK spelling rules or US.

Peter
The LearnEnglish Team

Hello, great lesson. However, I have a couple of questions, here they are: 1) What is the difference between "It's hot in here" and "It's hot here"? 2) Is is possible to say: "How about if we try it again" instead of "How about we try it again?? And if it is possible, what would be the difference?

Hello GiulianaAndy,

1) We use ...hot in here when we are talking about a place which we can be inside such as a building or a car.

The phrase ...hot here is more general and can be used indoors or outdoors.

 

2) Both forms are correct. I suppose the first is more hypothetical, as if you were discussing possible actions in a meeting rather than actually doing the actions, while the second could be used while actually doing something with someone else. It's not a clear distinction, however and I can't think of a context where you could use one and not the other.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I've many times experienced with inconsistent text in my writings. I couldn't find out those inconsistent mistakes, but by now it would be clear for me. Thanks to British Council for such helpful lessons.
I was wondering if maybe you have information about something in specific of the IELTS exam. I heard that if we mixed some American spelling words and British ones at the same time, the examiner will lowering our score. Do you know if this is true? For instance, if in the speaking exam I pronounce "university" as an American (ˌju·nəˈvɜr·sə·t̬i) instead of as a British person would say (ˌjuː·nɪˈvɜː·sə·ti) and then I say colour as a British person (ˈkʌl·ə) instead of color (ˈkʌlər) as an American. Will I score less? Thank you in advance.

Hello wilson2013,

I'm not an expert on the IELTS, but as far as I know, what is most important in the speaking exam is that your speech is comprehensible. Unless your pronunciation is extremely precise, I doubt that they will even notice that sometimes your pronunciation is more British and at others more American. But even if that were the case, I can't imagine it would be an issue since producing native speaker pronunciation is quite difficult.

In your writing, you should, however, be as consistent as possible in your spelling. Though again the most important thing is clarity.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I think it's absolutely usefull to know the difference between both differ accent as for you personally as work and study. I think the people from both countries will pay attention for your accent and it will disturb them to understand you easier. So depanding of where are you going, you should to prepare you coorectly and to know usefull phrases that you can use at a local cities.
Despite a lot of misunderstanding, there is a huge difference between British and American English. I think it is very important to learn the examples of this difference because, for instance, students in Russia who are going to pass the English Unified State Exam need to follow rules of British English. It is essential to remember this fact. So, this article and exercises can turn up quite effective for someone who wants to pass the exam successfully.
Dear Team, So We can use "Do you have" in both British and American English. We can use "Have you got" in only British? Am I correct? Thanks.

Hello DaniWeebKage,

'Have you got' is also used in American English, though it might be a little more common in British.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

do we need to use American grammar in IELTS Academic exam if we choose American English to prepare for the exam? and if we can't use American grammar there is decreasing in the score?

Hello Al,

The IELTS accepts all standard varieties of native-speaker English, so American or British English is fine.

I would recommend, however, that you be consistent in your usage -- for example, it would be best to avoid using both British and American spelling in the same written text. Instead, just use British or American spelling.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Team! I have noted the use of from in this sentence above: My family is visiting "from" Pakistan. Is this correct form of preposition from in this context? Because from reffers origin instead destiny. Thanks!
Hi team, I have a question. In the words like people and team should I use are or is?

Hello MarcosPermin,

It depends on the word.

 

People always plural; the singular form is usually person.

 

Team is a collective noun which can be either singular or plural. If you are thinking of a group of people then you can use a plural verb; if you are talking about the team as a cohesive unit then you can use a singular verb.

There are many collective nouns which work like this: the army, the police, Manchester United, the government, the United Nations, the EU etc.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi, When people say "United Kingdom (UK) English", are they referring to British English? Or is there a difference between UK English and British English? Also, when people say "United States (US) English" are they referring to American English? or is there a difference between US English and American English? Regards, Vegito

Hello VegitoBlue,

In most cases, 'UK English' and 'US English' are other ways (though less common, in my experience) of saying 'British English' and 'American English', though please note that 'Britain' and 'the UK' aren't the same

These teams are quite imprecise, for within both there are actually hundreds of different varieties of English. And then of course there are many other varieties of English, e.g. Australian, Canadian, Indian, Caribbean, etc.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I feel that UK English is quite easier than American English. On the one hand, UK English likes to simplify the statement and follow the shortest way to describe things. On the other hand, American English required extra words, explanations, and features that might be cause complexity. But still, it depends on the favor of the person what he likes to chose.
Hi! Is there a difference between American and British English concerning the use of the collective noun "people"? Thank you!
Hi Claudia, As far as I know, there's no difference. Feel free to put some examples here if you've seen interesting uses of this word. Best wishes, Jonathan The LearnEnglish Team
I knew that there is difference between American and British English, but I didn't know about the se diffrences given in the above grammar explanation. Thank you very much.
Hello! Could somebody please explain me why there’s used the verb “have” in the sentence “France HAVE won the World Cup”? This sentence is at the beginning of the article, as an example. Shouldn’t it be “France HAS won the World Cup”? If it’s Present Perfect tense? And so we have to use HAS, if the subject of the sentence is he, she, or it? Please, explain me, why there’s “France HAVE won the World Cup”, because it’s very confusing! Thank you in advance!

Hello Vaskovsky,

For some collective nouns we can use either a singular or a plural form. It really depends whether the speaker sees the noun in question as a single thing or as a collection of individual parts.

Common examples of this include institutions like the army or the police, the government, collective nouns like the population, and teams like Manchester United or France - as a sports team, not a nation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Sir I like cake , and I like cheese. Is the 'comma' before and is alright in the above sentence? Please let me know Thank you. Regards Lal

Hello Lal,

I would say that there is no need for a comma. However, you may use one for stylistic reasons – to indicate a pause or some hesitation, for example.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

I would like to ask the following questions . 1 Our teacher told me 'have you got married ? many people say ' are you married ' and I often hear this question ' have you got any plans for the weekend ?' Is it correct ? Does have got have other uses other than: 1 possession 2 about necessity (obligation ) If there are please tell me ?

Hello Henokk17,

Are you married? is a question about a person's marital status. You could ask it about a person who has been married for a day or for fifty years - it makes no difference.

Have you got married? is a question about a change in a person's marital status. It suggests that the person was not married last time they were seeen and asks if this has changed.

Have you got any plans for the weekend? is perfectly fine.

 

Have got can be used to talk about relationships, characteristics and illnesses as well as possession and obligation.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

These grammar tests are really great :-) But I have found a mistake. As an American, we don't say "cinema". It is a "movie theater". It would be more common to say "They're not going to the movies." Cheers

Hello TheSullyRhino

Yes, you are absolutely right! I've changed the sentence in question to what you suggested.

Thanks for pointing that out to us.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

I am not sure in this case: (His family live in Helsinki) how to recognise if is british or american? I understood in American english they use the single verb for groups and in british can be both, but , why this example is american English?

Hello Paula,

As you say, in US English a singular verb is used for group nouns, while in British English a plural verb can be used. In this example, the verb is plural (live rather than lives), so the correct answer is British English.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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