Differences in American and British English Grammar

English grammar is a bit different between British and American English. Understanding these differences is useful for English fluency. You can pick up on these changes gradually by reading our article. 

There are five main versions of English: American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand.

This article looks closely at the basic grammar differences between American and British English. Taking the time to explore these details is important because it not only helps you understand better but also improves your overall English fluency.

First Difference: How We Use Collective Nouns

In American English, collective nouns usually go with singular verbs. In British English, you can use collective nouns with both singular and plural verbs, depending on whether you mean the group as a whole or the individuals in it.

For example:

  • The team is playing today. (American English)
  • Tom’s family is/are coming to visit. (British English)

Differences in Making Past Tense

In British English, past tense verbs can be spelled in two ways.

For example: learned – learnt, burned – burnt, dreamed – dreamt, etc. However, some words like smelt and leapt are exceptions, as they are only spelled one way, like smelled and leaped.

In American English, the –ed ending is commonly used almost all the time. Though, there are exceptions like dreamt and smelt, where –ed is sometimes used (dreamed, smelled).

Using the Past Participle

In American English, the past participle of the word “get” can be got or gotten. In British English, the correct form is got, according to grammar rules, even though gotten is sometimes used.

For example:

  • I’ve gotten a headache. (American English – referring to past events)
  • I’ve had a headache. (British English)

Talking About Dates

There’s a subtle difference here:

  • British: My birthday is the 9th of September.
  • Americans: My birthday is September 9th.

In essence, Americans often skip the article, while British use the form article + of.

Discussing Past Events

When talking about past events, the British use past perfect tense, while Americans often use past simple + already/just/yet.

For example:

  • I just saw her. vs. I have just seen her.
  • He already finished doing his homework. vs. He has already finished his homework.
  • Did she leave yet? vs. Has she left yet?

Using the Word “Got”

In informal American English, “got” is used to express necessity (present simple) or possession.

For example:

  • I got to go. = I gotta go.
  • I got a new car.

In British English, “got” is also used for necessity or possession, but only in the present perfect verb form.

For example:

I’ve got to go.

I’ve got a new car.

Forming Complex Nouns

In the United States, people often make complex nouns by combining a verb with a noun. For instance, you might have “jump rope” or “dive board.” Here, the verb describes the action associated with the noun.

Let’s look at a few more examples:

  1. Runway walk

This describes the way models walk on the runway during a fashion show.

  1. Cookbook recipe

Refers to a recipe found in a cookbook.

  1. Swim lesson

Describes a lesson focused on swimming.

In the United Kingdom, the structure of complex nouns is a bit different. They use a gerund, which is a verb ending in -ing, followed by a noun. For example, “skipping rope” or “diving board.”

Let’s explore a few more instances:

  1. Running shoes

This term refers to shoes designed for running.

  1. Cooking class

Describes a class where people learn to cook.

  1. Swimming pool

Refers to a pool specifically designed for swimming.

So, to sum it up, in the U.S., you might say “runway walk,” while in the U.K., you would say “running shoes.” The difference lies in how the verb and noun come together to form a compound noun.

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