Thursday, April 14, 2011

❏This vs That ❐: ✎American English vs British English

Welcome to Thursday's

Ok, where to start with this one.  I have to admit when I first started this topic I had no idea it would be so involved.  I know this topic has been 'done-to-death', but I'll 'kill-it' one more time.
Apparently American english differs from the British not only in some of their words but also in many other aspects such as idioms, writings (i.e. spellings and pronounciations), weights, dates, time, school systems and even, of course, monetary amounts!ツ

Suffice to say, it took me a great deal of time to compile this article!  However, through all this, it reminded of an incident I had in the past which I've shared with you guys - somewhere waaay further down the page, lol.  Anyways, let's get on with it, shall we?

First of, let me say, although American and British English are the two types that are taught in most programs, generally, it is agreed that no one version is "correct".   However, there are definitely 'favourites' that are in use. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage.  Meaning, If you decide that you want to use American English spellings then be consistent in your spelling:

The color of the orange is also its flavour - (color is American spelling and flavour is British). So really it should be written either the color of the orange is also its flavor, or, the colour of the orange is also its flavour.  Easier said than done, right?   I know, because I am constantly interchanging them myself since I use Canadian english which is alot similar to the British, as well as American (since I read many American books, websites and magazines, lol).

So, in other words, just try to do the best you can.  Really, when you think about it, unless you are a publisher for a big magazine, newspaper, etc.,  ... who really cares?  No one!  As long as they can understand it.

Let's look at some classic examples of words.  Recognize any that you may use without realizing it was British.. or vice versa?

Movies                                          Cinemas
Rubber                                          Condom
Antenna                                         Aerial   
Attorney                                         Barrister, Solicitor
Baby Carriage                              Pram
Bar                                                 Pub
Cab                                               Taxi
Call Collect                                   Reverse Charges
Candy                                           Sweets
Closet                                           Wardrobe
Cookie                                          Biscuit
Corn                                              Maize
Crazy                                             Mad
Crib                                               Cot
Diaper                                           Nappy
Dish Towel                                   Tea towel
Drapes                                         Curtains
Elevator                                        Lift
Drug Store                                   Chemists
Eraser                                          Rubber
Faucet                                          Tap
First Floor                                    Ground Floor
Flashlight                                      Torch
Freeway                                       Motorway
French Fries                                Chips
Garbage (Trash)                         Rubbish
Garbage Can                              Rubbish-bin, Dust-bin
Garbage Collector                     Dustman
Gasoline                                      Petrol
Hobo                                            Tramp
Hood (on a car)                           Bonnet
Intermission                                 Interval
Intersection                                 Crossroads
Janitor                                         Caretaker
Kerosene                                    Paraffin
Line                                              Queue
Mail                                              Post
Mailbox                                        Postbox
Mailman, Mail carrier                 Postman
Motor                                           Engine
Movie                                           Film
the Movies                                  the Cinema
Muffler                                         Silencer
Noplace                                      Nowhere
Oil pan                                         Sump
Optometrist                                Oculltist, Optician
Overpass                                    Flyover
Pacifier (baby)                           Dummy
Panty hose                                 Tights
Pants                                          Trousers
Patrolman                                  Constable
Peek                                           Peep
Pitcher (juice)                            Jug
Purse                                         Handbag
Round Trip                                 Return
Rubber                                      Condom
Rubbers                                    Gumshoes, Wellington Boots
Schedule                                   Timetable
Scotch tape                              Sellotape
Sedan                                       Saloon (car)
Semester                                  Term
Shorts                                        Underpants
Sick                                            ill
Sidewalk                                   Pavement
Sneakers                                  Gymshoes, Tennis-shoes
Store                                         Shop
Stove                                         Cooker
Subway                                     Underground railway
Suspenders                               Braces
Thread                                       Cotton
Thumbtack                                Drawing-pin
Traffic Circle                             Roundabout
Truck                                         Lorry
Trunk (on a car)                        Boot
Undershirt                                 Vest
Vacation                                   Holiday
Vacuum cleaner                      Hoover
Vest                                          Waistcoat
Windshiels                               Windscreen
Wreck                                       Crash
Wrench                                    Spanner
Yard                                         Garden
Zipper                                       Zip

... just to name a few, lol.

