Which English is better -- British or American? (British vs. American English)

I’d like to know what your favorite English spelling is…

British: honour,colour, theatre, connection, defence, favour, words ending “ise” and so on.

American:color, theater, connextion, defense, favor, words ending “ize” and so on.

Pls, state your contry and native language.

1 Like

I always like British English. May be one reason is that ,in Indian schools only British English is beeing taught. But in my general persepection, I rate British English more standard than Americans as I beleive the right pronounciation is captured only in British English.

But being a Software Engineer it is always difficult to follow British style as most of the bussiness is targeted in American region.

As my university teaches us only British English we all like it more. It`s nicer…well, I just like it more!

I think that in Spain they teach mostly British English, rather than American English. One of the reasons may be that students want to get the certificates issued by Cambridge University: First, Advanced, Proficiency. Besides, as Britain is quite close to Spain, most teachers are British, and Irish too. Anyway, everybody knows how important American English is, and so, I suppose that examiners are open-minded enough to accept an exam written in American English.

As for me, I try to stick to British standard English. It’s just a matter of chosing one, otherwise you would get lost. But I like American English too, it can be as elegant as British English. And it’s easier to understand! Don’t you think so?

Now that we have started a thread on the differences between American and British spelling, it might be a good idea to take a look at these questions:

  • How significant do you think are those differences?
  • Do you think that the differences between American and British spelling are increasing or decreasing?
  • Apart from spelling, what other differences are there between American and British English?
  • What about other versions of English such as Canadian, Australian, South African etc.?
  • Do you think that one version of English can be easier to understand than the other?

I’m sure there could be even more issues to exchange views and ideas about. Can you think of any?

TOEIC listening, photographs: Coast fishing

When I fist arrived in the States , I realised that perhaps a lifetime of watching American television and a half hour speech were not adequate preparation for appreciating and coping with the differences between American and British speech. In the first hour of arriving at the camp I was exposed to High School American English, Black American English and the American English spoken by Joe Q. Public, all very different to each other. Needless to say, I did cope in the end. I found the Americans I met to be very welcoming and helpful and were patient with me when I made a social faux pas when I used an inappropriate word or phrase.

Cricket. Popular myth has it the sound of the English Summer is incomplete without the sound of willow against leather, scones with jam and whipped cream and a cup of tea in a fine bone china cup. This translates into American English as ‘sitting around eating small plain cakes with jelly and cream watching a game where the idea is to stand around for hours on end.’ Ah yes, but this is Tradition you see. Occasionally you might see a chap throw a ball at another chap with a bat, who is wearing padding on his legs, in an attempt to knock over the wicket (the sticks behind the batsman). If this ball bounces in an unexpected manner, this is called a googly. If it is a really erratic googly, the ball may hit the batsman in the goolies (male private parts) at which point the batsman is allowed to throw a wobbler (get upset). This might be a ‘bit of a sticky wicket’ (a problem)… If it is any consolation to our American Chums, a lot of English people don’t understand cricket either and can’t see the point in a three day game which ends in a draw. The English Cricket team is also spectacularly bad at playing the game that England taught to its former colonies, even if the rules were designed to make sure that only the English knew and understood them. As a consequence, most English people consider their country’s cricket team to be a joke and certainly wouldn’t go as far as admitting that they actually supported them. This could be a problem if Norman Tebbit (the Conservative Member of Parliament) gets his way an introduces the ‘Cricket Test’ (i.e. which cricket team you supported) as an immigration test.

Fag. A goody but an oldie. Over here a ‘fag’ is a cigarette. So in the song ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag’ the line ‘As long as you have a Lucifer to light your fag’ is not a fundamentalist Christian’s statement that all homosexuals will burn for eternity in hell, but saying that ‘if you always have a match to light your cigarette…’ Also, when at a public (i.e. private - confused you will be) school in the UK, you may have to ‘fag’ for an older boy. This usually involves shining shoes, cleaning up and performing other favors for this older lad. In return for fagging, the older boy looks after your interests and makes sure that you fit into the school and promote the school spirit (bon vivre, not necessarily the alcoholic kind). This may also be a fag (i.e. a tiresome thing).

