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differences between: AMERICAN ENGLISH & BRITISH ENGLISH. Lauren Carney Lindsay Munnelly. bringing english to america . Early 1600’s:

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bringing english to america
bringing english to america.
  • Early 1600’s:

The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrive in North America as part of the British colonization movement. They bring English, now an “emigrant language,” to native North Americans; in addition, the settlers and their families continue to speak their own native tongue.

  • The process of an emigrant language’s evolution:

1) The language evolves from a specific homeland language.

2) The emigrant language begins to change course because of

lack of direct contact with the homeland.

3) The emigrant language continues to evolve away from

the homeland, gradually creating a new dialect.

4) The homeland dialect continues to evolve as well, diverging

further away from the emigrant dialect of the language.

over the next 400 years
over the next 400 years…
  • Between the end of the 17th century and the 21st century, many gradual changes to the form of the English language have taken place under this process.
  • The process caused the Americans and the British to diverge so drastically in terms of the forms of their languages that they are now considered two separate English language dialects.
  • 1806 – Noah Webster publishes his first dictionary, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language.

Up until this time, English dictionaries included strictly British

vocabulary, spellings, and pronunciations.

Webster was convinced that an outline of a common,

American, national language would unify his country.

webster s dictionaries
Webster’s Dictionaries.
  • 1828 –publishes American Dictionary of the English Language
  • 1890 – Merriam brothers {who received the rights to Webster’s dictionaries after his death} publish Webster’s First International Dictionary, an all-encompassing look at the English language
  • Noah Webster’s intentions?

To prove that Americans spoke a different

dialect than the British {but a dialect that was in no

way inferior – he believed it deserved a unique

documentation of its own trends}

  • Merriam’s intentions?

"The purpose of the dictionary is to provide a record of

the language as it is used by educated people who

have been speaking and writing it all their lives.“

-- H. Bosley Woolf {Merriam's editorial director}

british english history
British English: history.
  • West-Germanic
  • A “borrowing language” – enriched by Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Norman influences
  • Evolved over many centuries; experienced many shifts/changes
  • Spread of British English is attributed to trade and commerce throughout the established British Empire
visible changes
Visible Changes?
  • There are quite a few noticeable differences between the British English dialect and the evolved dialect of American English.

These are the ones we will cover:


Pronunciation {accent}

Pronunciation {affixes}

Pronunciation {stress}



spelling continued10
Spelling, continued.

Other word-specific differences --

spelling last one
Spelling {last one!}.

Base words that end in L normally double the L in

British English when a suffix is added.

The letter can double in American as well – but ONLY IF the stress is on the second syllable

of the base word.

pronunciation accent
Pronunciation {accent}
  • The British accent was created by a mixture of the Midland and Southern dialects of the Middle Ages.
  • There are many sub-dialects and varying accents under British English.
  • American English was not so strongly influenced by the accent as Australia or New Zealand, for example – the Americas broke away from British control much earlier and were distanced from direct speakers of the language as a result.
pronunciation accent13
Pronunciation {accent}
  • British English = non-rhotic;

American English = rhotic

This means that “R” is only pronounced in British English when it is immediately followed by a vowel sound.

“R” in British English is either not pronounced or replaced with a schwa

pronunciation accent14
Pronunciation {accent}
  • American English has fewer vowel distinctions before intervocalic “R” sounds. This means that, in American English –

merry, marry, and Mary often sound the same

mirror rhymes with nearer

furry rhymes with hurry

  • British English has three open back vowels while American English has only two {or even one}:

Most American English speakers use the same vowel for “short O” as for “broad A” – father and bother often rhyme.

pronunciation accent15
Pronunciation {accent}
  • Other vowel pronunciation differences:

British English = “broad A”

American English = “short A”

{in most words when A is followed by N followed by another consonant,

or “S, “F,” or “TH” – like plant, pass, laugh}

  • British English has a distinct length difference between “short” and “long” vowels – the long vowels begin diphthongs
  • American English often loses the distinction between unstressed /ɪ/ and /ə/ {as in roses and Rosa’s}; in British English, it is maintained because of the non-rhotic nature of the language {in order to make words like batted and battered sound distinctly different}.
  • American English experiences a yod-dropping after all alveolar consonants {i.e. /ju:/}; British English speakers always retain /j/ after /n/ {i.e. new in British English is /njuː/ but in American English it is /nuː/}, retain or coalesce it after /t/ and /d/ {i.e. due in British English is /dju:/ but in American English it is /du:/}.
pronunciation accent16
Pronunciation {accent}
  • There are also many individual pronunciation differences that depend on the particular vocabulary word and the speaker who is pronouncing it.
pronunciation affixes
Pronunciation {affixes}
  • -ary, -ery, -ory, -bury, -berry, -mony

When the syllable before these affixes is stressed, American and British English pronounce these endings in a similar way: /əri(ː)/

When it is unstressed, American English uses a full vowel rather than a schwa while British English retains the reduced vowel or elides it completely.