The spoken forms of British English vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect development amid isolated populations. Dialects and accents vary not only among the countries in the United Kingdom, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also within these individual countries.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world. For instance the English-speaking members of the Commonwealth often closely follow British English forms while many new American English forms quickly become familiar outside of the United States. Although most dialects of English used in the former British Empire outside of North America are, to various extents, based on British English, most of the countries concerned have developed their own unique dialects, particularly with respect to pronunciation, idioms and vocabulary. Chief among other English dialects are Canadian English, based on the English of United Empire Loyalists who left the 13 Colonies, and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in number of native speakers

Formal and Notional Agreement
In British English, collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively; compare a committee was appointed with the committee were unable to agree.

In American English collective nouns are usually singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree. American English may use plural pronouns, however, in agreement with collective nouns: the team take their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. The rule of thumb is that a group acting as a unit is considered singular and a group of "individuals acting separately" is considered plural.  However such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats. Despite exceptions such as usage in the New York Times, the names of sports teams are usually treated as plurals even if the form of the name is singular.

The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,
British English: The Clash are a well-known band; American English: The Clash is a well-known band.
British English: Spain are the champions; American English: Spain is the champion.
Proper nouns that are plural in form take a plural verb in both American English and British English; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Saints are the champions.

The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell, burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.).
In British English, both irregular and regular forms are current, but for some words (such as smelt and leapt) there is a strong tendency towards the irregular forms.
In American English, the irregular forms are never or rarely used (except for burnt and leapt).
The t endings may be encountered frequently in older American texts. Usage may vary when the past participles are used as adjectives, as in burnt toast.

Examples (Irregular OR Regular):
  • Burn (Burnt OR Burned)
  • Dream (Dreamt OR Dreamed)
  • Lean (Leant OR Leaned)
  • Learn (Learnt OR Learned)
  • Smell (Smelt OR Smelled)
  • Spell (Spelt OR Spelled)
  • Spill (Spilt OR Spilled)
  • Spoil (Spoilt OR Spoiled)

Here are some general differences between British and American spellings:.
British American
-our (honour) -or (honor)
-re (centre) -er (center)
-ogue (dialogue) -og (dialog)
-ence (defence) -ense (defense)
-ise  (recognise) -ize (recognize)
American English spelling sometimes does not double the consonant at the end of a word, while British English spelling does, especially when the consonant is an 'l'.
For example travel, traveller, travelling (British) and travel, traveler, traveling (American)

Words and phrases that have their origins in British English
Some speakers of American English are aware of some British English terms, although they may not generally use them or may be confused as to whether someone intends the American or British meaning (such as for biscuit). They will be able to guess approximately what some others, such as “driving licence,” mean. However use of many other British words such as naff (slang but commonly used to mean "not very good") risks rendering a sentence incomprehensible to most Americans.

Words and phrases that have their origins in American English
Speakers of British Engllish are likely to understand most common American English terms, examples such as 'sidewalk', 'gas (gasoline/petrol)', 'counterclockwise' or 'elevator (lift)', without any problem, thanks in part to considerable exposure to American popular culture and literature. Certain terms that are heard less frequently, especially those likely to be absent or rare in American popular culture, eg. 'copacetic (satisfactory)', are unlikely to be understood by most British English speakers.

Ok, so we've had a little bit of english lesson here, lol,  but did you know that there are similar words that both the British and American use but with different meanings?  Some differences in usage and/or meaning can cause confusion or embarrassment so be careful!