Fancy. In the UK to be sexually attracted to or to desire. Also a tea cake.

Football. A classic example of our culture gap. To Brits football is what you call soccer. To you football is what we call pointless. You probably think the same way about cricket… soccer commentators are every bit as annoying as football ones since they speak in cliches (Over the moon, Ron; Sick as a parrot, Ron; The boy did good, Ron), wear bad 1970s tweed jackets, have unattractive hairstyles (e.g. the ‘Brian Moore’ where a practically bald man grows one side extra long and then combs it over his bald patch - this invariably flutters in his face in strong winds), have no idea what-so-ever about football and tend to be called ‘Ron’. Then again, given the fact that most footballers are capable of great athletic feats on the pitch but are unable to string a sentence together without slipping into cliches (I gave it 110% today, Ron; I’m a bit choked (disappointed) after missing that penalty, Ron; I’m chuffed (glad) that we beat the local Junior School second eleven today, Ron) I suppose they are only making the best of a pretty poor situation. Worst of all the football commentators is the one they call ‘Jimmy Hill’ who is used as a bogeyman by soccer fans to frighten their kids.

Going shopping. Going shopping for the first time in the US is worrying experience . Firstly, everything is in sold in stores, rather than shops. Secondly, you push your shopping around in a cart rather than a trolley. Thirdly, all of your shopping is put into paper shopping bags rather than the familiar plastic carrier bags by someone called the teller rather than the cashier. Most terrifying of all is the thousands upon thousands of different varieties of junk food, all of which are very bad for you. Two cases in point - blue-berry kool aid and beef jerky. Yuck. Mind you, Bristish do have Pot Noodle over here. These are freeze dried noodles in a spicy sauce that are reconstituted by adding boiling water - disgusting but strangely satisfying after you have been drinking…

Jelly & Jam. In the UK, jelly is either the stuff US-types call jello or a seedless preserve made from fruit, sugar and pectin. To confuse things further, fruit preserves are generically called jam over here too. Hence, if you were in an English restaurant enjoying a piece of bread with peanut butter and fruit preserve on it you would be eating ‘a peanut butter and jam sandwich.’ BTW.

Lift. In the US the device used to travel between floors in a hotel is called an elevator. In the UK it is called a lift. Also, a word of warning for American hitch-hikers. When hitching it is best to ask ‘for a lift’ and not a ride (which is a sexual favour in the UK).

Lorry. A UK truck. A word used in the tongue twister ‘Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’ by parents to torture their kids. Try it. You’ll hate me for it.

Momentarily. Imagine you are flying from the UK to the US. Just before you land, the air stewardess announces that ‘we are about to land momentarily’. If she is American, she has just said that we are going to land in the very immediate future. However, if she is British, you may be spending less time in the US than you originally planned.

Pants and Knickers Americans call pants what Britishs call trousers; pants are the things that go underneath. In the US knickers are knee-length trousers similar to what the Brits call ‘breeches’. In the UK, they are the things that go underneath. Typically British men wear pants under their trousers and women wear knickers, unless of course, you are a Tory (Conservative) MP and then anything goes… Also NORWICH (Norwich is a city in England famed for it’s football team, it’s cathedral and chat show host Alan Partridge) was an acronym used by service personel during WWII for ‘(k)Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home’. To be on the safe side when visiting the doctors it’s best to keep your pants/knickers on…

