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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

Comments

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.

It is really interesting! Thank you so much.

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

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