The Difference Between British English and American English: A Quick Guide

by Arushi Gupta
The difference between British English and American English

English is a global language spoken by millions of people around the world. A recent study undertaken in 2022, estimated that there are about 1.5 billion people around the world who speak English as a native or as a second language.1 However, when it comes to understanding the difference between American English (US) and British English (UK), it is not uncommon to find even native-English speakers getting confused. One of the main differences in US vs. UK English is that the latter uses the spelling of words taken from other languages like German and French. On the other hand, American English words use spellings based on how a word sounds when it is spoken.

US English has its roots in the 17 th and 18th century when settlers from Britain introduced the language on their arrival in America. Over the centuries the language developed in myriad ways until its usage, specifically the spelling and grammar, were standardized by Noah Webster, a lexicographer who according to available sources, changed the way certain words were to be spelt in America. This was his way of showing cultural independence from Britain.2

Today, a majority of the international peer-reviewed journals publish articles in English. In other words, approximately 95% of the academic content published in journals globally is in English.3 This is because research papers published in English-language journals are able to garner a larger readership and get more attention than those published in regional languages which leads to more citations. While most journals specify the version of English that they want used, it is common to find researchers getting confused and making errors when writing.

In this article we will look at some of the key differences between British English and American English including vocabulary, spelling, and grammar rules.

Differences in vocabulary based on cultural aspects

One of the most evident differences between British English and American English is in terms of the vocabulary. For example, people using British English refer to the front end of a car as a bonnet, while it is called a hood by those using American English. Similarly, while it is the boot for the back of a car in British English, it is referred to as a trunk in American English.

Some of the other common words like flats, trousers, lorry, university and holiday come under British English while for American English they correspond to apartments, pants, truck, college and vacation.

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Differences in the way words are spelt

There are some very distinct spelling differences between US and UK English. Usually, UK English words that end with ‘our,’ end in ‘or’ in US English. For example, the spellings for UK English would be colour, flavour, labour, humour or neighbour, while in US English the spellings change to color, flavor, labor, humor and neighbor respectively. Similarly, verbs are spelt with ‘ize’ or ‘ise’ in the end in British English but they are always spelt as ‘ize’ in American English. 

For example, it is apologize or apologise, recognize or recognise in UK English but in US English, it is always ‘apologize’ and ‘recognize’.

Differences in grammar

Apart from UK and US spelling differences in the English language, there are some key differences in. When it comes to the use of collective nouns, American English measures them as singular while in British English, they can be either singular or plural. For example, in US English one would say, ‘The band is playing’, however in UK English, one would use the plural form and say, ‘The band are playing’.

Similarly, in British English, formal speech is used more commonly, with words like ‘shall’ being frequently used.While American English, on the other hand, leans towards a more informal usage, with ‘will’ or ‘should’.

To sum it up, the differences between British English and American English are many, but they do not really make much of a difference when the English language is spoken. For average listeners, these can be understood based on context easily. However, for researchers and those in academia who need to use language in academic writing to convey their findings, it becomes very important to know what the difference between US and UK English is.


  1. The most spoken languages worldwide in 2022, Statista. Available online at
  2. Differences between British and American English, British Council. Available online at
  3. Liu, W. The changing role of non-English papers in scholarly communication: Evidence from Web of Science’s three journal citation indexes. Learned Publishing, Wiley Online Library, December 2016. Available online at

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