Capital Language Solutions | Differences between British and American English

Differences between British and American English

19. Juni 2015

BritannialionTwo nations separated by a common language

Although no one is 100% sure who first described the relationship between British and American English in this way (Wilde? Winston Churchill? George Bernard Shaw? None of the aforementioned?), but what everyone can agree on is the fact there are many minor and a number of fairly major differences between BrE and AmE. Considering the different forms of English used within a 50-mile radius of where I grew up (Birmingham, UK), it shouldn’t really come as that much of a surprise that distinct language features have developed in both countries in the 400-plus years since the first English-speaking settlers arrived in North America.


Different, you say?

Capital Language Solution’s co-founder, Richard Mayda, hails from the other side of the pond. He grew up in a family involved in real estate in Los Angeles, CA, and made his way to Europe about 20 years ago. Not a day goes past without one of us being amused (or even sometimes nonplussed) by a turn of phrase the other uses. We recognise differences in grammar and lexis automatically and compensate for them without even really noticing (or flinching):

  • present perfect or past simple (e.g. BrE “Have you read….?” or AmE “Did you read…?”)
  • have got or have (e.g. BrE “Have you got a highlighter?” or AmE “Do you have a highlighter?”)
  • prepositions (e.g. BrE “We’re having a barbecue at the weekend” or AmE “…at the weekend).
  • Spelling (e.g. BrE “realise” and “flavour” or AmE “realize” and “flavor”


Consistency counts

There are thousands of these differences and many of them are covered in other corners of the internet. If you are a non-native user of English, rather than British or American, the key is to be consistent. Pick one form and stick with it. Your choice may depend on a preference for one form rather than the other, or be determined by a stronger affinity for one nation than the other. In business, it will probably depend on where your partners, customers and employees are based. Some of our clients specify clearly which English they want, which is why we always make sure that the final editing of any translation is carried out by a native speaker of either British or American English, as appropriate.


You say rent, I say let

Let’s take a look at some variations in vocabulary from within the property industry. In British English you’ll find countless references to the “property sector”, “property portfolios”, “property transactions”, etc. In AmE the term “real estate” is used in place of “property”. In reality anyone who understands the word “property” should also have no difficulty getting to grips with “real estate”.

Other differences include “estate agent” (BrE) and “realtor” (AmE), “building contractor” (BrE) and “construction contractor” (AmE), and “block of flats” (BrE) and “apartment building” (AmE). “Lettings” (BrE) are “rentals” in the US and an apartment for sale in the UK would be referred to as a “condominium” or “condo” in AmE. “Lifts” (BrE) are “elevators” (AmE), “cupboards” (BrE) are “closets” (AmE) and a house in England with a “porch” would be described as having a “stoop” in the United States.


This is a topic that we’ll come back to in future blog posts, so for now, we’d love to hear about your experiences of BrE and AmE.

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