Differences between American and British English

Learning Aug 14, 2021

This article aims to break down the basic differences between American English and British English. A favourite activity during the pandemic has been settling down at home and binge-watching Netflix series or listening to podcasts on Spotify. Something that many non-native and native speakers will notice is the difference in accents, spelling and vocabulary between series and movies produced or set in America and the United Kingdom.


English was brought to the Americas by settlers during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was before spelling and punctuation was standardised and dictionaries were not widely available. In the UK scholars came together to write their own dictionaries and in the US the lexicographer Noah Webster wrote the first versions of the popular Webster dictionary. He is believed to have, in a show of independence from the UK, changed the way some words are spelled. His actions are allegedly one of the major reasons we have the differences between American English and British English.


Here are some of the differences in spelling between British English and American English. In the table below there are 15 differences in the spelling of common words:

American English
British English
-el- : canceled / jeweler -ell- : cancelled /jeweller
-ll- : fulfil / enroll -l- : fulfil / enrol
-er : meter / center -re- : metre/ centre
-e- : diarrhea / encyclopedia -oe-/-ae- : diarrhoea/ encyclopaedia
-o : color/ behavior/ mold -ou- : colour/ behaviour/ mould
-ed : burned / leaped -t : burnt/leapt
-ense : defense/ pretense -ence : defence/ pretence
-ize : appetizer /organize -ise : appetiser/ organise
-i- : tire -y- : tyre


There are also particular vocabulary differences between the two. Here is a list of some common objects that are changed in one dialect and the other:

American English
British English
Chips Crisps
French Fries Chips
Sweater Jumper
Apartment Flat
Pants Trousers
College University
Vacation Holiday
Soccer Football
Gasoline (Gas) Petrol

For more differences in vocabulary take a look at this YouTube video:


As any ESL student will know, punctuation is important. Luckily, American and British punctuation mostly follow the same rules with minor exceptions. There are two major differences in the use of punctuation:

1) The use of single and double quotation marks

2) The placement of punctuation in relation to quotation marks

In the UK, single quotation marks are used with initial quotations and double quotation marks are used when a quote is within a quote. In the US, they do the opposite: double quotation marks for initial quotations and single ones for quotes within quotes. In the US punctuation like commas and full stops are placed inside the quotation marks, whereas in the UK they are placed outside of the quotation marks. The Americans also add a period to abbreviations like Mr., Dr., and Miss., where the Brits do not.


Differences in accent are hard to explain, so here is a video that breaks down the difference between the American English accent and the British English Accent:

The best advice to be given is to choose one style of English and stick with it. But pay attention to the differences in the accent of native speakers. For example, the native accents in the Netflix series the Queen (See Actress: Helena Bonham Carter) and Superstore (See Actress: America Ferrera) are going to differ.

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