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Tasks: British and American English

LK20

Understanding the text:

Answer the questions fully, using information from the text. Try to write about 500 words in total.

  1. Why are British English and American English different?

  2. Why are people worried about the influence of American English on British English?

  3. Are they right to be worried? Explain.

Watch and discuss:

Watch the following video from The Economist and discuss the questions below.

  1. The British journalist and author Matthew Engel has some views on the American influence on British English. What are his views? Do you agree with him?

  2. Who was Noah Webster, and why is he important for the development of American English? What was his motivation for making changes to the language?

  3. Should we worry about the development and changing of languages? Give reasons for your opinion.

  4. Explain the term Americanisms. Do you know of any Americanisms that are commonly used in the English language?

  5. If you go back 200-300 years, you will find that many of the changes in the English language actually took place in Britain, not in America. But which country do you think is responsible for most of the present-day changes to the English language?

  6. Do you personally prefer British or American English? Is one easier (or better) than the other? Give reasons for your answer.


Toolbox:

Below, you will find an outline of the most important differences between British and American English when it comes to vocabulary, spelling, and grammar. Use this information as you solve the tasks below.

Differences in vocabulary

British English

American English

angry

mad

autumn

fall

bill

check

biscuit

cookie

boot

trunk

car park

parking lot

chemist

drugstore

chips

fries

cinema

movie theater

crisps

potato chips

Father Christmas

Santa Claus

film

movie

flat

apartment

goods train

freight train

handbag

purse

holiday

vacation

hoover

vacuum cleaner

lift

elevator

lorry

truck

mad

crazy

maths

math

mobile

cell phone

motorway

freeway

nappy

diaper

pants

underpants

pavement

sidewalk

petrol

gas

post

mail

railway

railroad

roadway

pavement

rubbish

garbage

shop

store

sunglasses

shades

sweets

candy

tap

faucet

taxi

cab

tin

can

trousers

pants

underground / tube

subway

wardrobe

closet

Differences in spelling

1) British English words ending in ‘our’ usually end in ‘or’ in American English

BrE: colour, flavour, armour, humour, neighbour

AmE: color, flavor, armor, humor, neighbor

2) Verbs in American English that use the suffix -ize, usually have the suffix -ise in British English (but you will also find that -ize is used).

BrE: apologise (apologize), organise (organize), recognise (recognize)

AmE: apologize, organize, recognize

3) Verbs in British English that end in ‘yse’ are always spelled ‘yze’ in American English:

BrE: analyse, breathalyse, paralyse

AmE: analyze, breathalyze, paralyze

4) In British spelling l (L) is doubled in verbs ending in a vowel + l. In American English, the l is not doubled:

BrE: travel- / -travelled- / -travelling- / -traveller

AmE: travel- / -traveled- / -traveling- / -traveler

5) Some nouns that end with -ence in British English are spelled -ense in American English:

BrE: defence, licence, offence, pretence

AmE: defense, license, offense, pretense

6) Nouns that end with -ogue in British English, usually end with -og in American English (but you will also find that -ogue is sometimes used).

BrE: analogue, catalogue, dialogue

AmE: analog (analogue), catalog (catalogue), dialog (dialogue)

7) British English words that are spelled with the double vowels -ae or -oe are usually spelled with only an -e in American English:

BrE: leukaemia, manoeuvre, oestrogen, paediatric

AmE: leukemia, maneuver, estrogen, pediatric

Differences in grammar

Here are some of the most common grammatical differences between British and American English.

1) Present perfect and past simple

In BrE, the present perfect is used to refer to past actions that are considered relevant to the present. In AmE the simple present is often used for the same purpose. This is especially common with the adverbs 'already', 'just', and 'yet'.

BrE:

  • I have already told you.

  • I have eaten too much.

AmE:

  • I already told you.

  • I ate too much.