{i.e. “military” – American: /'mɪlɪtɛriː/ and British: /'mɪlɪtəriː/ or /'mɪlɪtriː/}

Exceptions, in which the full vowel is used in American English even though the preceding syllable is stressed: library, primary, rosemary

-berry – American English usually always uses a full vowel; British English uses a full

vowel after an unstressed syllable and a reduced one after a stressed syllable

/bɛriː/ /bəriː/ or /briː/

example: strawberry British: /'strɔːbəriː/ American: /'strɔbɛri/

pronunciation affixes18
Pronunciation {affixes}
  • Adverbs: -arily, -erily or -orily

British English speakers follow the American practice of shifting the stress to the antepenultimate syllable {i.e. militarily is /ˌmɪlɪ'tɛrɪliː/ not /'mɪlɪtrɪliː/}

  • -ile

When words end in an unstressed “-ile,” British English speakers pronounce them with a full vowel: /aɪl/ while American speakers pronounce them with either a reduced vowel /ɪl/ or a syllabic /l/ {i.e. in British English, “fertile” rhymes with “fur tile” – in American English, it would rhyme with “turtle”}

examples of words this applies to:

mobile, fragile, sterile, missile, versatile, etc.

examples of exceptions to this difference:

reptile, exile, turnstile, senile, etc.

  • -ine

When unstressed, this affix can be pronounced as /aɪn/ (like feline), /i(ː)n/ (like morphine), or /ɪn/ (like medicine). Generally speaking, British English uses /aɪn/ most often while American English favors /in/ or /ɪn/ {i.e. crystalline}

pronunciation stress
Pronunciation {stress}
  • In the case of French loanwords, American English has final-syllable stress while British English has penultimate or antepenultimate stress.

British English first-syllable stress:

adult, ballet, baton, pastel, vaccine

British English second-syllable stress:

escargot, fiancee

pronunciation stress20
Pronunciation {stress}

There are also other words borrowed from French that feature stress differences.

American first-syllable; British last-syllable:

address, mustache, cigarette, magazine

American 1st-syllable; British 2nd-syllable:

liaison, Renaissance

American 2nd-syllable; British last-syllable:

New Orleans

pronunciation stress21
Pronunciation {stress}
  • Most two syllable verbs that end in –ate have first syllable stress in American English and second-syllable stress in British English (i.e. castrate, locate)
  • Derived adjectives with the ending

-atory differ in both dialects; for British English, the stress shifts to –at whereas American English will stress the same syllable as the corresponding –ate verb (i.e. regulatory, celebratory, laboratory)

  • morphology
  • American -- "-ed"
  • British -- "-t"
  • i.e. learned/learnt, dreamed/dreamt
  • British English rarely use “gotten;” instead, “got”
  • is much more common.
  • Past participles often vary:
  • i.e. saw – American: sawed; British: sawn
  • tenses
  • British English employs the present perfect to talk about a recent event {i.e. “I’ve already eaten,” “I’ve just arrived home.”}
  • auxiliaries
  • British English often uses “shall” and “shan’t”
  • American English uses “will” and “won’t”


In British English, collective nouns can take either singular or plural verb forms, depending on whether the emphasis is on the body or the members within it.

i.e.“A committee was appointed.”

“ The committee were unable

to agree.”

creation of american lexicon
Creation of American Lexicon.

From the beginning, Americans borrowed words from Native American languages for unfamiliar objects {i.e. opossum, squash, moccasin}

They took many “loanwords” from other colonizing nations {i.e. cookie, kill, and stoop from Dutch; levee , prairie, and gopher from French; barbecue, canyon, and rodeo from Spanish}

British words were obviously borrowed, but often evolved to mean new things in an American landscape {i.e. creek, barrens, trail, bluff, etc.}

With the development of the new continent, new words were necessarily brought in to describe new things: split-level {in real estate}, carpetbagger {in politics}, commuter {in transportation}, and a variety of vocabulary to distinguish among professions.

Many words originated as American slang: hijacking, boost, jazz, etc.



& British





words for

the same

things --

more vocabulary26
More Vocabulary.
  • American and British English speakers often use the same words but intend very different meaning with them:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_words_having_different_meanings_in_British_and_American_English {for more examples!}

  • Intemann, Dr. F. “Teaching English Grammar and Lexis.”


  • Jones, Susan. “List of American vs. British Spelling.”


  • Wallechinsky, David & Irving Wallace. “Trivia on History of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Part 1.”


  • Wikipedia. “British English.”


  • Wikipedia. “American and British English Differences.”