British vs American English

Ever wonder why sometimes you see “center” and other times “centre”? Sometimes you see “fulfill” and other times “fulfil”? Many students of English have no clear notion of what exactly makes British and American English different, hence this post. I hope to clear up your confusion.

Britishenglish lessons utrecht

Some people call this “proper English” but it’s actually composed of many different people speaking many different dialects, only a small percentage of which is “received pronunciation” or BBC English. How small? Estimates show that 3-5% of British native speakers actually speak with this accent. So, please, let’s not worry about the accent.

British English is characterised by

  • additional silent letters, like the “a” in paediatric, anaemia, orthopaedic and aesthetic or the “o” in edoema, foetus and manoeuvre;
  • “our” in words like flavour, favourite, endeavour and honour;
  • an additional “l” in words like counsellor, labelled, or traveller;
  • “ise” in words like authorise, characterise, organise and accessorise (though “ize” is becoming more accepted);
  • “yse” in words like analyse, catalyse and paralyse;
  • “re” in words like centre, theatre, calibre and litre;
  • “gue” in words like dialogue, catalogue and prologue.

British English also uses the semi-colon after each bullet point and the full stop at the end of a list, where American English uses no punctuation with bullet points.

Americanenglish lessons utrecht

Americans have stereotypically “worse” speech, but that depends highly on where a person is from. Many people tell me they find American English to be easier to understand, but whether that is because they are more familiar with the accent through the American media or because Americans use fewer rare and complex words, I don’t know.

American English is characterized by

  • deletion of those pesky silent letters, like the “a” in pediatric, anemia, orthopedic and esthetic or the “o” in edema, fetus and maneuver;
  • “or” in words like flavor, favorite, endeavor and honor
  • a single “l” in words like counselor, labeled, or traveler
  • “ize” in words like authorize, characterize, organize and accessorize
  • “yze” in words like analyze, catalyze and paralyze
  • “er” in words like center, theater, caliber and liter
  • “g” or “gue” in words like dialog/dialogue, catalog/catalogue and prolog/prologue

Fortunately, most differences in British and American English are in the spelling or everyday vocabulary domain and so should not have a dramatic impact on research or professional situations.

This is by no means an exhaustive list (though this is a pretty exhaustive list), so use the dictionary and spelling function on each document–choose UK or US English and just follow the dictionary’s recommendations.




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