2) Have-/-take

In AmE, the verb 'take' is commonly used with nouns like 'bath', 'shower', 'wash', 'break', 'holiday' and 'rest'. In BrE, 'have' is more common (but you will also hear 'take').

BrE:

  • I’m going to have-/-take a bath-/-vacation-/-break…

AmE:

  • I’m going to take a bath-/-vacation-/-break…

3) The use of prepositions

The use of prepositions sometimes varies between BrE and AmE. Here are a few of the differences:

  • I will write to you (BrE) / I will write you (AmE)

  • We will stay at home tonight (BrE) / We will stay home tonight (AmE)

  • I will be there at the weekend (BrE) / I will be there on the weekend (AmE)

  • You have to fill in this form (BrE) / You have to fill out this form (AmE)

  • I was studying English at university (BrE) / I was studying English in university (AmE)

4) Got and gotten

In BrE, the past participle of the verb 'get' is 'got', while in AmE it is 'gotten'.

BrE:

  • He’s got very big.

  • She had got better in the last month.

AmE:

  • He’s gotten really big.

  • She had gotten better in the last month.

5) Shall

In BrE, you would often use 'Shall I-/-we…?' to offer to do something or make a suggestion. In AmE, you would instead say 'Should-/-Can I…?' or find another alternative, like 'Do you want / Would you like ...?'

BrE:

  • Shall I open the door?

  • Shall we try again?

AmE:

  • Can-/-should I open the door?

  • Would you like to try again?

6) Verb agreement with collective nouns

In BrE, collective nouns (e.g. 'staff', 'police', 'team', 'family', 'government', 'class') can be followed by a singular or a plural verb, depending on whether the group is thought of as a unit or as many individuals. In AmE, collective nouns are always followed by a singular verb.

BrE:

  • The whole family was-/-were at the dinner table.

  • The government is-/-are doing a good job.

AmE:

  • The whole family was at the dinner table.

  • The government is doing a good job.

Drag and drop:

Discuss:

Some English words can be rather confusing and have very different meanings on different sides of the Atlantic.

Go through the list together with a partner and discuss what you think these words mean in British and American English. What makes them confusing?

  • sick

  • pants

  • homely

  • pavement

  • casket

  • first floor

  • braces

  • trainers

  • chips

  • rubber

Key:

sick

BrE: feeling nauseated, describing the action of vomiting

AmE: general feeling of being unwell, ill

pants

BrE: underwear

AmE: trousers

homely

BrE: used to describe a comfortable, cosy house or room

AmE: used to describe someone who is plain, ugly, and unattractive in appearance

pavement

BrE: path for pedestrians alongside a road

AmE: a paved street or road

casket

BrE: another word for jewellery box

AmE: another word for coffin

first floor

BrE: the floor above the entrance of a building

AmE: the ground floor of a building, where you enter the building

braces

BrE: suspenders that keep your trousers up

AmE: an appliance used to straighten your teeth

trainer(s)

BrE: shoes

AmE: person at the gym who helps you work out

chips

BrE: a long, thin piece of potato that is fried and usually eaten hot ('French fries' in the Unites States)

AmE: thinly sliced, deep-fried, baked, and kettle-cooked crunchy potatoes ('crisps' in Britain)

rubber

BrE: An eraser for a pencil

AmE: A condom



Find the culprit:


Cartoon Thief walking carefully.

Last week, the famous American crook Cheeky Charles broke into the home of the richest man in London. Charles escaped with the wife’s jewellery, some really expensive pieces of art, and a substantial amount of money. Now, Scotland Yard is looking for him. They have three suspects, who all speak with a British accent. However, they have been told that Cheeky Charles, who's American, can make a very good imitation of the British accent.

Go through the transcripts from the interviews and see if you are able to identify Cheeky Charles by looking for clues in vocabulary and grammar. The Toolbox will give you the help you need.


