US and UK English: The Differences

US and UK English: The Differences

US and UK speech can sound very similar. Fortunately for those who want to learn English, the grammar is very similar. Two people, one from California and the other from London, would have only minor trouble when having a conversation.


UK English speakers consider group nouns to be plural, while US English speakers do not. For instance, the word ‘committee’ means a group of people. Therefore, a UK speaker would say “the committee are/were..” while the US speaker would say “the committee is/was…”

‘T’ Endings

UK speakers use a ‘t’ ending for some common past tense verbs. For instance, they would change ‘burn’ to ‘burnt’ and ‘spoil’ to ‘spoilt’. Other examples include ‘spilt’, dreamt’, and ‘smelt’. US speakers generally would add ‘-ed’: burned, spoiled, spilled, dreamed, and smelled.

Past Participles

In several significant words, the US speaker changes a verb in a way that UK speakers do not. When changing the word ‘get’, the US speaker often says “gotten” as in “have you gotten any bad grades?” The UK speaker doesn’t use the word ‘gotten’. This also applies to ‘forgotten’, the past participle of the verb ‘forget’. UK speakers also say ‘have proved’ while US speakers say ‘have proven’. On the other hand, UK speakers tend to say “do/done” when an American would drop the word. The UK speaker says “I have done” and “I could do”. The US speaker simply says “I have” and “I could.”

Word Choice

In US and UK English, words may have very different meanings or the words may be unique to one country. ‘Bathroom’ may mean a place to use the toilet in the US, but it only means a place to take a bath in the UK. The word ‘subway’ refers to an underground train in the US, while it only means an underground tunnel in the UK. “Cheers” is a common UK expression, meaning ‘thanks’ or even ‘goodbye’. This word is not used by US speakers.

“Hey” is a US expression for hello that isn’t used by UK speakers. UK speakers use the words ‘shall’ and ‘shan’t’. US speakers never use these words, preferring to say ‘will/won’t’ and other substitutes. Word choice, particularly slang, often causes the greatest difficulty for those who struggle to understand English speakers.

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