The Differences between American and British English

Written forms of American and British English. Historical background of the English language. Formal and notional agreement. Differences in pronunciation. Miscellaneous grammatical and morphological differences. The Philadelphia dialect vs. Cockney.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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The Differences between American and British English


Theoretical part

Written forms of American and British English


1.1 Historical background of the English language

1.2 Formal and notional agreement

1.3 Differences in pronunciation

1.4 Miscellaneous grammatical differences

1.5 Morphological differences

Practical Part

The Philadelphia dialect vs. Cockney

2.1The Philadelphia dialect

2.2The Cockney

2.3 My own experience



List of used literature

Theoretical part


Written forms of American and British English as found in newspapers and textbooks vary little in their essential features, with only occasional noticeable differences in comparable media (comparing American newspapers to British newspapers, for example). This kind of formal English, particularly written English, is often called 'standard English'. An unofficial standard for spoken American English has also developed, as a result of mass media and geographic and social mobility. It is typically referred to as 'standard spoken American English' (SSAE) or 'General American English' (GenAm or GAE), and broadly describes the English typically heard from network newscasters, although local newscasters tend toward more parochial forms of speech. Despite this unofficial standard, regional variations of American English have not only persisted but have actually intensified, according to linguist William Labov.

Regional dialects in the United States typically reflect the elements of the language of the main immigrant groups in any particular region of the country, especially in terms of pronunciation and vernacular vocabulary. Scholars have mapped at least four major regional variations of spoken American English: Northern, Southern, Midland, and Western (Labov, Ash, & Boberg, 2006).After the American Civil War, the settlement of the western territories by migrants from the east led to dialect mixing and levelling, so that regional dialects are most strongly differentiated in the eastern parts of the country that were settled earlier. Localized dialects also exist with quite distinct variations, such as in Southern Appalachia and New York City. The spoken forms of British English vary considerably, reflecting a long history of dialect development amid isolated populations. Dialects and accents vary not only between the countries in the United Kingdom, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but also within these individual countries.

There are also differences in the English spoken by different groups of people in any particular region. Received Pronunciation (RP), which is "the educated spoken English of south-east England", has traditionally been regarded as "proper English"; this is also referred to as BBC English or the Queen's English. The BBC and other broadcasters now intentionally use a mix of presenters with a variety of British accents and dialects, and the concept of "proper English" is now far less prevalent.

British and American English are the reference norms for English as spoken, written, and taught in the rest of the world. For instance, the English-speaking members of the Commonwealth often closely follow British English forms while many new American English forms quickly become familiar outside of the United States. Although the dialects of English used in the former British Empire are often, to various extents, based on British English, most of the countries concerned have developed their own unique dialects, particularly with respect to pronunciation, idioms, and vocabulary; chief among them are Canadian English and Australian English, which rank third and fourth in number of native speakers.

1.1 Historical background

The English language was first introduced to the Americas by British colonization, beginning in the early 17th century. Similarly, the language spread to numerous other parts of the world as a result of British trade and colonization elsewhere and the spread of the former British Empire, which, by 1921, held sway over a population of about 470-570 million people: approximately a quarter of the world's population at that time.

Over the past 400 years, the form of the language used in the Americas--especially in the United States--and that used in the United Kingdom and the British Islands have diverged in many ways, leading to the dialects now commonly referred to as American English and British English. Differences between the two include pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary (lexis), spelling, punctuation, idioms, formatting of dates and numbers, and so on, although the differences in written and most spoken grammar structure tend to be much more minor than those of other aspects of the language in terms of mutual intelligibility. A small number of words have completely different meanings between the two dialects or are even unknown or not used in one of the dialects. One particular contribution towards formalizing these differences came from Noah Webster, who wrote the first American dictionary (published 1828) with the intention of showing that people in the United States spoke a different dialect from Britain.

This divergence between American English and British English once caused George Bernard Shaw to say that the United States and United Kingdom are "two countries divided by a common language"; a similar comment is ascribed to Winston Churchill. Likewise, Oscar Wilde wrote, "We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language." (The Canterville Ghost, 1888) Henry Sweet predicted in 1877 that within a century, American English, Australian English and British English would be mutually unintelligible. It may be the case that increased worldwide communication through radio, television, the Internet, and globalization has reduced the tendency to regional variation. This can result either in some variations becoming extinct (for instance, the wireless, superseded by the radio) or in the acceptance of wide variations as "perfectly good English" everywhere. Often at the core of the dialect though, the idiosyncrasies remain.

Nevertheless, it remains the case that although spoken American and British English are generally mutually intelligible, there are enough differences to cause occasional misunderstandings or at times embarrassment - for example, some words that are quite innocent in one dialect may be considered vulgar in the other.

