Understanding English: American vs. UK

English can be a really hard language to learn, especially since English has an enormous amount of modern slang and contextual usage. However, there is another element that makes English difficult. Like Spanish, English has two languages that are a bit distinct from each other.

If you live in Europe, you most likely come across a lot of UK English speakers, but when you turn on the television, you most likely see American English in media. This can create a lot of confusion when learning the language. This post should clear up some of the confusion.

Spelling Differences

There are some distinct spelling differences between UK English and American English, particularly around the letters “o/u” and “z/s”. Below I highlight some of these differences:

  • Color (American) vs. colour (UK)
  • Neighbor (American) vs neighbour (UK)
  • Flavor (American) vs. flavour (UK)

With Zs and Ss, we see these differences:

  • Organize (American) vs. organise (UK)
  • Apologize (American) vs. apologise (UK)
  • Recognize (American) vs. recognise (UK)

However, there are a few other differences in how words are spelled between the languages:

  • Traveled (American) vs. Travelled (UK)
  • Defense (American) vs. Defence (UK)
  • Catalog (American) vs. Catalogue (UK)

Vocabulary Differences

Not only is the spelling different, but there are also some distinct differences in the vocabulary used. Considering Americans and UK have been separated for hundreds of years, this divergence in language is to be expected. Here are some examples:

  • Going on vacation (American) vs. going on holiday (UK)
  • Fried (American) vs. chips (UK)
  • Chips (American) vs. crips (UK)
  • Going to the movies (American) vs. going to the cinema (UK)
  • Mailbox (American) vs. postbox (UK)

Grammar Differences

On top of spelling differences and vocabulary differences, there are also grammar differences between American English and UK English. The two main examples I want to look at here are: (1) how the past tense is formed and (2) how collective nouns are used.

For the past tense, UK and American english are slightly different. In American english when you dream in the past tense, you dreamed. In UK english when you dream in the past tense, you dreamt. This can be seen in other examples as well:

  • Learned (American) vs. learnt (UK)
  • Burned (American) vs. burnt (UK)

For collective nouns, the way UK and American English deal with the verb coming with the collective noun is different. It is easiest to demonstrate this with examples:

  • The group is going! (American and UK)
  • The group are going! (UK)

In American English, collective nouns (like team, group, or company) are always singular. In UK English, collective nouns can be both singular and plural, like seen with the example “the group are going”.

Can you think of any other differences between UK English and American English?

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