This post will provide an overview of some of the key differences of British (United Kingdom – UK) English and American English. This post will give you guidelines in how to use these two languages, especially in interacting with American clients.
These two Englishes vary in many ways:
While this post will focus on the first three points, the final two will be mentioned in relation to the first three points mentioned.
We all know about tire and tyre, color and colour, analyze and analyse. Also, there are words where Americans will double the consonants to make plural, and Britons will not: busses vs. buses, gases vs. gasses.
Yes, it’s true that some elements of grammar are different between these two versions of English. Recently, I learned about the differences between it’s in American English (it is) and British English (it is AND it has).
Learn more about some of the grammar differences (verbs, prepositions, adjectives, adverbs, tag words and more) at the Cambridge Dictionary site.
If you speak with a British accent, this may be admired in the United States. The reason I say “may” is because even in Britain there are many accents. There are some accents that are more easily understood by Americans than others. There are so many accents in the United Kingdom and Britian that even U.K. nationals or Britons who travel to other parts of the country don’t understand each other, let alone Americans!
While there are many videos on YouTube that compare the U.K. and the U.S. accents and even showcase a variety of U.K. or British accents, I hesitate to share them as I am not an expert on U.K. language or culture. However, if you are interested to hear a variety of American accents, see this post.
Should I use a British, American or neutral accent with my U.S. colleagues?
Firstly, I do not endorse faking an accent. And, to me, accent encompasses much more than sounds alone. It also includes word choices, idioms, slangs, and more. What I endorse is trying to plain English, speak at a moderate pace to be understood more clearly and always be open to listening to what the other person says so we can respond accordingly.
A few examples of synonyms are:
Elevator (U.S.) vs. Lift (U.K.)
1st floor (U.S.) vs. Ground Floor (U.K.)
Gas (U.S.) vs. Petrol (U.K.)
Truck (U.S.) vs. Lorry (U.K.)
Trunk (U.S.) vs. Boot (U.K.)
Many of these differences are similar to comparisons of Indian vs. American English as Indian English is heavily influenced by British English.
A common slang phrase Americans like me have heard come from the U.K. is “bloody” or “bloody hell.” I am not sure how bad this word or phrase is, but I surely would not be using it at work! Feel free to share some slang words from the U.S. or the U.K.you would avoid using at work in the comments below. [If reading this British word or phrase offended anyone, I am sorry. I was using it as an example, only.]
In some cases the same idiom can mean two different things between these countries. Here was an example from a real-life global team meeting (idiom is underlined):
U.S. team member: We have one more topic to cover. Should we talk about it today or table it?
U.K. team member: Well if you have a little more time, I could table it.
U.S.:: Huh? I am confused. How can you table it if you want to extend the meeting?
U,K.: “Table it” means to talk about it now
U.S.: Really? Over on this side of the pond, it means to talk about it later!
[They both had a good laugh about this.]
I think an instance of an idiom having a different or completely opposite meaning is rare. I’d like to collect more examples of this. If you have any examples, feel free to list them in the comments section below. Thank you!