Tuesday, 3 October, 2023

British and American Varieties of English

Prof. M. Matiur Rahman

British and American Varieties of English

The language of the British people originally the Anglo-Saxon race is English better known as British English that came into practice in different countries of the world as result of their expansion of empire and the settlement of colonies. On the other hand, with the independence of America from Great Britain and the growing power of the US, the English spoken by its people i.e. American English gained prominence through trade and commerce, immigration and colonisation. Henceforth, the world began to experience the two varieties of English. Fundamentally, both the forms belong to the same family of English with regional differences. So the American people speak English using their own accent, intonation and pronunciation. American English differs from British English not only in pronunciation but also in vocabulary, spelling and grammar.


•             Stressed vowels are usually longer in American English. In packet for example the /ӕ/ is always longer. So is also the /ӕ/ in aunt.

•             In British English, pronunciation /r/ is pronounced only before vowel (for example in red and bedroom). In other cases, /r/ is silent (for example in car, learn, over). But in American English /r/ is always pronounced.

•             In American English, t between vowels is pronounced as soft d/d/ so that the writer and rider sound similar. British speakers usually pronounce t /t/.

•             In American English, if a t sound is between two vowels and the second vowel is not stressed, the t can be pronounced very quickly. So the American Preannounce potato as /Poteitou/ tapping the second t in the word. British speakers usually do not do this.


The Oxford Learner's Dictionary provides us with a lot of words which are used only in American or have different meanings in British and American English; for example, cookie, trunk etc. Cookie is especially, used in American English meaning a small sweet cake. In British English, it is biscuit or cracker. Trunk in American English means the place at the back of a car to put bag, cases etc. In British English, it is called boot with the same meaning. One thing I would like to mention here that the said dictionary has used the abbreviation NAmE i.e. North American English to indicate American pronunciation or word. On the contrary, BrE stands for British English. The following are some common vocabularies in American English placed with their English equivalents: Flat (BrE), Apartment (NAmE); Powercut (BrE), Power outage (NAmE); Porch (BrE), Varenda (NAmE); Restaurant (BrE), Cafe (NAmE); Football (BrE), Soccer (NAmE); Hodge podge (BrE), hotch potch (NAmE); Fridge (BrE), Refrigerator (NAmE); Dressing room (BrE), Fitting room (NAmE); Lift (BrE), Elevator (NAmE); Course (BrE), Program (NAmE); Suppose (BrE), Guess (NAmE) etc.


•             In American English verb ending in l is not doubled in the ing- form and past participle; for example, cancelling (BrE); Canceling (NAmE or US)

•             Words which end in-tre are spelt in American English as er for example: Centre (BrE), Center (NAmE); Metre (BrE), Meter (US); Calibre (BrE), Caliber (US) etc.

•             In American English, many verbs are spelt with either ize or ise. In British English, the spelling is done with ise for example finalise. Words which end in-oug are usually spelt-og in American English: Dialogue (BrE), dialog (NAmE).

•             In American English, u is dropped in the spelling of labour as labor (NAmE); Honour (BrE), Honor (NAmE); Armour (BrE), Armor (NAmE) etc.


•             The simple past can be used with already, just and yet in American English: I already gave her the present (NAmE): I have already given her the present (BrE).

•             In American English the past participle of get is gotten. So gotten is used in American English instead of got. For example, your English has gotten letter (NAmE), Your English has got letter (BrE).

•             Some prepositions and adverbs are used differently in British and American English; for example: Stay at home (BrE), Stay home (NAmE); He looked at me strangely (BrE), He looked at me strange (NAmE).

•             In American English, ‘will’ is used instead of ‘shall’ for first person singular of future; for example, I shall be here tomorrow (BrE), I will be here tomorrow (NAmE).

•             In polite offers, ‘should’ is used instead of ‘shall’ in American English; for example, Should I open the window? (NAmE), Shall I open the window? (BrE)

•             In British English the past simple and past participle of many verbs can be formed with ‘ed’ or t. In American English, only the form ending in-ed is used; for instance, They burned/burnt the documents (BrE), They burned the documents (NAmE).

•             British English prefers t-form of past participle while American English prefers ed-form with the exception of burnt; such as, A spoilt child (BrE), A spoiled child (NAmE); A burnt toast (BrE) and (NAmE).

•             In ‘go/come and’ expression ‘and’ is often omitted in American English; for example, Go and take a look outside (BrE), Go, take a look outside (NAmE).

•             Despite                the         above   significant            differences,       British and American English also differ in saying and writing dates; for example, in British English:

                          • 14 October 1988 or 14th October 1998                                (14/10/98).

                            • Her birthday is on the ninth of                                December.

                            • Her birthday is on December the                          ninth.

But in American English:

             • October 14, 1998 (10/14/98).

             • Her birthday is December 9th.

In the end, we see that British and American English have the same origin in spite of the above differences. British English is pleasant to hear but American English is easier in spelling. Today, British English is facing the influence of American English because of the dominance of America in the world as a great economic and military super power. In fact, the two varieties have enhanced the status and glory of English as an international language. Our students should learn these two forms of English and their teachers must help them in this regard without being bias to any of systems or variety.


The writer is an educationist and columnist.

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