Some examples:
The word fanny is a slang word for vulva in British English but means buttocks in American English – the American English phrase fanny pack is bum bag in British English. In American English  the word fag (short for faggot) is a highly offensive term for a gay male but in British English it is also a normal and well-used term for a cigarette, for hard work or a chore or for an item of food (a sort of rissole). In American English the word pissed means being annoyed whereas in British English it is a coarse word for being drunk (in both varieties, pissed off means irritated). Similarly, in American English the word pants is the common word for the British English trousers, while in British English pants refers to the American English underwear!
Sometimes the confusion is more subtle. In American English the word quite used as a qualifier is generally a reinforcement: for example, "I'm quite hungry" means "I'm very hungry". In British English quite (which is much more common in conversation) may have this meaning, as in "quite right" or "quite mad", but it more commonly means "somewhat", so that in British English "I'm quite hungry" can mean "I'm somewhat hungry". This divergence of use can lead to misunderstanding.

LOL, that reminds me of a little story I'd love to share.  Here in Canada we tend to say "see you later" instead of good-bye, so years ago when I went on a trip to Jamaica we met this wonderful maid that would always come in to clean the rooms we were staying in.  Anyways, one night we decided to all go out to the 'disco clubs' and as we were leaving I said to her "see you later Maggie" to which she replied 'ok, miss kat, see yuh latah'.  So anyways, we finally got home around 3 am in the morning and when we got home I was surprised to see Maggie passed out (uncomfortably, I might add) on the couch.  She awoke abruptly when she heard us coming in so I said to her immediately 'Maggie, why are you still here? Go home!' to which she replied 'but you said yuh would see mi latah maam'.  Needless to say I felt terrible!

US vs. Uk English:  Global Internet search results
I came across this website that did their own independent research a few years ago as to which words were commonly used more on the world wide web - American or British.  Check it out!

US vs UK
More terms could be used to bring further validation, but as results were consistent for all terms, it was deemed unnecessary. This approach is of course not perfect but should nevertheless bring some answers as to usages on the Internet. Emphasis was made on spelling differences rather than term usage differences to avoid ambiguity, as much as possible anyway: for instance, while the British say “pavement” as the equivalent of the US “sidewalk”, the word “pavement” is also used in US English with different meanings, which makes the comparison irrelevant.
As you can see above, US spelling and terms are consistently prevalent over their British counterparts on the Internet, with 80% of all web pages in US English against 20% in UK English.
The same words were also searched on *.uk websites only, to validate the differences observed previously.

US vs. UK English:  UK Websites only

These numbers show that indeed UK English is predominant in UK websites, which isn't much of a surprise in itself.
Yet, US English spelling is used in over 25% of all UK Web pages!!! Mailbox, a previously US-only term is now much more common on the British net than the traditional UK “postbox”.
Sure, there may be some spelling mistakes here and there, and it is easy to get mixed up between “fulfill” (US) and “fulfil” (UK), but 25% is well beyond reasonable allowance for typos and demonstrates that US English is very much present in Albion's cyberspace.
We now know that a US English translation will probably not be out of place in the UK, even though UK English remains, of course, the dominant variant.
In the interest of fairness, a similar test had to be done within US websites (*.us) to determine the degree to which the US market accepts British spelling and terms.

UK vs US English: US Websites only

This time, the conclusion is closer to expectations. If the British regularly use US spelling, the reverse is not quite true. UK spelling on US websites account for approximately 11% of the total, less than half of the 25% enjoyed by US English on UK websites. Still 11% is a pretty high number and would suggest the US market would not be too bothered by British spelling.
But what of other English speaking communities such as Australia? To answer that question, the same test was run on Australian websites (*.au) to see whether American English or UK English was prevalent.

US vs. UK English: Australian websites only

Given the figures above, it would appear Australia tends to favor UK English over US English, even more so than the UK, in fact. Indeed American English spelling accounts for 20% of all Australian Web pages against 25% for UK's.
That said, 20% is no small number and American spelling will most likely not shock the Australian audiences.

