Coming from New Zealand, an overseas British territory, I have always been torn between the use of British english
and American english
. Although New Zealand should technically be taught under the system of British english
we tend to come across so many features
of American english
, whether it be in majority of our school textbooks or the ‘correct’ format of spelling on our computers. I recall coming across this in primary school, seeing the word ‘color’ for the first time I was confused as to why this book would be published with a spelling error. I enquired about this ‘mistake’ to my teacher
and she told me that it was spelt like that because that’s how American’s spell it. Then after that incident I just accepted these incorrect words and got over it.
However, once arriving at high school I became more aware of the differences between the two forms of english
and realised it was much deeper than just the spelling of ‘mum’ and ‘color.’ There are three major differences between these forms of english
that I found to be the most contrasting and interesting.
These three being, 1) Tenses 2) Spelling and 3) Vocabulary.
The difference between the tenses of American and British english
mainly lie with the present perfect tense. As we know, in British english
the present perfect tense is used to express an action that has occurred in the recent past that has an effect on the present moment. An example of this tense would be, “I’ve lost my wallet. Could you please help me find it?” Although this would be correct in American english
, they would be far more likely to word it as “I lost my wallet. Can you please help me find it?” This would technically be incorrect in British english
as the contraction ‘I’ve’ is nowhere to be seen.
Other differences involved in the use of the present perfect in British english
and simple past in American english
include already, just and yet.
Another interesting difference I have found between these types of english
was the contrast between the past participles. When I personally think of the past participle version of burn, I think of burnt whereas in American english
it would be burned. Hearing this as a ‘technically’ British english
speaker it sounds incorrect. I will try my best not to be bias but the American english
past participles don’t even sound like grammatically correct words to me personally.
This history of the spelling differences between these types of english
is also fairly interesting. In the early 18th century english
spelling has not been standardised. In the late 18th and early 19th century dictionaries by both countries had been released and these are now the spellings in which these two forms of english
It is mainly the last syllable that differs in the words between the two. A very large percentage of words that end in the British english
‘-our’ tend to end in ‘-or’ in American english
. An example of a few of these words are (in British english
); harbour, neighbour, rumour and honour. However there can be derivatives of these words in British english
and just like the American english
we drop vowels for certain words such as honorary and honorific. These derivatives all depend on whether the suffix is of British origin or Latin. With the derivatives I gave an example of the ‘u’ is dropped because the suffix is of Latin origin and are not freely attachable to english
words. There are however some odd exceptions within American english
with the adding of the ‘u’ and this is because it is used in an instance in which it has either been named after something related to British english
, for example, the name of the u.s.
Space Shuttle Endeavour was named after Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour.
The most interesting aspect of the difference in vocabulary is how I found myself using some of the words in British english
and then some of the words of American english
. For example, in British english
a truck is called a lorry whereas in American english
it is called a truck. In New Zealand we call ‘lorries’ trucks and I believe it shows the massive influence that the American media has over specific words that we use and how we pronounce them. Many different esl
sites mention that if you use either American or British english
ould choose one and use it consistently. I will of cou.s.
do this for me students but I personally struggle with this as coming from such a ‘new’ country and being influenced by both Britain and American I tend to use a mix of both. Another interesting aspect of the differences in vocabulary is how one word in American english
can me one thing and can mean another in British english
. The best example I managed to find of this was the word ‘rubber’ in American english
refers to a condom whereas in British english
refers to a tool used to erase pencil. This perfectly shows how varied this forms of english
can be and how you wouldn’t want to use a specific word in a certain place in case it meant something entirely different!
To conclude these variations of the two forms of english
I realised how very different they both are and although the British were the ones who colonised America and were speakers of the British english
, the American form has transformed so much in only 450 or so years. The variations in spelling, vocabulary and tenses are very evident in both American and British and I would say will only continue to change.