Differences Between American and British English

British English and American English are two dialects of English with subtle differences between them. At The English Island, located in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, highly qualified and proficient instructors teach American English in the general English as a second language (ESOL) course. Therefore, many students who study in the USA find it surprising to encounter the minor differences between British and American English. These two dialects often confuse students of English as a second language (ESL). The primary categories of differences include vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling.


Spelling is most likely the difference that new English as a second language (ESL) students will encounter. The historic reasoning for spelling differences is that British English tends to retain spellings of words that are absorbed from other languages while American English is typically spelled how the word sounds, or phonetically. While there are many words with differences in their spelling, it may be convenient for students to learn some of the general differences between American and British English spelling.

British English often includes an additional “u” compared to American English.

US              British

Color          Colour

Flavor         Flavour

Humor       Humour


British English allows for “ise” or “ize” at the end of verbs, however American English always defaults to “ize”.

US                        British

Realize                  Realise

Customize            Customise

Personalize           Personalise


Although there are many more differences, one last rule is the difference between verbs ending in “yse” and “yze”.

British English verbs that end in “yse” are always spelled as “yze” in American English.

US                             British

Analyze                     Analyse

Paralyze                    Paralyse

Catalyze                    Catalyse


Continuing on with a new category, learners of English as a second language (ESOL) may encounter pronunciation differences between British and American English. Teachers at the English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA speak and teach American English. Students will detect a consistency in pronunciation that aligns with these general rules: stressing vowels and only a moderate amount of intonation. In comparison, ESOL students who study British English will most likely encounter teachers who place more stress on consonants and use stronger intonation.

One example of stressing vowels in American English in comparison to stressing consonants in British English is the word tomato. In American English, tomato is pronounced as “to-may-to”, whereas in British English, most speakers will pronounce it as “to-mah-to”. The stress, therefor, is taken off of the vowel in British English and there is greater stress on the first syllable, “to”.

Pronunciation differences between American and British English can even affect which article you should use. In American English, the “H” in herb is silent. However, in British English, the “H” is not silent. This means that in American, you would say “an herb,” but in England, you would say “a herb.”


One of the most interesting differences between British and American English is the vocabulary. Studying the dialectical differences in vocabulary can provide insight into specific cultures. For instance, people say “elevator” in the American English, while people refer to the same thing as a “lift” in British English. There are many examples of the differences between British and American English vocabulary, however for brevity’s sake, here are a few of some of the most relevant:             

US                                              British

Cookie                                        Biscuit

Potato Chips                               Crisps

Garbage / Trash Can                  Dustbin

Truck, Semi, Tractor                    Lorry

Freeway / Expressway                Motorway

Mailbox                                      Postbox

Vacation**                                  Holiday


The list can go on and on, however the examples above serve as a brief overview of the kinds of distinctions to be made between British and American English vocabulary. Some words have completely different substitutes in either dialect while others change just a single part of the word, as in “postbox” versus “mailbox”.


For more advance students of English as a second Language (ESL), particularly those studying abroad in F-1 Visa ESL classes at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia USA, higher level concepts can be applied to the differences in British and American English as well. For one example, the present perfect tense is used differently in British English compared to American English.

The present perfect tense refers to a verb tense that utilizes “has or have” in combination with a verb to connect the past to the present moment. For example, “I have come a long way” implies that the speaker traveled a far distance to arrive where they are in the present. In British English, the present perfect tense is used far more frequently than in American English in daily conversation, while American English speakers will more commonly use the simple past.

If a British English speaker asked someone “have you eaten yet?”, the most likely response would be “I have not eaten yet”, whereas in American English, someone could respond with “I did not eat”. While both are technically correct, the American English response, which is the simple past, would be considered almost grammatically incorrect to British English speakers. Tricky linguistic situations like this one require a skilled teacher to explain properly and thoroughly.

These kinds of subtle and complex nuances of the English language are the specialty of the instructors at The English Island in Atlanta, Georgia, USA for F-1 Visa English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes.

Are you an English language learner planning to study abroad? Sign up for classes now at The English Island for F-1 Visa English as a Second Language (ESOL) classes in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, to find your path towards fluency and success!

**F-1 Visa students at The English Island can take a 12-week vacation (or “go on holiday” as British English speakers would say) after they have studied at the school for 7.5 months.