Their Conclusion
British English is dominant in the UK and in some of its old colonies (such as Australia and Canada), but overall, it makes no doubt that, if there is such a thing as an “Universal English”, that would be American English.
According to these figures, American English represents an astounding 80% of the English speaking Internet. When in doubt, you can't really go wrong with US English.
Translate in International English? Yes, sir! US English it is.
That said, British English is of course well understood throughout the English speaking world, and in some cases, using British English could help give a touch of “European chic” to some European products marketed in the US. Whereas most products benefit from the familiar “local” feel, some products thrive on a somewhat foreign, exotic perception.
This decision however belongs to marketing as this is a fine line to thread and the sophisticated “European touch” could also be tagged “poor spelling” by a less-than-discerning audience.

Social and cultural differences
The naming of school years in British (except Scotland) and American English

In the UK the US equivalent of a high school is often referred to as a secondary school regardless of whether it is state funded or private. Secondary education in the United States also includes middle school or junior high school, a two- or three-year transitional school between elementary school and high school. "Middle school" is sometimes used in the UK as a synonym for the younger junior school, covering the second half of the primary curriculum - current years 4 to 6 in some areas.

A public school has opposite meanings in the two countries. In the US this is a government-owned institution supported by taxpayers. In England and Wales the term strictly refers to an ill-defined group of prestigious private independent schools funded by students' fees, although it is often more loosely used to refer to any independent school. Independent schools are also known as private schools, and the latter is the correct term in Scotland and Northern Ireland for all such fee-funded schools.

In American English a show may refer to any television program. In British English a show refers to a particular type of programme, usually a comedy or variety performance, with the presence of an audience. The adaptation of a literary work (for example, the dramatization of a novel by Jane Austen) would be described as a drama and a factual programme as a documentary. Neither of these types would be described as a show in British English. In American television the episodes of a programme (AmE program) first broadcast in a particular year constitute a season, while the entire run of the programme – which may span several seasons – is called a series. In British television, on the other hand, the word series may apply to the episodes of a programme in one particular year, for example, "The 1998 series of Grange Hill", as well as to the entire run. The term telecast, meaning television broadcast, is not used in British English. A television programme would be broadcast, aired or shown.

Levels of buildings
There are also variations in floor numbering between the US and UK. In most countries, including the UK, the "first floor" is one above the entrance level while the entrance level is the "ground floor". In the US the ground floor is considered the first floor. In a British lift one would press the "G" or "0" button to return to the ground floor whereas in an American elevator, one would push the "1", "G", or "L" (for Lobby) button to return to the ground floor. The "L" button in a British lift would take you to the lower ground floor (i.e. the floor below ground, the basement), which may also be numbered "−1" (minus one).
American (American English) apartment buildings / (British English) blocks of flats frequently are exceptions to this rule. The ground floor often contains the lobby and parking area for the tenants, while the numbered floors begin one level above and contain only the flats themselves.

Units and Measurements
When saying or writing out numbers, the British insert an and before the tens and units, as in one hundred and sixty-two or two thousand and three. In America it is considered correct to drop the and, as in one hundred sixty-two or two thousand three.

Some American schools teach students to pronounce decimally written fractions (for example, .5) as though they were longhand fractions (five tenths), such as thirteen and seven tenths for 13.7. This formality is often dropped in common speech and is steadily disappearing in instruction in mathematics and science as well as in international American schools. In the UK, 13.7 would be read thirteen point seven.

In counting it is common in both varieties of English to count in hundreds up to 1,900 – so 1,200 may be twelve hundred. However Americans use this pattern for much higher numbers than is the norm in British English, referring to twenty-four hundred where British English would most often use two thousand four hundred. Even below 2,000, Americans are more likely than the British are to read numbers like 1,234 as twelve hundred thirty-four, instead of one thousand two hundred and thirty-four. In BrE it is also common to use phrases such as three and a half thousand for 3,500 whereas in AmE this construction is almost never used for numbers under a million.

In the case of years, however, twelve thirty-four would be the norm on both sides of the Atlantic for the year 1234. The year 2000 and years beyond it are read as two thousand, two thousand (and) one and the like by both British and American speakers. For years after 2009, twenty ten, twenty twelve etc. are becoming common.

For the house number (or bus number, etc.) 272, British people tend to say two seven two while Americans tend to say two seventy-two.

