The United Kingdom and the United States of America might share English as their official language, but when you hear the two in their unique spoken versions, they don’t sound similar at all. From putting an s everywhere to words spelled the same but pronounced differently, there’s a world of linguistic differences (plus an actual ocean) between UK and US English.
Trying to distinguish between aluminum and aluminium to nail the name for the shiny metal sheeting you use to wrap your sandwiches or make a protective head covering? Here are some golden nuggets of wisdom that the team at Day Translations would like to share!
What Are the Main Differences Between US and UK English?
British English Was the Original Version
The British settlers that first arrived in the Americas actually introduced them to the English language, but back then, spelling wasn’t standardized yet. In the UK, scholars from London compiled their dictionary while a lexicographer named Noah Webster compiled the American lexicon. Webster changed how words were spelled to make the American version vary from the British version of English as a sign of independence from former British rule. He dropped the letter u from words like colour and honour to make them color and honor instead. Words ending in -ise also got a fresh new look as -ize.
Back in England, the Brits used a form of spoke what was known as rhotic speech, which pronounces the “r” sound in words. But the higher classes wanted a way to distinguish their speech from that of the common masses, so they chose to soften their pronunciation of the r sound. Back then, the elite set the standard for being fashionable, so others followed their example of speech until it became the standard way of speaking. Instead of pronouncing the r sound to make the word sound like “win-terr”, UK English now ensured that it was pronounced “win-tuh”.
American English Omits Some Words
People that speak British English can have a hard time making sense of American English at times. That’s because Americans like removing entire verbs from sentences. Instead of saying “I’ll write a letter to them”, they’ll just say, “I’ll write them” and that’s it. Perhaps it’s because the Americans want to get to the point faster. Maybe the Brits have a desire to always spell out exactly what they’re saying. There’s no real explanation for this, and there’s no right or wrong either.
French Heavily influenced British English
The first time French influenced the English language was when William the Conqueror invaded Britain in the 11th century. This was when English was made the high language and used in schools, courts, and among the upper classes. That version of the language evolved into Middle English, which was a mix of all the linguistic influences of that time. Then, around the 1700s, it became very trendy in the UK to use French-style words and spelling. This is why the UK version of English is much more similar to French than American English is.
British and American English both evolved differently, and both had various cultural influences that affected their versions of English. This can commonly be observed in their different descriptions for foods. In the UK, they call it coriander, which is derived from French culture. But in America, it’s called cilantro, according to Spanish culture. The same goes for aubergine in the UK, derived from Arabic, and eggplant in the US, called an eggplant because, well, it looks like a purple egg.
A Lot of Vocabulary Differences
Not only does the pronunciation of US English differ from UK English, but they also use an array of words that differ from each other but mean the same thing. Here’s a look at some everyday objects that are called different things depending on where you are.
US English – UK English
Pants – Trousers
Apartment – Flat
Hood – Bonnet
Trunk – Boot
Truck – Lorry
College – University
Vacation – Holiday
Sweater – Jumper
Chips – Crisps
French Fries – Chips
Sneakers – Trainers
Soda – Fizzy Drink
Mailbox – Post Box
Cookie – Biscuit
Drugstore – Chemist
Store – Shop
Soccer – Football
Even though British and American English have similarities, there are a lot of differences between the two, and speaking US English in the UK might have some Brits questioning the meaning of your words. The good news, however, is that English is a universal language.
The chances are high that if you speak any one of these two versions of the English language, you should be able to communicate to others that speak one of the 14 other versions of English across the world!