5 Differences Between American and British English

Although Americans and British can normally understand each other without much difficulty, most people know that there are some big differences between the two English dialects. In addition to accents and pronunciation, there are a number of grammar, spelling, and punctuation variations.


1.    Subject-Verb Agreement

In American English, collective nouns like family, team, group, or band always take a singular verb form:

“The band plays rock music while the family watches from the audience.”

However, in British English, collective nouns can take either the singular or the plural form of a verb, depending on whether the speaker wants to emphasize the whole group or its individual pieces:

“Although the team play poorly, the crowd cheers from the sidelines.”


2.    Past Tense Verbs

British English forms some regular past tense verbs differently than American English. Specifically, Brits will often replace the past tense -ed ending for just a -t.

“Last night I dreamt that I took a nap and burnt our dinner.”

American English tends to prefer the -ed ending for these kinds of verbs.

“I learned about the water cycle in school yesterday.”


3.    Verbs

Three main auxiliary verbs define the differences between the two dialects of English: do, needn’t, and shall.

British English speakers often use the word “do” to take the place of another verb when answering questions:

“Are you going to work tomorrow?” à “I might do.”

While American English speakers leave this verb off when replying to questions:

“Are you going to work tomorrow?” à “I might”


American and British English sometimes use a different verb to express the future tense:

British English: “I shall eat a sandwich for dinner this evening.”

American English: “I will eat a sandwich for dinner this evening.”


The last example is for the use of the word “need,” where word order is slightly different between the two dialects:

British English: “John isn’t joining us for breakfast, so we needn’t prepare an omelet for him.”

American English: “John isn’t joining us for breakfast, so we don’t need to prepare an omelet for him.”


In addition to these three auxiliary verbs, one delexical verb has different uses between British and American English: “have” and “take.”

In British English, speakers typically use the word “have” to describe an action in relation to a noun:

“She went upstairs to have a bath.”

“My grandma is having a nap in her bedroom.”


In American English, speakers use the word “take” instead:

“She went upstairs to take a bath.”

“My grandma is taking a nap in her bedroom.”


4.    Spelling

The last major difference we’ll look at between the two dialects is often the most noticeable for English speakers, and that’s spelling. In most cases this doesn’t affect the pronunciation or emphasis put on certain syllables, but hundreds of words have variations in their spelling. There are also many differences in terminology and word choice. Noah Webster, the original publisher of the renown American English dictionary, made slight variations to many words in the English language to separate the two dialects of the language.



While both dialects are mutually understandable, especially when written, making the right impression on groups of consumers or target audiences relies on how you present content. If you and your business want to communicate effectively and directly with groups of English speakers in a different dialect, the safest move to make is to utilize a localization service. ATA Translation Agency offers localization, transcreation, and internationalization services between all dialects of English and over 300 other languages. Call now for more information or a free price quote.

About the Author:

Daniel is based out of Chicago and works as a writer, editor, and translator.

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