Policemen. UK policemen are unarmed. As a consequence people feel safer over here than in the US. Anyway, the following are used to describe policemen: bobbies, peelers, filth, cops, pigs, the old Bill (or the Bill), rozzers, coppers, a plod or perhaps ‘bastards’ if you are feeling lucky. I’m not sure how many of those you guys might use. Imagine you are a tea leaf (cockney rhyming slang for a thief) and you spot a car in good nick (reasonable condition) so you decide to nick (steal) it. Along comes PC (Police Constable) Plod, puts his hand on your shoulder and says ‘You’re nicked mate!’ even though he isn’t your friend and he probably isn’t wielding a knife. This is your cue to say ‘It’s a fair cop! You got me banged to rights and make no mistake. You’ll find the rest of the swag (ill-gotten gains) in the sack!’ if you are stupid or ‘I aint done nuffink, copper!’ if you are aren’t. Since you had ‘been a naughty boy’ you would be taken to court, and you may find yourself confronted by a ‘beak’ (a magistrate), who might send you down for some time ‘at her Majesty’s Pleasure’. You would go to gaol (or jail), or ‘nick’ as it is sometimes confusingly called.

Randy. In the US a perfectly reasonable first name. Pity then, the multitude of poor Americans given this unfortunate appellation when they come over to old Blighty. Wherever they go, grimy street urchins snigger, little old ladies try desperately to stifle guffaws and ordinarily quite sensible members of society burst out in laughter. And why? In the UK, saying ‘Hi, I’m Randy!’ is akin to saying to our American cousins 'Hello friend, I’m feeling horny.

Rubber. In the UK a rubber is a pencil eraser. In the US, it is a condom. Don’t be shocked if the mild mannered new Englishman in your office asks for a pencil with a rubber on the end. Especially when he says that he enjoys chewing it when he is thinking.

School. In the UK if someone said that they were ‘going to school’, it would mean that they are attending an educational establishment that has students between the ages of five and sixteen. In the US, it can also mean the place of higher education that you attend after high school which Brits call University. Confusing? You bet.

Smart. In the US to be smart implies that you are intelligent, clever, witty, a joy to be with, wonderful company etc. It can mean this in the UK as well, but typically in the UK ‘to be smart’ means that you are well dressed. Being smart (UK) is not a prerequisite for being smart(US) though in my experience…

Table. Imagine you are in a boardroom. The chairperkin (note dubious PC nomenclature) says ‘I reckon we should table the motion about the McBigcorp account’. If you were American you would think ‘Gee, I guess we can forget about that for a while’ - i.e. the motion has been postponed. If you were English, you would think ‘Jolly good show old bean! I fancied talking about that one!’, i.e. the motion has been brought up for discussion. How do people in trans-atlantic companies cope?

Torch. You and your British friend have gone camping. You’ve pitched your tent and have just got into your sleeping bags. Suddenly your friend says ‘Where’s my torch?’ At this point you have images of him producing a US torch (i.e. one with flames) and setting the tent on fire! You feel relieved when he digs deep into his rucksack and produces …a flashlight. Phew!

Z. The twenty sixth letter of the alphabet. You call it ‘Zee’; Brits call it ‘Zed’. A whole generation in England has had to relearn the alphabet after hearing the ‘Alphabet song’ on Sesame Street. Sadder still, the song doesn’t rhyme with the English ‘Zed’. At least the ‘Numbers song’ works (1-2-3-4-5, 6-7-8-9-10, 11-12, do do-do do-do do-do do etc etc…)

Some things to point out as differences also are the accent and the rhoticism of american English.
Rhoticism or rhoticness is such an important and increasing difference between the major Englishes. In some respects it’s easier to speak rhotically, in as much as the intrusive [r] is much easier for a lazy speaker to insert between vowels than a carefully-controlled brief and unvoiced glottal stop, so that even educated native English speakers in Britain and Commonwealth countries use it often, but invariably continue to use ultimate [r] only as a guide to the pronunciation of the ultimate vowel, which makes the final syllable easier (and shorter) to pronounce.

I, for one prefer the American spelling and accent maybe due to the proximity of the U.S to my country and aslo because of the tv invasion we are exposed to.

