American English


American English
American English
1. general.
Fowler in Modern English Usage (1926) did not include an entry on American English and said little on the subject, although he cast occasional aspersions on so-called ‘undesirable aliens’ (such as belittle). Since then attitudes to American English have hardened, and the prevailing view among some who seek (or claim) to preserve standards in English is often hostile. However, it is linguistically misconceived and historically unjustified to regard the American influence on English as necessarily harmful; both varieties have been enriched by contact with each other and with other varieties, including Australian English and South African English. It should also be remembered that Canadian English (influenced by French) is a valid variety, and the boundaries between the Englishes of Canada and the USA are becoming much harder to draw precisely.
American English differs from British English in several important ways, in matters of vocabulary, spelling and inflection, idiom, grammar, pronunciation, and punctuation. Some of the more significant differences are due to uses that disappeared in BrE but survived in AmE (such as the use of gotten as a past participle of get, and the use of theater and other spellings in -er), and others are due to developments in AmE after it went its own way.
2. vocabulary.
AmE has long been a copious source of new vocabulary in BrE, and many items are now used with little or no awareness of their origin (e.g. belittle, commuter, OK, to snoop, to fly off the handle). Recently imported Americanisms tend to cause the most disapproval (e.g. the sentence adverb hopefully, verbal forms of nouns such as hospitalize, cultural ‘media’ terms such as gameshow, phrase-based words such as downsizing and ongoing, and slang vocabulary such as cop-out and hacking), and whole areas of vocabulary development such as the political correctness movement (which has given us intellectually challenged, vertically challenged, and other euphemisms in which a ‘positive’ word challenged has replaced a ‘negative’ word handicapped). There are significant loans in the other direction: central heating, gay (meaning homosexual), miniskirt, and kiss of life are all British in origin and are now widely used in North America. Some terms are known only on one side of the Atlantic because the institutions they denote are confined to one side, e.g. duplex (in the US) and giro (in the UK). The table shows some of the more important differences of core vocabulary between the two varieties.
-
British / American
aeroplane / airplane
aluminium / aluminum
aubergine / eggplant
autumn / fall
banknote / bill
biscuit (dry) / cracker
biscuit (sweet) / cookie
bonnet (of car) / hood
braces / suspenders
brooch / pin
bumper (of car) / fender
chemist's / drugstore
chips (food) / French fries
cinema / movie theater
coffin / casket
courgettes / zucchini
crisps / potato chips
curtains / drapes
drawing pin / thumbtack
driving licence / driver's license
dustbin / garbage can
estate agent / realtor
first floor / second floor
flat / apartment
frying pan / skillet
ground floor / first floor
handbag / purse
icing / frosting
kerb / curb
lavatory / washroom
lift / elevator
lorry / truck
main road / highway
motorway / expressway
nappy / diaper
pavement / sidewalk
petrol / gasoline or gas
potato chips / French fries
pram / baby carriage
queue / line
railway / railroad
rise (in salary) / raise
roundabout (in road system) / rotary
rowing-boat / rowboat
rubbish (domestic) / trash
shoelace / shoestring
sweets / candy
tap (for water) / faucet
tart / pie
traffic jam / gridlock
tram / streetcar
trolley (at supermarket or airport) / cart
trousers / pants
underground / subway
undertaker / mortician
veranda / porch
vest / undershirt
waistcoat / vest
wallet / billfold
windscreen / windshield
zip / zipper
3. spelling and inflection.
Some spelling differences concern particular words and are not applied systematically (e.g. AmE aluminum, maneuver, pajamas); these need to be verified in a dictionary that records both spellings (such as the Concise Oxford Dictionary). The principal systematic differences in BrE and AmE spelling are:
a) Simplification of the digraph vowels -ae- and -oe- to -e- (as in ameba and estrogen; but initial ae-, as in aesthetic, still tends to dominate in AmE as well as BrE). This is beginning to make an impact on British spelling, for example encyclopedia (much deprecated largely on grounds of intellectual snobbery). See also foetus.
b) Use of -ense instead of -ence as a noun ending (as in defense and pretense; see also licence).
c) Use of -er instead of -re as a noun ending in many words (as in center and theater); but note acre, massacre, mediocre, and ogre in both varieties.
d) Use of -or instead of -our as a noun ending (as in color and harbor).
e) Reduction of -ou- to -o- (as in mold).
f) Use of -l- instead of -ll- in verbal inflection (as in instal, rivaled, traveler) and converse use of -ll- instead of -l- (as in installment, skillful).
g) Suppression of a final mute -e in inflection (as in milage and salable), but not after a soft c or g (as in changeable).
h) Reduction of final -ogue to -og (as in analog and catalog).
i) Exclusive use of -ize instead of -ise in verbs that allow both spellings in BrE, and variant use of -ize in verbs that are only spelt -ise in BrE (as in civilize, privatize, and advertize).
j) Use of -z- occasionally instead of -s- (as in analyze and cozy).
4. idiom.
There are occasional differences in shared idioms. Examples are: BrE man on the street / AmE man in the street / BrE a new lease of life / AmE a new lease on life / BrE leave well alone / AmE leave well enough alone.
5. grammar.
Most of the more important grammatical differences concern use of auxiliary and modal verbs (do, have, shall, will, and others such as dare):
a) AmE favours the type Did you go? rather than Have you been?, I don't have rather than I haven't got, They just left rather than They've just left, I didn't use (or used) to rather than I used not to, and Let's not rather than Don't let's (as in Let's not argue). These preferences are also found to a lesser degree in BrE.
b) Some BrE constructions are not available in AmE, e.g. BrE We weren't to know (BrE/AmE We couldn't know or couldn't have known), BrE meant to (= BrE/AmE supposed to) as in The food here is meant to be very good.
c) There are differences in the way prepositions are used. For example, AmE has out the window and off of the floor where BrE has out of the window and off the floor.
d) AmE has retained gotten, an older form of the past participle of get which has fallen out of use in BrE. It is used in AmE as well as got. See gotten.
e) AmE differs in the use of shall and should: see shall and will, should and would.
f) For differences in the use of dare and need, see dare, need.
g) See also may, might; ought.
6. pronunciation.
As with spelling, there are particular differences and systematic differences. Examples of the first are schedule (sk- in AmE, sh- in BrE) and tomato (-may-toh in AmE, -mah-toh in BrE). It is beyond the scope of this book to explore the pronunciation systems of both varieties in detail, but a few special differences might be mentioned:
a) The letter r is pronounced or partly pronounced when it occurs in the middle of a word whether or not it is followed by a vowel, whereas typically it is not in BrE received pronunciation, as in hard and rare.
b) The vowel a is pronounced a as in had, not ah as in hard in words such as after, can't, dance, and path.
c) Pronunciation of short o as in box is closer to ah as in barks.
d) Pronunciation of yoo as in tube is closer to oo as in boob.
e) Pronunciation of er in words such as clerk rhymes with murk, not with mark as in BrE.
f) Pronunciation of final syllables in -ile (as in fertile and hostile) is -ǝl, not -iyl as in BrE.
g) Pronunciation of t following n and followed by an unstressed syllable is much less marked in AmE than in BrE (as in mental and twenty).
7. punctuation.
American practice differs in the use of quotation marks and associated punctuation (see quotation marks) and uses a different style in dates (see dates). Other points are noted in individual entries on punctuation marks.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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