British English and American English


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In the late 1700s the people of America became independent from the British. Americans believed that the break with England would lead to a new language. This did not happen. 

Different words

Differences in vocabulary normally don't cause misunderstandings. (On page 28 you will find a list of some important vocabulary differences.) Misunderstandings sometimes happen when the same word means different things in Britain and the USA.


When a British and an American have a conversation we can hear who is who from the way they speak. Americans often pronounce r’s where most British don’t. The sound from 'tt' often becomes 'dd' in American pronunciation.

Spelling differences

American spelling has been made 'easier'. Here are some examples:

British English American English
colour, flavour, labour color, flavor, labor
theatre, centre theater, center
catalogue catalog
plough plow
defence defense

British English or American English?

It does not matter which form of English you choose. Both are correct. Choose one and try not to mix them. Remember that there are also other forms of English, for instance Australian and Canadian English.


Slang terms such as 'wanna', 'gotta' and 'ain’t' can be found both in British and American English. They are not part of the standard written language. Use them where they belong, but not in essays and applications, for instance.

Shortcut activity

True or false?
Correct the ones that are false.
a) British and American English were very similar in the 1700s.

b) Today they are completely different languages.

c) Differences in vocabulary often cause misunderstandings.

d) Americans changed the spelling of some words.

e) British English is more correct than American English.

Web resource

British American Dictionary (BBC America)

Yahoo: American-British and British-American Dictionaries