It’s surprising the amount of grammar differences between American and British English, especially since both nations speak the same language. So many slight variances in spelling and sentence phrasing catches even native speakers off-guard.
No, I do not plan to argue which variance is more correct. Instead, I write this blog post to highlight all the spelling and grammar differences between American and British English so that you can improve your writing, no matter which style you choose.
Spelling Differences Between American and British English
The spelling of words tends to be the most apparent grammar differences between American and British English. While this list may not be comprehensive, it captures the most common spelling differences between British and American English that follow a consistent grammar rules:
|American English||British English|
|-dg- / -gu|
|-dge- / -gue|
|-ae- / -oe-|
|-ize / -yze|
|-ise / -yse|
|-me / -mme|
There are also grammar differences between American and British English for spelling common words, such as:
|American English||British English|
And then there are grammar differences between American and British English that rely solely on vocabulary, not spelling (vacation vs holiday, soccer vs football, etc.). I don’t think I can compete with this American vs British vocabulary list, so I chose to leave it off this grammar guide.
Grammar Differences Between American and British English
The grammar differences between American and British English may seem subtle but are quite noticeable to Americans and the British. American English tends to lean towards more conversational sentence structure while British English more commonly uphold more formal ways of speaking English, even in conversation.
A collective noun refers to a particular group or people or objects. American English always follows a collective noun with a singular verb. In British English, a collective noun can be followed by a singular or plural verb, depending on if the collective noun is considered as one idea or as many individuals.
American English: The opposing team is wearing blue and red.
British English: The opposing team are wearing blue and red.
A preposition is a word that indicates a relationship between two words in a sentence. In the previous sentence, “between” is the preposition that connects “relationship” and “words” (“two” is the adjective).
American English and British English do not apply prepositions the same in conversation. For example:
American English: I studied French and Biology in college.
British English: I studied French and Biology at university.
American English: I haven’t been to the fair in years!
British English: I haven’t been to the fair for years!
American English: I attend classes Tuesday through Thursday.
British English: I attend classes Tuesday to Thursday.
Present Perfect Tense
Present perfect tense expresses a past event with present consequences. It is applied to a sentence by using has/have + past participle.
British English interweaves present perfect tense more commonly in conversation while American English simply applies present tense.
American English: I feel sick because I ate three helpings of lasagna.
British English: I feel sick because I have eaten three helpings of lasagna.
Shall vs Should (or Will)
British English isn’t shy about applying “shall” to a sentence when expressing an action for the future. American English considers this too formal for conversation, so “should” or “will” are more commonly applied.
American English: I will leave the party at midnight.
British English: I shall leave the party at midnight.
American English: Should we leave now?
British English: Shall we leave now?
A tag question is created by tagging on an interrogative fragment to the end of a declarative or imperative statement. A tag includes both a pronoun and its matching form of the verb be, do or have. A Tag question is a conversational way to encourage the listener to respond to the speaker.
Example: This disaster is unfortunately, isn’t it?
Example: You don’t like your teacher, do you?
British English common applies tag questions in conversation, while Americans apply it less often.
Needn’t vs Don’t Need
Both “needn’t” and “don’t need” express a lack of obligation. In these situations, British English tends to apply “needn’t” while American English more commonly applies “don’t need” to express this thought.
American English: If you’re sick, you don’t need to come to class tomorrow.
British English: If you’re sick, you needn’t come to class tomorrow.