“Learned” or “learnt?” “flavor” or “flavour?” “Your” or “yor?”—the last one is a joke, but these questions should definitely ring a bell for those who wonder about the comparison of US vs UK English. Two questions come to mind in the matter of this comparison: “What are the differences between American English and British English?” and, “Which one is better to use?” The latter question is difficult to answer without a contextual basis, as both have distinct advantages and disadvantages.
On the other hand, the former can be answered with great confidence, and a clear illustration would not hurt. They are both, after all, forms of the same English language, so one should not expect a substantial contrast between the two. There are differences when it comes to vocabulary and, less so, in spelling. However, the differences become trivial in the face of the viewpoint that English words are universal regardless of form.
Perhaps what can be considered a key difference between the two forms of English can be found in the way each handles English grammar, because the most basic way a manner of speaking can differ from another is through the difference in form. Even then, however, differences in grammar can be negligible as are those in spelling and vocabulary.
Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of the distinctions in order to have a general idea of the thematic difference between the two, a fundamental block of knowledge that can be used by aspiring linguistic experts. Discussed below is a brief comparison between US English and UK English through each of their takes on some familiar aspects of English grammar.
It is important to follow the points below without bias. Despite some differences, an agreement must be made: an equal level of respect should be shared by all the parties involved, regardless if the difference is petty or grave. Discussions are made for people to convene and knowledge to be consolidated. Respect, therefore, is at the heart of discussion.
American English speakers and British English speakers must both set aside any differences and put away any insignificant and dangerous biases of their own preferred form of the English language. Hopefully, there will be a deeper appreciation for both forms of English through their similarities and differences.
A significant difference between the two is in the use of perfect tense. Present perfect tense is more commonly utilized in UK English in reference to past events. In the same matter, US English uses simple past tense much more. “I have ordered my favourite hamburger” is what a UK English speaker would declare, whereas a US English speaker would say “I ordered my favorite hamburger.”
Another notable difference can be found in how each form of English treats the past tense of some regular verbs. In US English, regular verbs always end in the suffix -ed. The same is also done in UK English for most regular verbs; however, it allows particular verbs to end in the suffix -t. “Walked,” “talked,” “chatted,” and “cooked” are all used in both forms of English. Verbs such as “dreamt,” “burnt,” and “spelt,” on the other hand, are more often used in UK English.
When it comes to emphasizing that a certain action is done during the weekend, “at the weekend” is spoken by UK English speakers while US English speakers use “on the weekend.”
Using the preposition “to,” “until,” or the informal “till” is what a UK English speaker does when it comes to specifying time period. He would say, “I work a regular job from Monday until Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm.” US English speakers would say “I work at a regular job from Monday through Friday, from 9 am through 5 pm,” mostly favouring the preposition “through.”
Adverbs and Adjectives
“Likely” is likely used by US English speakers as both an adjective and an adverb. In UK English, “likely” is likely to be used only as an adjective. An example would be “The New York Mets will likely continue to improve over the season” being used in US English, whereas “The New York Mets is likely to improve over the season” being used in UK English.
There are more differences aside from the ones shown above. The comparison made above is not meant to be exhaustive. Its purpose is to present the thematic idea of what makes US English and UK English different from each other through deviations in grammar rules.
Hopefully, what is clear now is that there is not one deviation that makes the two substantially different from each other. English grammar rules are, for the most part, universal regardless of form. The form and construction of sentences and phrases are, overall, the same.
Even as we delve into vocabulary, UK English and US English are not very alienated from each other. “Biscuit” and “cookie” are used in preference by UK English and US English, respectively, to refer to a particular snack. Taken face value, however, one cannot really say that “biscuit” is exclusively British or that “cookie” is exclusively American, since both are English.
So can we not just call them both ‘English?’
Regardless of how similar they may be to each other to the point that any difference is trivial, calling them both collectively as simply “English” does not do justice to the distinction between the two. What makes US English and UK English different from one another is found not in the form, grammar, or structure of speaking.
Ultimately, their distinction is grounded on cultural nuances; that is, US English is borne out of the culture of America, while UK English is borne out of the culture of Great Britain. This is a crucial point because it is indicative of the consensual preferences of each of the two forms of English. US English prefers “cookie” whereas UK English prefers “biscuit” for reasons that are not dictated by the confines of structure.
This alone should be enough to explain why, though they share the universal English language, there are still differences between the two. This is no longer a matter of form—rather, it is now about context. However, if it were to come to context, there lies a glaring issue that is on the rise today.
As we speak, UK English is slowly drawing some elements from US English because of the widespread influence of American culture over the recent years, from the American manner of speaking and vocabulary being widely adopted over their English counterparts down to British English grammar becoming similar to American English grammar.
The issue is that this may be perceived as US English assimilating UK English itself and the former demonstrating its apparent superiority and relevance over the latter. Worse, of concern here is beyond a matter of language and is now also that of culture. With UK English seemingly being uprooted from its native ground and replanted on the soil of US English, has British culture also followed suit and started down a spiral of assimilation?
The Rapture is Nigh (Impossible)
Earlier, there was a question of which form of English is better to use. The answer? None of them are better than the other. Firstly, there is no sign of the end times for British English or for any other form of English for that matter when the widespread use of American English is concerned.
Language, in general, is dynamic. It evolves with the times and the places it is situated in. While there are some other languages that are widely used throughout the world, with English being informally tagged as the “world language,” there cannot be any single be-all, end-all language that can make obsolete all other currently existing languages. To say so is to forget the importance of context.
Likewise, US English cannot become “the ultimate English.” It cannot replace UK English because of the undeniable culture where it exists. UK English drawing from US English is only indicative of the natural course of the evolution of language in relation to culture. There will always be US English and UK English; they cannot be forcibly or formally combined. And they do not have to—if an American English speaker tries to talk to a British English speaker, there would barely be any barrier at all, notwithstanding perhaps some differences in vocabulary which are insubstantial at best.
The advent of the internet and social media allows for infinite possibilities for US English and UK English to interact and even seamlessly intertwine. The evolution of language might even accelerate in this way. English grammar may change tremendously decades from now. But no matter what happens, there will always be a US vs UK English, not in the sense that they compete with each other for superiority but that they exist distinctly from one another. In terms of evolution, there may even be more points of difference between the two that further prove the distinction between the two. Who knows? Maybe the difference between “your” and “yor” might become a reality.
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