British English vs American English 1.IntroductionWhen teaching English


When teaching English worldwide, one has to consider that there are two major dialects: The British (BrE) and the North American (AmE). A decision should be made by any responsible teacher as to which he or she teaches. A reason to adopt the AmE form could be teaching students for tourism jobs, because of the larger number of US- American tourists there are compared to British ones, while the BrE dialect might be preferable for business students because it is still considered an advantage in some work areas.

In the following article we will go through some of the most common differences. However, the interested reader should consult the sources indicated in the annex when willing to obtain a capacity of consistent teaching of either of the two.


Apart from "drillable" differences such as irregular versus regular past tenses of verbs - which can be overcome by sheer learning - BrE and AmE differ significantly in the use of some verbs (example below: 'to get') and in the use of some tenses (example below: the past simple versus the present perfect).

In AmE, the past participle of "to get" can either be "got" or "gotten". Thus, a distinction is possible between "She has got two children." and "She has gotten a new child." (the latter meaning the recent birth of another baby). In BrE, "gotten" is not used commonly.

While in BrE, events in the recent past are told using the present perfect and conjunctions like "already" or "yet", in AmE there is a distinction between talking about facts (using the present perfect) and talking about expectations (using the past simple). An example is "Have you done your homework yet'" (BrE) versus "Did you do your homework yet'"(AmE).


The main difference between BrE and AmE spelling results from the influence of Noah Webster´s "American Dictionary of the English Language", published in 1825, in which he tried to reduce the influence of "French" spelling in modern English. Thus, words ending on -re in BrE are commonly spelled -er in AmE ("fibre" versus "fiber"). The same applies for -our versus -or ("harbour" vs. "harbor") and for AmE "simplifications" of "ae" and "oe" to "e" ("leukaemia" versus "leukemia"; "diarrhoea" versus "diarrhea").

Other "systematical" differences include the hyphenation of compound words in BrE where this phenomenon does not exist in AmE ("counter- attack" versus "counterattack") or the doubling of final consonants when using suffixes ("travelled" versus "traveled"). However, there are many miscellaneous spelling differences that have to be learned and taught apart.


Until recently, the accent of educated southeast English people - the so-called "Received Pronunciation" - was considered to be the most correct and preferable pronunciation, and was taught around the world outside the USA. Professional success was often linked to having or not having an RP accent, e.g. the BBC hired only RP speakers until the late sixties. However, this has changed in the last years, so today it is no longer strictly necessary to have an RP accent to obtain a successful career. But many people still consider it the preferred accent and might be willing to being taught that way.

The pronunciation considered "accent-free" in the USA is the one prevailing in the Midwest states like Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, called "General American". It differs from RP mainly in being "rhotic", i.e. always pronouncing the "r" and not only if it comes immediately before a vowel as in the "non-rhotic" RP, in having a more open pronunciation of vowels and in some consonant pronunciation changes like "flapping", i.e. the pronunciation of "t" and "d" as an alveolar flap.

The most remarkable differences in vowel pronunciation are the ones of the 'a' and the "o": in BrE these are [ɑː] and [ɒː] while in AmE they are often ['ː] and [ɑː]. Another common difference is the yod- dropping in AmE where BrE keeps the diphthong, e.g. "new" is [njuː] in BrE, but [nuː] in AmE. 5.Miscellanea Some differences between BrE and AmE have developed since the beginning of the 17th century when English was first introduced to the Americas. These include entirely different meaning of words and formats of numbers, dates and time.

Annex: Article sources

a) offline resources

1)Langenscheidts Schulw'rterbuch Englisch, Berlin 1992

b) online resources

2)Amerikanisches Englisch ' German Wikipedia, downloaded October 5th

3)Britisches Englisch ' German Wikipedia, downloaded October 5th

4)American and British English differences - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, downloaded October 5th

5)American and British English pronunciation differences - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, downloaded October 16th

6)American and British English spelling differences - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, downloaded October 16th