1 Like

My God!!!
Rich i’m dead :smiley: bow to you (unless you copied it from a book or sth like that :stuck_out_tongue: )

As for me… when i was in the usa i couldn’t believe how different this language is from what i’d been learning from English books.
Torsten, you asked about the difference - is it growing or not. I think it’s growing and it’s wider and wider every day. I think that in another 100y or so, Britons and Americans will find it very difficult to understand each other.
It will be as i find Russian or Czech now. It’s similar, some words sound very common, others are the same… but it’s a completely different language.

Hi Mosteque,

What makes you think the differences between American and British English are growing? How do you think did the Slavic languages develop?

TOEIC listening, photographs: Reconstruction

There are some series shot in Venezuela or Colombia which are very popular in Spain. They’re called “telenovelas”. Although they’re regarded to be of very bad quality, and few Spaniards would accept that they like them, I try not to be so snobbish, and judge them without prejudice. Actually, they have some virtues, and one of them is that they allow us, Spaniards, to get used to American accents. I got hooked on one of these series, and I was glad to see that I could understand every word they used. Well, there was a girl who used to speak very fast and in slang, and so sometimes I couldn’t understand her. But, on the whole, there were no problems of communication.

I don’t know if it works the same the other way round. They say that Spaniards speak their language worse than Americans.

Anyway, as for the Spanish language, I think that it’s very important to listen to each other, and to be aware that we’re part of a community that speaks the same language, and that it’s something worth to take care of.

Education is vital. If people are left free to talk as they want, the language will split in dialects. Of course, there are different registers, and there are words that are used only in certain parts of Spain or America, or by certain people. That’s not bad, but it’s very important to know what the standard language is, and to appreciate it.

My question is: do people in the States, UK, Australia, etc., feel that they are part of a community that speaks the same language? Do they realize how important it is to look after the unity of the language? As for me, my opinion is that each country feels that it’s way of speaking and writing English is THE way, and that they listen to each other with contempt.

In the last paragraph I wrote “it’s way of speaking”. I wanted to say “its way”. Sorry for the mistake.

Dear Carbonarius,

You can edit your own post. Just trying to bring to your attention if you don’t know that.


Thanks for the tip, Samrat :wink:

Hi there most, of course I did some digging about the topic brought up hence my second post, as for: “torsten, you asked about the difference - is it growing or not. I think it’s growing and it’s wider and wider every day. I think that in another 100y or so, Britons and Americans will find it very difficult to understand each other”. I would tend to say that is the other way around, just because American is widely used in all the world more and more at least that’s my personal opinion. I read an article saying that youngters in Uk were taking American culture as a model in recent years due to mostly tv programs.

On a related matter I live in venezuela my pal carbonarious and these series your talking about are called soap operas for we don’t have series pe se. I don’t get what you mean when you say: "Actually, they have some virtues, and one of them is that they allow us, Spaniards, to get used to American accents. I got hooked on one of these series, and I was glad to see that I could understand every word they used. Well, there was a girl who used to speak very fast and in slang, and so sometimes I couldn’t understand her. But, on the whole, there were no problems of communication.

Since you’re Spaniard I don’t see why you wouldn’t understand venezuelan spanish although you say American.

But, on the whole, there were no problems of communication.
To this I would like to bring to your notice the following:

On American English;
There is not, probably, a man(of English descent) born in this country(America-added by me), who would not be perfectly intelligible to all whom he should meet in the streets of London, though a vast number of those he met in the streets of London would be nearly unintelligible to him.
(Albert C. Baugh)

I think that it is an interesting discussion. I agree with many of the points of view presented. I especially like rich7’s post on his experience of the difference between US and British English. The confusion that could occur if certain US words are used in the UK and vice versa made me laugh. Indeed, it is an interesting discussion. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to read it.

Firstly I would qualify the question more readily as “Oxford English” Not “British English” as Scottish,Welsh and N Irish variations are more diverse than any US variables. I also think the question “Which English is better – “Oxford” or American?” in itself is rather silly and far to general and without context…
Better were?
for whom?
for what purpose?

