Business Language Services American English vs. British English – Top 4 Differences

 

Business Language Services is based in the UK, so by default we use British English when submitting English-language translations and texts. However, we work for a variety of clients around the world, and are often asked to translate into American English for a US audience. Below are the four main differences between the two variations.

 

 

 

 

  1. Spelling

There are a number of words which are spelt differently in the USA. The table below presents some of the most common differences.

British EnglishAmerican English
-our, e.g. colour, odour-or, e.g. color, odor
-ise, e.g. publicise-ize, e.g. publicize
-re, e.g. centre, metre-er, e.g. center, meter
-yse, e.g. paralyse-yze, e.g. paralyze
-ae/oe, e.g. paediatrics, coeliac-e, e.g. pediatrics, celiac
-ll, e.g. travelled-l, e.g. traveled
-ogue, e.g. dialogue, analogue-og, dialog, analog

 

  1. Vocabulary

There are plenty of words that are simply used differently, or not at all, between the two countries. Below are a few of our favourite examples.

British EnglishAmerican English
Pants = underwearPants = trousers
Jelly = wobbly puddingJelly = jam
Bathroom = room containing a bathBathroom = toilets
Football = soccerFootball = American football
Wrench = sudden, violent pullWrench = spanner

 

  1. Verb use

The distinctions in this category are generally more subtle.

British EnglishAmerican English
Tendency to use irregular form of past participle, e.g. smelt, spoiltTendency to use regular form, e.g. smelled, spoiled
Uses past perfect, e.g. He had driven the car.Uses past simple, e.g. He drove the car.
Uses ‘have got’, e.g. I’ve got 2 brothers.Uses ‘have’, e.g. I have 2 brothers.

 

  1. Prepositions

In our increasingly globalised world, English is becoming more ‘international’, and many Britons would no longer think twice about hearing or using expressions that a decade ago would have sounded like real Americanisms. However, below are a few that would still raise eyebrows if you got them the wrong way round.

British EnglishAmerican English
At the weekendOn the weekend
Monday to FridayMonday through Friday
Play in a teamPlay on a team
Enrol on a courseEnrol in a course

As we’ve shown, there is a multitude of minor – and a few major – differences between British and American English, and it definitely pays to localise your texts to your target audience to avoid miscommunication.

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