American English speakers tend to use the present perfect tense (have/has + past participle) less than speakers of British English do. In spoken American English, it is quite common to use the simple past when present perfect is preferred in British English. The two situations where this is especially likely are:

1. In sentences which talk about an action in the past that has an effect in the present:


American English (AmE) / British English (BrE)

  • Jenny feels ill. She ate too much. (AmE)
  • Jenny feels ill. She’s eaten too much. (BrE)
  • I can’t find my keys. Did you see them anywhere? (AmE)
  • I can’t find my keys. Have you seen them anywhere? (BrE)


  1. In sentences which contain the words alreadyjust or yet:


American English / British English

  • A: Are they going to the show tonight?
  • B: No. They already saw it. (AmE)
  • A: Are they going to the show tonight?
  • B: No. They’ve already seen it. (BrE)
  • A: Is Samantha here?
  • B: No, she just left. (AmE)
  • A: Is Samantha here?
  • B: No, she’s just left. (BrE)
  • A: Can I borrow your book?
  • B: No, I didn’t read it yet. (AmE)
  • A: Can I borrow your book?
  • B: No, I haven’t read it yet. (BrE)


Verb agreement with collective nouns

In British English, collective nouns, (i.e. nouns referring to particular groups of people or things), (e.g. staff, government, class, team) can be followed by a singular or plural verb depending on whether the group is thought of as one idea, or as many individuals, e.g.

My team is winning.

The other team are all sitting down.

In American English, collective nouns are always followed by a singular verb, so an American would usually say:

Which team is losing?

whereas in British English both plural and singular forms of the verb are possible, as in:

Which team is/are losing?


Use of delexical verbs have and take

In British English, the verb have frequently functions as what is technically referred to as a delexical verb, i.e. it is used in contexts where it has very little meaning in itself but occurs with an object noun which describes an action, e.g.

I’d like to have a bath.

Have is frequently used in this way with nouns referring to common activities such as washing or resting, e.g.

She’s having a little nap.

I’ll just have a quick shower before we go out.

In American English, the verb take, rather than have, is used in these contexts, e.g.

Joe’s taking a shower.

I’d like to take a bath.

Let’s take a short vacation.

Why don’t you take a rest now?


Use of auxiliaries and modals

In British English, the auxiliary do is often used as a substitute for a verb when replying to a question, e.g.

  • A: Are you coming with us?
  • B: I might do.

In American English, do is not used in this way, e.g.

  • A: Are you coming with us?
  • B: I might.

In British English, needn’t is often used instead of don’t need to, e.g.

They needn’t come to school today.

They don’t need to come to school today.

In American English, needn’t is very unusual and the usual form is don’t need to, e.g.

They don’t need to come to school today.

In British English, shall is sometimes used as an alternative to will to talk about the future, e.g.

I shall/will be there later.

In American English, shall is unusual and will is normally used.

In British English, shall I/we is often used to ask for advice or an opinion, e.g.

Shall we ask him to come with us?

In American English, should is often used instead of shall, e.g.

Should we ask him to come with us?

We can also solicit advice and ask opinions or make suggestions with shall in American English. It’s just unusual to hear it in casual speech in particular.

Use of prepositions

In British English, at is used with many time expressions, e.g.

at Christmas/five ‚o‘ clock

at the weekend

In American English, on is always used when talking about the weekend, not at, e.g.

Will they still be there on the weekend?

She’ll be coming home on weekends.

In British English, at is often used when talking about universities or other institutions, e.g.

She studied chemistry at university.

In American English, in is often used, e.g.

She studied French in high school and also when she was in college.

In British English, to and from are used with the adjective different, e.g.

This place is different from/to anything I’ve seen before.

In American English from and than are used with different, e.g.

This place is different from/than anything I’ve seen before.

In British English, to is always used after the verb write, e.g.

I promised to write to her every day.

In American English, to can be omitted after write, i.e.

I promised to write her every day.


Past tense forms

Below is a table showing verbs which have different simple past and past participle forms in American and British English. Note that the irregular past forms burnt, dreamt and spoilt are possible in American English, but less common than the forms ending in -ed.

Infinitive Simple past
Simple past
Past participle
Past participle
burn burned/
bust bust busted bust busted
dive dived dove/
dived dived
dream dreamed/
get got got got gotten
lean leaned/
leaned leaned/
learn learned/
learned learned/
plead pleaded pleaded/
pleaded pleaded/
prove proved proved proved proved/
saw sawed sawed sawn sawn/
smell smelled/
smelled smelled/
spill spilled/
spilled spilled/
spoil spoiled/
stink stank stank/
stunk stunk
wake woke woke/
woken woken

Note that have got is possible in American English, but is used with the meaning ‚have‚, and gotten is the usual past participle of get.

Orthography/different spellings

One other point worth mentioning is that British and American English have different spelling standards.

The ending -ize (AmE) v/s -ise (BrE) or -yze/-yse e.g.

monetize v/s monetise, analyze v/s analyse

But note that there is a small list of words that only take the -ise ending in both American and British English:

advertise compromise exercise revise
advise despise improvise supervise
apprise devise incise surmise
chastise disguise prise (meaning ‘open’) surprise
comprise excise promise televise

-or (AmE) v/s -our (BrE) e.g.

color v/s colour, flavor v/s flavour, etc.

And funny words like curb v/s kerb, connection v/s connexion, airplane v/s aeroplane, etc. After all, variety is the spice of life.


We also have some widely known differences in vocabulary, mostly related to everyday items or objects, from food to transportation, etc.

trunk (AmE) v/s boot (BrE)

hood (AmE) v/s bonnet (BrE)

truck (AmE) v/s lorry (BrE)

diaper (AmE) v/s nappy (BrE)

stroller (AmE) v/s pram (BrE)

windshield (AmE) v/s windscreen (BrE)

napkin (AmE) v/s serviette (BrE)

eggplant (AmE) v/s aubergine (BrE)

cilantro (AmE) v/s coriander (BrE)

cookie (AmE) v/s biscuit (BrE)

apartment (AmE) v/s flat (BrE)

The list goes on and on! The Oxford Living Dictionaries has a great list