The Oxbridge Editing Blog 25th September 2023

10 Common UK/US English Differences

25th September 2023
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When it comes to the English language, it’s often said that the United States and the United Kingdom are two nations divided by a common tongue. While both share a linguistic foundation, they’ve developed their own distinct variations over time. When editing and proofreading your work it’s crucial to be aware of these differences and tailor your output in accordance with your readership. ┬áHere are ten of the most common differences between UK and US English you should be aware of:


  1. Vocabulary

When it comes to vocabulary, the disparities between UK and US English are evident. Consider, for instance, the following:

– Lorry (UK) / Truck (US)**: A large vehicle for transporting goods.

– Flat (UK) / Apartment (US): A self-contained living space within a building.

– Biscuit (UK) / Cookie (US): A sweet baked treat.

– Petrol (UK) / Gasoline (US): The fuel used for automobiles.


  1. Spelling

Spelling variations between UK and US English can be subtle yet significant. Take, for instance:

– Colour (UK) / Color (US): The British version uses “ou,” while the American version drops the “u.”

– Centre (UK) / Center (US): The British spelling uses “re,” whereas the American spelling uses “er.”


  1. Punctuation

Punctuation nuances are also different. For example:

– Inverted Commas (UK) / Quotation Marks (US): British English often uses single quotation marks (‘ ‘), while American English generally uses double quotation marks (” “).


  1. Usage

Usage discrepancies between British and American English can impact the tone and clarity of your writing. Take, for example:

– “Have got” (UK) / “Have” (US): In British English, “have got” is commonly used to mean “have” or “possess,” while Americans often use just “have.”


  1. Prepositions

The choice of preposition can alter the flow and meaning of your sentences. Here’s an example:

– “Different to” (UK) / “Different from” (US): In British English, it’s common to use “to” after “different,” whereas American English prefers “from.”


  1. Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are treated differently on either side of the Atlantic, influencing subject-verb agreement. For instance:

– “The team are” (UK) / “The team is” (US): In British English, collective nouns like “team” are often treated as plural, while in American English, they are treated as singular.


  1. Past Tenses

Past tenses are also used in a different manner between the UK and the US:

– “Dreamt” (UK) / “Dreamed” (US): Both are correct past tense forms of “dream,” but “dreamt” is more commonly used in the UK, while “dreamed” is more common in the US.


  1. Slang and Idioms

– Each country has its own unique slang and idiomatic expressions that may not be readily understood by speakers of the other dialect.


  1. Pronunciation

– Some words are pronounced differently in the two dialects. For example, “schedule” is pronounced “shed-yool” in the UK and “sked-yool” in the US.


  1. Formality

– There can be differences in formality and politeness conventions in language use between the two dialects. For example, British English may use more formal language in certain contexts.


It’s important to note that these differences are not absolute, and there is considerable variation within both British and American English. Additionally, many words and phrases are used interchangeably in both dialects, and speakers often adapt their language depending on context and personal preference. Mastering these nuances can help you tailor your work precisely to your target audience and project confidence in your editing skills.