Suspect 1:

I’ve told you a thousand times, I wasn’t in town at the weekend, and I certainly wasn’t anywhere near the bank on Friday night. I stayed at home all night. I had a shower at ten to eight. I remember it well, because I live next to the railway station, and the train to London always passes at that time. You needn’t bother asking me any more questions. You’ve got the wrong man.

Suspect 2:

I already said this. I didn’t do anything special on the weekend. I came home from work at a quarter after five and took a short nap. I wanted to stay home, but my girlfriend had left her cell phone at the store, so we went to collect it. After that, I met with my friend John. He had no place to stay that night, so he slept in my flat.

Suspect 3:

I’ve already said this. How many times do I have to repeat it? On Friday night, I went to see a film together with my friend Dwayne. We are both studying criminology at university. After that, I drove home. I left the car in the car park, just outside my window; I live on the ground floor. I had a nice hot bath before I went to bed. I think it was about ten past eleven.

Key:

Cheeky Charles is suspect No. 2. The following things give him away:

I already said this.
BrE: I have already said this.

I didn’t do anything special on the weekend.
BrE: at the weekend.

I came home from work at a quarter after five ...
BrE: a quarter past five.

... took a nap.
BrE: had a nap.

I wanted to stay home ...
BrE: stay at home.

... my girlfriend had left her cell phone at the store.
BrE: mobile phone and shop instead of cell phone and store.

... I met with my friend John.
BrE: I met my friend John.

He had no place to stay that night.
BrE: nowhere instead of no place.

... he slept in my flat.
BrE: apartement instead of flat.

Suspect 1 and 3 are clearly British because of the following linguistic clues:

  • I've told you / I've already said this / You've got

  • at the weekend

  • stay at home

  • had a shower / had a nice bath

  • ten to eight / ten past eleven

  • railway station / film / car park

  • You needn't bother

  • at university

  • ground floor

Write:

The story below is written in American English. Rewrite the story using British English. You will find differences in vocabulary, spelling, and grammatical structure.

It was a nice fall afternoon. The woman turned off the faucet and looked at her face in the mirror. "I think I'll go to the movies this afternoon," she thought. A few minutes later, she took the elevator to the first floor. As she left the apartment complex, she put on a pair of shades.

She was sitting in the back of the cab, looking out the window. On the way to the movie theater, she realized that she still loved the city. Yes, her apartment was cold in the winter, and there were lots of crazy, dangerous people in the streets. Everything in the stores was expensive, and there was garbage everywhere. It was all true, but ... well, this was her home.

She found a seat in the back of the movie theater. While she waited for the movie to start, she looked through the catalog that she found in her seat and enjoyed the candy that she had brought along.

It was an old movie, from when she was young. She remembered it well. She even remembered some of the dialog. The leading part was played by one of her favorite actors.

On her way home, she decided to take the subway. She got off at her station and followed the sidewalk the last bit of the way. The street was still busy with noisy trucks and automobiles. At ten till eleven she was finally home.


Key

In British English:

It was a nice autumn afternoon. The woman turned off the tap and looked at her face in the mirror. "I think I'll go to the cinema this afternoon", she thought. A few minutes later, she took the lift to the ground floor. As she left the flat complex, she put on a pair of sun glasses.

She was sitting in the back of the taxi, looking out of the window. On the way, she realised that she still loved the city. Yes, her flat was cold in the winter, and there were lots of mad, dangerous people in the streets. Everything in the shops was expensive, and there was rubbish everywhere. It was all true, but ... well, this was her home.

She found a seat in the back of the cinema. While she waited for the film to start, she looked through the catalogue that she found in her seat and enjoyed the sweets that she had brought along.

It was an old film, from when she was young. She remembered it well. She even remembered some of the dialogue. The leading part was played by one of her favourite actors.

On her way home, she decided to take the underground. She got off at her station and followed the pavement the last bit of the way. The street was still busy with noisy lorries and cars. At ten to eleven she was finally home.



Sist oppdatert 18.05.2021
Skrevet av Karin Søvik

Læringsressurser

Varieties of English