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American and British English
The distinctive features of American and British English can be seen especially in the following areas:
The second part of the series looks at the latter three areas.
There are many spelling differences between the two varieties. Some of these affect individual words, so they simply have to be learned. For example:
But some spelling differences involve particular letter sequences, so they are more regular and predictable:
In general, differences in grammar between the two varieties are relatively slight. There are, however, a few noticeable differences in tense formation, subject-verb agreement, and the use of the present perfect.
Form of Past Tense and Past Participle
In American English, the regular -ed form is always
used in the past tense and past participle of verbs like lean (past
tense and participle leaned), learn, smell, spell,
and often used with the verbs burn and dream. These
forms are sometimes used in British English too, but British speakers
most often use the forms leant, learnt, smelt, spelt,
burnt, and dreamt.
In British English, collective nouns (referring to groups of people) are often followed by a plural verb even when the noun is singular. This does not occur in American English. For example:
Other common collective nouns that often take a plural verb in British English are: army, company, jury, audience, crowd, majority, class, enemy, staff, committee, government and union.
Use of the Present Perfect
American speakers tend to use the present perfect less than British speakers, often using the simple past instead, especially in sentences with words like just, yet, and already. For example:
Certain differences in the use of quotation marks, commas, and full stops in abbreviations are regular and predictable.Quotation Marks
Note the differences in the following:
The 'double quote' mark ( " ) is usually used in American English, but British writers prefer the single quote ( ' ). Note also the placement of the comma outside (British) or inside (American) the quotation marks.Commas: the 'Comma Splice'
The comma splice is the use of a comma where a full stop or semicolon could be used. For example:
In American English, this use is regarded as a major error
according to textbooks on composition and writing style. In British English,
however, it is - in particular instances - accepted as a standard use
of the comma.
In British English, full stops are usually avoided in abbreviations. In American English, they are almost always used. For example:
There are Usage notes on differences between American and British English at the following entries in the Macmillan English Dictionary: