How does American English differ from British English in its vocabulary and spelling?
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Note to the Brit who thinks he speaks superior English: "Us English" is incorrect since these words compose the subject and should be in Nominative Case. Next time, you may wish to say "We English" signed, an editor anonymous.
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As an English English teacher teaching in an American school this is a question I feel I am well placed to answer I am afraid as I have to face the differences in our supposedly similar language on a daily basis!
I guess you highlight the first difference in terms of actual word usage. American English has many different words compared to British English, which we do not use and have no idea what they refer to (except if we have encountered them through films etc) such as bleachers, sidewalk, garbage, trashcan, recess, math to name just a few. We (Brits) say stands, pavement, rubbish, rubbish bin, break, and maths. The biggest and most amusing difference is that Americans say "pants" which to us refers to a style of underwear instead of the "trousers" that we wear.
In terms of spelling, Americans really don't like the "u" that we have in words such as colour, valour and honour. Also, you guys like to put a "z" in lots of words whereas we use a "s", such as "cvilisation", "romanticise" and "globalisation".
And all this is even before we get on to phonetics and how we pronounce the words we speak! What fun! Needless to say, us Brits think we speak the superior form of English, I am afraid, and smugly mock the way that Americans (mis)pronounce words, but in my opinion this is rather arrogant of us and also shortsighted as it ignores the way language changes and evolves. I do insist on speaking and spelling British English though!
Seeing as I am actually English I can help you with this quite a bit.
First of all there are many different words that we British use that differ from you Americans. For example - You say "Pants" we say "Trousers". You say "Sidewalk" we say "Pavement" (Although I am going to assume you already knew that.
As for spelling, the main words we spell differently are words such as "Colour" or "Honour" (We add a 'u' to our spelling). As for words like (I am not sure if this is correct, I have seen a few spellings of this) "Civilisation" you spell it "Civilization" (drop the 's' add a 'z')
I hope this has helped. :)
As Shaw put it, the two countries are often "divided by a common language." As an American married to a Brit, I have learned some useful words for when I am in England. The trunk of a car is called a "boot," and it's hood is called the "bonnet." An elevator is a "lift," while an apartment is a "flat." One usage that has shocked a lot of Yanks is the term "fag," which means cigarette.
Another amusing kind of language in England is Cockney Rhyming Slang (see the film The Limey for some great examples). In this dialect, two-word terms are substituted for a word they rhyme with. So "apples and pears" means "stairs" and "butcher's hook" means "look." To further confuse the issue, true lovers of this slang often drop the second (rhyming) word so outsiders really don't know what they're saying. In the examples above, a speaker could just say they "took a butcher's up the apples" which means they looked upstairs!
Some others have already commented on the different spellings of words with "u" in them in English English, like colour, behaviour, and favour. While spell-check highlights them in red in America, they are correct in England.
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