If you’re in the United states obviously American would be better for you.
If you’re in the UK obviously Oxford is better for you.
If you’re Indian and learnt Oxford English growing up you will surely prefer Oxford.
If you were trying to become a rock star or an actor perhaps American is better.

Also in a narrow context perhaps on this forum -
Learning English as a beginner and you are quite sure you will never live or work in the US or work for a US company in your own country or watch endless US soaps etc - I would guess you could have a good fundamental case for arguing Oxford is better simply because it is the mother tongue and may be easier to “revert back to”.

That said - you could also make a good case that with holywood etc US English would be better strategically simply because of the numbers game.

But from a purely linguistic point of view without any geographical or “other” preferences etc I would opt for Oxford English

First question: At the formal level, the differences are not very significant at all, because native speakers can sometimes read 50 pages into a book before detecting that it’s not from their own country. When we’re reading quickly, we don’t always notice the spelling differences.

Second question: The spelling differences between American and British English aren’t increasing that much, and they’re not as great as most foreigners think they are. Foreigners often exaggerate the differences. If you look at what foreigners think is correct English spelling, and then you check the UK editions of Oxford dictionaries, you find the foreigners’ spelling is often too “British”.

However, the spelling differences between American English and the language called “Brusselese” have increased. Apparently the EU, without consulting the British, have revised “English” spelling rules to make them as different as possible from the American rules. So sometimes a spelling that is preferred in US and UK English is “wrong” in Brusselese. (I think they made these changes to make English spelling easier for the French. A lot of EU English is based on French and isn’t easy for native English speakers to understand if they don’t also know French.)

Third question: Besides spelling, some of the vocabulary and idioms are different. These especially include the terms for inventions that developed when communication across the Atlantic was still difficult, such as the names of various basic car parts (while the names of the newly invented parts are the same in the US and UK). And of course, the local slang is different. Many foreigners think the British speak “correct” English and the Americans speak “slang”, but the British sometimes use so much slang that it’s hard for anyone but the British to understand them, or maybe even for anyone from outside their own town.

Fifth question: Neither standard variety of English is harder to understand than the other. In fact, we understand all standard varieties. However, local dialects and slang can make things difficult. I believe it’s easier for an Englishman to understand someone speaking standard American English than it is for him to understand someone speaking local Yorkshire English or one of the many other local UK dialects.

I would be interested in hearing your English, because I’ll bet it doesn’t sound British.

Every semester I get students from Russia and many other countries who claim that they were taught “British” English in school, but so far not one of them has spoken like the British.

What they really learn is a foreign adaptation of English that their instructors claim is “British”.

Usually the students with very good English never mention what kind of English they learned at school, but the ones whose English is so poor that they can barely communicate claim that it’s because they learned “British” English in their country. This is, of course, nonsense. They learned bad English in their country, not British.

The last time I taught English in Europe, the training materials for Cambridge certificates explicitly stated that it doesn’t matter which variety of English you use on them, as long as your spelling is consistent. In other words, they don’t care if the person uses British or American English on the tests. (I don’t know what they do with people who learned in Canada, because Canadian spelling is part British and part American.)

I prepared many students for those exams, using my own American English, and none of them had any trouble passing. In fact, some claim their English was greatly praised by the British examiners.

Native speakers learn from both British and American sources, and we don’t get “lost”. There’s not enough difference between the two to get lost in.

If you think American English can’t be as elegant as British English, you haven’t heard a true Southern gentleman speak, or some very cultured African-Americans. Those people’s English can be as elegant or more than any Englishman’s. And many of the British don’t speak elegantly at all.

It’s common for languages to be more courtly in the New World than in Europe, which you can see from the very formal way the South Americans say some things in Spanish. The same can occasionally be true in English. I would sometimes run into British expressions in Cambridge ESL books that would be absolutely rude in the United States but are apparently fine in the UK.

If the Indians learn British English, then why can’t any of my students from India speak or write like the British? In fact, why is the English in magazines like “India Today” so different from British English? Once in a while we can’t even understand it!

1 Like