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Differences Between American English and British English

Both American English and British English are correct in their own distinct locations, but things fall apart when you place an English person in an American context, or an American person in a British context. Just to tease our British friends, let us assume in this entry that British English is wrong, wrong, wrong in America!

INCORRECT

  • His neighbour’s behaviour was coloured by his indifferent approach to labour.
  • My British friend sent her adult child to gaol in an attempt to civilise her.
  • I certainly learnt my lesson when I arrived late to the theatre.

CORRECT

Leaving aside our mutually unintelligible slang words and phrases, the biggest difference between our two nations, “separated by a common language,” is spelling. Between learned / learnt, center / centre, traveled / travelled, civilize / civilise, and others, the differences are minor. Many Americans still use theatre because it seems to look more refined (and they will defend their choice with fervor), but keep in mind that Shakespeare himself purportedly used theater.

MORE TO KNOW

We can blame Noah Webster, a lexicographer and the creator of An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), for many alterations to British spelling. He wanted to rid English of any “corruptions” from French (which included –re rather than –er). Our collective perception of class differences through the British use of needn’t, shall, and shan’t, and the American use of gotten, pants, and cookies keeps us on our toes.

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