Differences between US and UK English

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Your English style should always be consistent throughout the process of writing your research paperessay, or dissertation. Even though there are more than 160 different English dialects worldwide, American English and British English are known as the most commonly used styles.

History of the difference

American and British English almost completely have similar rules, but there are also vital differences that distinguish them from each other. Let’s take a look at these differences.

Following their independence, Americans fought hard to break their ties with the British. As a result of this effort, pioneered by the famous lexicographer Noah Webster, American English and British English grew apart. Today, there are many differences in spelling, vocabulary, and grammar between the two styles.

Spelling differences

Known as the father of American English, Noah Webster believed that British English was developed under the influence of France. He wanted to transform it to make the words spelled the way they sounded.

One of the most known differences between the two styles, as an example of Webster’s accomplishment, is the letter “u” that can be found in words such as “favorite.” Americans deemed the “u” as an unnecessary element and removed the excess letter from their words.

However, spelling differences in both styles are limited to one or two letters. Here is a table for further information.

American English British English
-or (e.g. color, honor, behavior)
-our (e.g. colour, honour, behaviour)
-ize -yze (e.g. materialize, standardize)
-ise -yse (e.g. materialise, standardise)
-er (e.g. theater, center)
-re (e.g. theatre, centre)
-e (e.g. diarrhea, encyclopedia)
-oe and -ae (e.g. diarrhoea, encyclopaedia)
-ense (e.g. offense, license)
-ence (e.g. offence, licence)
-og (e.g. dialog, monolog, analog)
-ogue (e.g. dialogue, monologue, analogue)

Here are some commonly used words in academic writing and their different spellings in both styles.

American English British English
acknowledgment
acknowledgement
aging
ageing
analyse
analyze
artifact
artefact
behavior
behaviour
categorize
categorise
capitalize
capitalise
channeled
chanelled
characterize
characterise
colonize
colonise
cooperation
co-operation
counselor
counsellor
enroll
enrol
fiber
fibre
fulfill
fulfil
globalize
globalise
hypothesize
hypothesise
inquire
enquire
legalize
legalise
maneuver
manoeuvre
mold
mould
plow
plough
sulfur
sulphur

Grammar differences

There are some small yet significant grammatical differences between American English and British English as well. Word selection for transitions, usage of phrasal verbs, passive voice preferences, and even capitalization rules may differ in extreme cases.

Prepositions (American vs. British English)

While American English allows using “through” in “Monday through Friday,” the British only uses “to” instead of “through” for the same phrase (see common phrases in writing).

This difference between “on” and “at” is also applicable for Christmas (e.g., Americans will say “What will we do on Christmas?” in contrast to “What will we do at Christmas?”)

Collective nouns

Collective nouns are used to refer to a group of people (e.g., family, government). It is possible to treat these nouns as singular or plural, and the two styles differ in this case as well. While British English often acknowledges collective nouns plural, American English tends to treat them singular. Here are two examples:

American English British English
The team is not happy with the result.
The team are not happy with the result.

Punctuation

There are two differences in punctuation: single and double quotation marks and differences in placing punctuation marks in quotations.

American English British English
Use double quotation marks. But use single quotation marks for quotations within quotations. For example: “He tried to hurt me when he said ‘I don’t care.’"
Use single quotation marks. But use double quotation marks for quotations within quotations. For example: ‘He tried to hurt me when he said “I don’t care”’.
Place the punctuation mark within the quotation marks. For example: She said, “I loved it!”
Place the punctuation mark outside the quotation marks. For example: ‘I loved it’, she said.

Verb conjugation

The difference strikes in past verb forms (verb tenses) in American and British English.

In American English, verbs usually take -ed endings in past verb forms (e.g. learn to learn, spell to spell, compel to compelled). However, although verbs take -ed endings in British English, there are more exceptions than in American English.

Vocabulary

Although many words are similar in both American and British English, there are some that refer to the same thing yet have a different name. Below is a list of vocabulary differences.

American English British English
soccer
football
pants
trousers
apartment
flat
truck
lorry
vacation
holiday
sweater
jumper
French fries
chips
mailbox
postbox
drugstore
chemist
store
shop
college
university
cookie
biscuit
elevator
lift
main street
high street
parking lot
car park

Abbreviations and formatting

Americans and Britons disagree on how to use periods in titles and headings as well.

For American English:

Title abbreviations will take a period (e.g., Doctor to Dr., Association to Assn., Avenue to Ave.)

For British English:

Title abbreviations only take a period if the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the entire word. (e.g., Doctor to Dr, Association to Assn, but Avenue to Ave.)

Regardless of your format, you should still be careful in your date format to be consistent.

Importance of consistency

There are many small yet distinct differences between American and British English, and it is best not to mix different styles in different types of paper. So, always follow the same format throughout your paper!

Frequently Asked Questions

There is not an answer to this question as neither of them are superior to one another. They are just different dialects with certain different words and grammar rules, but these are small nuances. You don’t need to use only UK English while writing an academic paper, just makes sure you are consistent.

UK and US English use different words for the same objects even if this is rare, and they can also vary in terms of grammar and the use of phrasal verbs. Basically, these two have small differences that doesn’t affect the correct use of language even if used interchangeably.

Some varying words between American and British English are; football and soccer, vacation and holiday, fries and chips, and store and shop. These are small differences but they are accurate in each country.

If you want to change a piece of paper written in British English to American English, you need to look for certain terms that are only used in UK English and also phrasal verbs that are uncommon in US English. 

Thank you for reading. If you need further information, feel free to have a look at our essay samples or contact us at live chat.

Pelin Dalkiran
Pelin Dalkiran
Studied Maths and Coding @DEU, currently working as Front End Lead at Tamara Research, loves writing, coding, and hiking.

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