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If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.

British Vs. American English

British Vs American English

George Bernard Shaw famously said that the British and the Americans were « two nations separated by a common language ».Below are some examples of different usage in British and American English.You may already be aware of some of these differences, others may surprise you.

 British English

 American English

 Bank holiday

 Legal holiday

 Fortnight

 Two week

 Ordinary/extraordinary general meeting (of the shareholders)

 Regular/special shareholders’ meeting

 (Memorandum and) articles of association

 (Articles of incorporation and) bylaws

 Profit and loss account

 Income statement

 Chairman

 President/Chairman

 Managing director

 Chief Executive Officer

 Estate agent

 Realtor

 Bureau de change

 Currency exchange

 Property

 Real estate

 Post code

 Zip code

 Prison

 Penitentiary

 Stand (for office)

 Run (for office)

 Unit trust

 Mutual fund

 Cheque

 Check

 Current account

 Checking account

 

These are just a few examples. It is often worthwhile establishing whether your audience/the recipients of your document would prefer British or American terminology, as although many US terms may be understood by a British person and vice versa others may cause confusion and a need for time to be spent on further explanations/clarifications.

As well as the differences in vocabulary we just looked at, it is also possible to spot differences in grammar and country-specific structures in ‘British’ and ‘American’ documents. Often there are no hard and fast rules, it is simply a question of usage and a result of how the language has developed in each country.

Dates are one well-known example:

  • UK: 29 September 2017 – US: September 29, 2017
  • UK: 29/9/2017 – US: 9/29/2017

Helpful Hint: It may be worth writing a date out in full, to avoid confusion:

3/9/2017 – 3 September 2017 or March 9, 2017 ?

he use of the comma in a list is also different. Note the extra comma in the US version of the following sentence:

  • UK: The company has not issued any shares, bonds, stock options or securities this year.
  • US: The company has not issued any shares, bonds, stock options, or securities this year.

The next table shows some grammatical differences:

 British English

 American English

 I will write to him next week

 I will write him next week

 I will write to him next week

 I will write him next week

 It was nice to talk to you

 It was nice to talk with you

 I am meeting the union representatives tomorrow

 I am meeting with the union representatives tomorrow

 I live in Main Street

 I live on Main Street

 Let’s go and see a film

 Let’s go see a movie

 Different from/different to

 Different than/different from

 I have already eaten

 I already ate

 Look out of the window

 Look out the window

 River Thames

 Hudson River

 

Another interesting example is the third person singular form ‘one’:

« one does what one is told to do ».

This is still in use in the UK in formal language, but is very rarely heard in the US .

Familiar speech forms can also differ greatly. Whereas Americans might say « I sure could use a drink » , the British would say « I really need a drink » or even « I’m dying for a drink ».

You are much more likely to hear an American say « sure can » or « will do » when asked to do something, while a British person might say « yes, of course » or « leave it with me » .

Although such usage may be specific to one country, in most cases it is readily understood in the other. Indeed, with today’s increasingly ‘global’ culture, many British people are now using ‘Americanisms’, although the opposite is rarely true!

Lastly, words are often spelt differently in American and British English. For instance:

UK / US
-s organise / -z organize
-our favour, behaviour / -or favor, behavior

Mistakes can easily be avoided by selecting the appropriate language (British or American English) in your word processing software and running a spell-check. It sounds obvious, but is easy to forget!

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