Even though English is the most spoken language in the world, it doesn't mean that everyone is speaking the exact same kind of English. The two biggest types are British English and North American English.
For both native and non-native speakers, the type you learn or are most familiar with will mostly depend on what part of the world you live in. But what is the actual difference between the two? And if you are a student, which one should you focus on learning? Let’s dive in and find some answers!
Differences between American and British English
Many nations are at least a little familiar with American English because of American pop culture like music and Hollywood movies. British English, however, is more common in countries that used to be part of the British empire. This includes places like New Zealand, Singapore and Jamaica. Let's take a look at what separates the two English types.
Many common English words have both American and British spellings. Having your computer set to one language will result in a spell check error if there are words spelled in the other style.
Here are some examples:
The following words have the “e” and “r” endings switched depending on whether you’re using American or British English.
There are many English verbs that end in “-ze.” In British English, however, those endings change to “-se.”
And in this group of words, notice how the number of “l”s changes.
There is also a difference in the past tense of some verbs.
There are many words that are different between the two styles of English.
In some cases, the British version of a word will have a much different meaning in American English, so be careful!
Difference in notation
There are other differences as well, such as the order of dates and the number of floors in buildings.
For example, in American English, the date is written in the order of month, day, year (MM/DD/YY), but the British English order is day, month, year. For a native speaker of one style, seeing a different order can be quite confusing!
Similarly, in American English, the “first floor" of a building is the floor that is on the same level as the street. However, in British English, that level is called the “ground floor,” and the floor above that is considered the “first” floor.
Also, American English requires a period after abbreviations like “Mr.,” “Ms.” and “Dr.,” but these aren’t necessary in British English.
Difference in pronunciation
It’s often easy to quickly understand whether someone is speaking American or British English, and a big reason for that is the differences in pronunciation.
One of the major differences is that the "r" sound is often much softer in British English compared to typical American English pronunciation. "Car" and "ever," for example, have hard endings in American English. But from a British English speaker, they would sound more like "caa" and "evaa."
In American English, "t" sounds in the middle of words often sound closer to "d." So most American English speakers would pronounce "better" like "beder," and "native" like "nadive." The "t" sound is often more clearly pronounced in British English.
The "a" sound is often closer to "ah" or "aw" with British pronunciation, so "bath" sounds like "bawth," "chance" sounds like "chawnce," and "can't" sounds like "cawn't."
The stress, or emphasis, will sometimes be in different parts of a word depending on the type of English. Here are some examples:
Sometimes even letters are pronounced differently. American English speakers, for example, pronounce the letter "Z" as "zee," but British English speakers say "zed."
Which type of English should you study?
Depending on the country where you live, one type of English may be more common, or there may be more study materials available for it. If that's true for you, it might be more convenient for you to choose that type.
While we teach American English at Engoo, there are no clear advantages or disadvantages to learning either style. If you learn American English, a speaker of British English will still understand you easily. So if you’re wondering which one to study, the answer is simply whichever you prefer!
No matter which you decide to learn, the Internet has plenty of tools to help you, such as:
- Films set in a country with your chosen style
- Books by American or British authors
- Local news sites
- Podcasts with British or American hosts
- International speakers on videos like the TED Talks series
English is a powerful language that can help you communicate with people all over the world, regardless of the dialect or accent. So instead of thinking about American or British English, think of it as one international language!