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Rated: E · Outline · Educational · #1259265
Pointing out the differences between American and British English.
Do You Speak English?


Of approximately 6 billion people on Earth, over 30% speak English as their first language. An additional 7% speak English as a second language, having studied it in school. However, is it really the same language? Is the United Kingdom's English the same as that of the United States, or Australia, or Barbados, or Sierra Leone, or Ireland? The answer is a qualified 'yes'. While the residents of the British Isles have established the basis for the language, various countries and parts of countries have modified it to suit themselves. Such complexity is shown in this partial list of countries where English is considered to be the primary language:

American Samoa, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Guyana, Ireland, Jamaica, Liberia, Montserrat, New Zealand, Nigeria, Northern Marianas, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sierra Leone, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States.


While all the English speaking people can presumably watch a television show and enjoy it through the common visual and language bond, the differences are also evident in puzzling words and phrases as well as almost automatic translation adjustments in vocabulary, phrase and accent. Just as Americans must on occasion strain to filter an unfamiliar New England accent or Southern accent through their own regional ears, the exuberant Australian English must present a challenge to Yorkshire understanding.

We will highlight a few of the spelling variations between British and American English.

The -or/-our group:
(Note that left side is American, the right is the British version)

color/colour                               honor/honour
vigor/vigour                               armor/armour
labor/labour                               odor/odour
flavor/flavour                              endeavor/endeavour
valor/valour                               humor/humour
savor/savour                              neighbor/neighbour

The -ize/-ise group:
(Note that left side is American, the right is the British version)

Civilize/civilise
Organize/organise
Apologize/apologise
Analyze/analyse
Digitize/digitise
Categorize/categorise
Emphasize/emphasise
Realize/realise/realisation
Colonize/colonise/colonisers
Colonization (for both American/British)

The -er/-re group:
(Note that left side is American, the right is the British version)

Center/centre                               somber/sombre
Fiber/fibre                               meager/meagre
Liter/litre                               specter/spectre
Theater/theatre

The -eo/-oeo group:
(Note that left side is American, the right is the British version)

Esophagus/oesophagus                               fetus/foetus
Estrogen/oestrogen                               fetid/foetid

Other Words:

Aluminum/ aluminium
Trapezpid/trapezium
Gasoline/petrol
Main street/high street
Story/storey (of a building)
Check/cheque
Sulfur/sulphur

Some differences are as simple as familiar words or familiar things that are practically synonyms, easily used interchangeably on both sides of the Atlantic, as are the following examples:

Table showing comparison between American/British English


One of the interesting differences between British and American English is the tendency for the British to lengthen words or phrases as in:

I have done                               I have
Departmental store                     department store


Or perhaps it's the Americans who tend to shorten things. *Smile*

Some words or phrases can cause great misinterpretation because the British/American meanings may be different – in some cases completely opposite. Here is a sampling of the intricacies and color/colour of our glorious language:

*Note1* If a motion picture or play is dubbed a 'bomb', it is a dismal failure in the America but a smashing success in England.

*Note1* An American might want a 'cookie', but must ask for a 'biscuit' in England.

*Note1* In England a 'casket' is a small box; Americans use casket interchangeably with 'coffin'.

*Note1* Americans following the rules of parliamentary procedure might 'table' an item to set it aside without further consideration, but in England the item would be submitted for discussion.

*Note1* Tell your visiting English friend to hang his clothes in the 'closet' and he will hang them in the watercloset (bathroom). If you are his guest, he does not expect you to hang your wardrobe in the kitchen when he tells you the 'cupboard' is available.

*Note1* In England, a lady's handbag should never be called a pocketbook – that term is reserved for a gentleman's billfold or notecase.

*Note1* Can you count to a billion? In England that is 1,000,000,000,000 (called a trillion in the U.S) but in the U.S. it is only one thousand million (1,000,000,000 and called a milliard in England).

Yes, we speak the same language, but the dialects need translation on occasion. We are all better for our willingness to learn to communicate in our own or an adopted language.


Source: The Volume Library - A Modern, Authoritative Reference for Home and School Use
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