When referring to the numeral 0, British people would normally use nought, oh, or zero, although nil is common in sports scores. Americans use the term zero most frequently; oh is also often used (though never when the quantity in question is nothing), and occasionally slang terms such as zilch or zip. Phrases such as the team won two–zip or the team leads the series two–nothing are heard when reporting sports scores.

Monetary Amounts
  • Monetary amounts in the range of one to two major currency units are often spoken differently. In American English one may say a dollar fifty or a pound eighty, whereas in BrE these amounts would be expressed one dollar fifty and one pound eighty. For amounts over a dollar an American will generally either drop denominations or give both dollars and cents, as in two-twenty or two dollars and twenty cents for $2.20. An American would not say two dollars twenty. On the other hand, in British English, two pounds twenty would be the most common form.
  • The British English slang term quid is roughly equivalent to the American English buck and both are often used in the two respective dialects for round amounts, as in fifty quid for £50 and twenty bucks for $20. A hundred and fifty grand in either dialect could refer to £150,000 or $150,000 depending on context. Quid was formerly also used in Ireland for the punt and today is used for the euro. "Quid" does not (generally) have a plural form but "buck" does (aside from the expression "quids in" - meaning having made or won a lot of money).
  • The term pound sign in British English always refers to the currency symbol £ whereas in American English pound sign means the number sign, which the British call the hash symbol, #. (From the 1960s to the 1990s the British telephone company, the GPO and its successors Post Office Telecommunications and British Telecom referred to this as gate on telephone keypads.)
Dates are usually written differently in the short (numerical) form. Christmas Day 2000, for example, is 25/12/00 or 25.12.00 in the UK and 12/25/00 in the US, although the formats 25/12/2000, 25.12.2000, and 12/25/2000 now have more currency than they had before the Year 2000 problem. Occasionally other formats are encountered, such as the ISO 8601 2000-12-25, popular among programmers, scientists and others seeking to avoid ambiguity, and to make alphanumerical order coincide with chronological order. The difference in short-form date order can lead to misunderstanding. For example 06/04/05 could mean either 4 June 2005 (if read as US format), 6 April 2005 (if seen as in UK format) or even 5 April 2006 if taken to be an older ISO 8601-style format where 2-digit years were allowed.

The 24-hour clock (18:00 or 1800) is considered normal in the UK and Europe in many applications including air, rail and bus timetables; it is largely unused in the US outside of military, police, aviation and medical applications.
15 minutes after the hour is called quarter past in British usage and a quarter after or, less commonly, a quarter past in American usage. 15 minutes before the hour is usually called quarter to in British usage and a quarter of, a quarter to or a quarter 'til in American usage; the form a quarter to is associated with parts of the Northern United States, while a quarter 'til is found chiefly in the Appalachian region. Thirty minutes after the hour is commonly called half past in both British English and American English; half after used to be more common in the US. In informal British speech, the preposition is sometimes omitted, so that 5:30 may be referred to as half five. The American English formations top of the hour and bottom of the hour are not used in British English. Forms such as eleven forty are common in both dialects.

In British usage human body weight is typically expressed in stones, a unit of 14 pounds. People normally describe themselves as weighing, for example, "11 stone 4" (11 stones and 4 pounds) and not "158 pounds" (the conventional way of expressing the same weight in the United States). People in the UK can also use metric to describe their weight.
When used as the unit of measurement the plural form of stone is correctly stone (as in, "11 stone"). When describing the units, the correct plural is stones (as in, "Please enter your weight in stones and pounds").

....and finally...

A number of English idioms that have essentially the same meaning show lexical differences between the British and the American version; for instance:                                  

In some cases, the American variant is also used in British English, or vice versa.

Wow, like I first said, I didn't realize how involved this topic would be and how interesting to note that although English is the mother tongue of both countries, the differences between the two are many!  Yet, in the end, we can all still understand each other.. or at least try to. Fascinating!
Thanks for reading.

Let's Play a Game, Shall We?


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