About 360 million people around the world speak English as their first language. American English and British English are two of the most prominent variations, in terms of the number of native speakers, and it just so happens that they are quite different!

It can be really useful for learners to know about different variations of a language. So, in this post I’m going to talk about three of the most noticeable differences between British and American English.

Accent

It’s no secret that one of the biggest differences between British and American English is the accent. Lots of different sounds - vowel and consonant alike - are pronounced differently… and that’s just between the most “neutral” accents! British English is spoken in dozens of different accents in the UK alone, and the same goes for American English in the USA.

While it wouldn’t make for the most exciting post if I were to list all of the little details that distinguish these two accents, a few of them can be summed up in the word “water”. Listen to the different pronunciations below and you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice that the “a”, the “t” and the “r” are all pronounced differently.


Spelling

It’s not just the pronunciation that’s different; the spelling changes too! You’ll often see different spellings of words like “colour/ color” and “favourite / favorite”. That’s because when you see “colour” and “favourite”, you’re seeing the British English spelling and when you see “color” and “favorite” you’re seeing the American English spelling. You will actually find that lots of words that contain “-our-” in British English, will be spelled “-or-” in American English.

What’s your favourite colour? - British English
What’s your favorite color? - American English

Another difference to look out for is “centre” (BE) vs. “center” (AE) or “theatre” (BE) vs. “theater” (AE). That’s because - yep you’ve guessed it - lots of words that end in “-re” in British English, end in “-er” in American English.

The theatre is in the centre of town. - British English
The theater is in the center of town. - American English

Different words

OK, so British and American English are pronounced differently and they’re sometimes spelled differently… well, what if I told you we don’t even share all of the same words!? Don’t worry. It’s by no means all of them that are different. It’s definitely a minority.

Here are a few examples

British English American English
trousers pants
jumper sweater
crisps chips
chips fries
nappy diaper
pavement sidewalk
rubbish trash

By the way, watch out for “chips”. It actually exists in both variations of the language, but means something different in each. Sneaky.

Also, “pants” can mean “underwear” in British English…

Well, we do have about 3,000 miles of ocean separating us so it’s really no wonder why British and American English are so different!

While it can sometimes be difficult for learners to adjust to an accent they’re not used to, like lots of things, it’s just a matter of giving it time and exposing yourself to it - you’ll soon get an ear for it. What’s also good to remember is that when you’re learning English, you’ll probably naturally gravitate to one variation. It doesn’t matter which one: just go with the one that feels right for you… and enjoy!



Harriet
Harriet is the Senior English Language Expert at busuu. She is from a little village near Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and studied French and Spanish at university in Southampton. Then she went to live in France where she started teaching English. She loves cooking and eating food from different cuisines and singing with her choir.