Here at UKEC, we relate tothe struggle in trying to differentiate between American (AmE) and British English (BrE). Some countries may have adopted the American spelling and grammar in their English, such as the Phillippines, but for the rest of Asia, generally the British version is used.
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We have put together a list including some of the most common confusions international students face when studying in the UK and learning BrE:
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- Re and er. Metre and meter, theatre and theater, sombre and somber, it seems that BrE and AmE cannot agree on how to spell certain words, but there are a few words that are spelt the same universally, such as acre, mediocre and ogre.
- Single of double l? In BrE, when a suffix is attached to a word ending with l, it may result in the addition of another l, for example travel > traveller, cancel > cancelled and model > modelling, which is not the case in AmE. However, just to make life that much more difficult, some AmE words may possess double l when the British equivalents do not, like enroll, appall and distill (enrol, appal and distil in BrE).
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- Keep the u. Colour v color, neighbour v neighor, armour v armor, behaviour v behavior, rumour v rumor and so on. The BrE retains the u, whereas the American counterpart drops it.
- S not Z. Fantasising, not fantasizing. Sensitising, not sensitizing. Stylising, not stylizing. Even though it sounds closer to z than s, verbs formed by attaching the suffix -ise to the end of a word, should be spelt with an s and not z according to the British standard.
Oh, the fun in telling what someone actually means!!
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Brits and Americans often refer to the same object with different words or terms – Brits use a rubber to erase pencil marks, instead of an eraser which Americans use. Brits go on holiday in the summer, during which Americans are on vacation. While Brits teach children to stay on the pavement, American parents would tell their kids not to stray away from the sidewalk. Finally, to spare you the potential embarrassment, remember that the term pants in AmE may simply generally stand for bottoms that are worn on the outside, it actually means underwear in the UK.
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Although there are no big differences between BrE and AmR in terms of grammar, they do each have their own preferences. Most notably, rather than saying “Alex has already eaten dinner,” Americans would say “Tony already ate dinner,” which is still not unheard of in BrE. Secondly, collective nouns like staff, group, team, family and gang can be followed by either singular or plural verb in BrE but they are exclusively followed by singular verb in AmE, for instance, speakers of BrE would consider both “my team are winning!” or “my team is winning!” acceptable, but only the the latter sounds appropriate to an AmE speaker.
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Apart from spelling, vocabulary and grammar, these two most widely spoken varieties of English can also differ by the pronunciation, and we do not just mean the varying accents.
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For example, even though more and more people in Britain are leaning towards the American way of saying it, the word “schedule” historically would sound more like “share-dule” in the UK, rather than the “scare-dule” as pronounced by AmE speakers. Also, learners of English as a foreign language are often unsure about how to say “either” and “neither“. There are no correct ways of pronouncing these conjunctions – but BrE would suggest that “ai-ther” and “nye-ther” are more favourable than “ee-ther” and “nee-ther” as pronounced in AmE.
These are only some of the differences between the two English varieties that we have managed to include. Note that there is no such thing as a silly mistake when it comes to learning a language.
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Making mistakes is a part of the learning curve and we certainly hope you have picked up a couple of tips to differentiate between British and American English that will help you when you write your next essay.