1.2 Formal and notional agreement

In BrE, collective nouns can take either singular (formal agreement) or plural (notional agreement) verb forms, according to whether the emphasis is, respectively, on the body as a whole or on the individual members; compare a committee was appointed... with the committee were unable to agree.... The term the Government always takes a plural verb in British civil service convention, perhaps to emphasise the principle of collective responsibility. Compare also the following lines of Elvis Costello's song "Oliver's Army": Oliver's Army are on their way / Oliver's Army is here to stay. Some of these nouns, for example staff, actually combine with plural verbs most of the time.

In AmE, collective nouns are usually singular in construction: the committee was unable to agree... AmE however may use plural pronouns in agreement with collective nouns: the team takes their seats, rather than the team takes its seats. The rule of thumb is that a group acting as a unit is considered singular and a group of "individuals acting separately" is considered plural.However, such a sentence would most likely be recast as the team members take their seats. Despite exceptions such as usage in the New York Times, the names of sports teams are usually treated as plurals even if the form of the name is singular.

The difference occurs for all nouns of multitude, both general terms such as team and company and proper nouns (for example, where a place name is used to refer to a sports team). For instance,

BrE: The Clash are a well-known band; AmE: The Clash is a well-known band.

BrE: Pittsburgh are the champions; AmE: Pittsburgh is the champion.

Proper nouns that are plural in form take a plural verb in both AmE and BrE; for example, The Beatles are a well-known band; The Steelers are the champions.

In the early 18th century, English spelling was not standardized. Different standards became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Current BrE spellings follow, for the most part, those of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755). Many of the now characteristic AmE spellings were introduced, although often not created, by Noah Webster in his An American Dictionary of the English Language of 1828.

Webster was a strong proponent of spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. Many other spelling changes proposed in the US by Webster himself, and, in the early 20th century, by the Simplified Spelling Board never caught on. Among the advocates of spelling reform in England, the influences of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of certain words proved decisive. Subsequent spelling adjustments in the UK had little effect on present-day US spelling, and vice versa. While, in many cases, AmE deviated in the 19th century from mainstream British spelling; on the other hand, it has also often retained older forms.

1.3 Differences in pronunciation between American English (AmE) and British English (BrE) can be divided into

differences in accent (i.e. phoneme inventory and realisation). Accents vary widely within AmE and within BrE, so the features considered here are mainly differences between General American (GAm) and British Received Pronunciation (RP); for information about other accents see regional accents of English speakers.

differences in the pronunciation of individual words in the lexicon (i.e. phoneme distribution). Transcriptions use RP to represent BrE and GAm and to represent AmE.

In the following discussion

superscript A2 after a word indicates the BrE pronunciation of the word is a common variant in AmE

superscript B2 after a word indicates the AmE pronunciation of the word is a common variant in English.


GAm is rhotic while RP is non-rhotic; that is, the letter r is only pronounced in RP when it is immediately followed by a vowel sound (unless it's silent). Where GAm has /r/ before a consonant, RP either has nothing (if the preceding vowel is /TР/ or /QР/, as in bore and bar) or has a schwa instead (the resulting sequences are diphthongs or triphthongs). Similarly, where GAm has r-coloured vowels (/Z/ or /]/, as in cupboard or bird), RP has plain vowels /Y/ or /\Р/. However many British accents, especially in Scotland and the West Country, are rhotic, and there are many non-rhotic dialects throughout the United States, especially in urban working-class areas like New York English, Boston English, and many conservative dialects of Southern American English (especially among older-speakers). Non-rhoticity is also very common among speakers of African-American Vernacular English, which is a dialect that influences a great portion of African-American speakers to varying degrees. The "intrusive R" of many RP speakers (in such sequences as "the idea-r-of it") is absent in GAm; this is a consequence of the rhotic/non-rhotic distinction. GAm has fewer vowel distinctions before intervocalic /r/ than RP; for many GAm speakers, unlike RP, merry, marry and Mary are homophones; mirror rhymes with nearer, and furry rhymes with hurry. However, some eastern American accents, especially the Boston accent and New York accent, have the same distinctions as in RP.

For some RP speakers (upper class), unlike in GAm, some or all of tire, tower, and tar are homophones; this reflects the merger of the relevant vowels; similarly the pour-poor merger is common in RP but not in GAm.

RP has three open back vowels, where GAm has only two or even one. Most GAm speakers use the same vowel for RP "short O" /R/ as for RP "broad A" /QР/ (the father-bother merger); many also use the same vowel for these as for RP /TР/ (the cot-caught merger).

For Americans without the cot-caught merger, the lot-cloth split results in /TР/ in some words which now have /R/ in RP; as reflected in the eye dialect spelling "dawg" for dog.

The trap-bath split has resulted in RP having "broad A" /QР/ where GAm has "short A" /ж/, in most words where A is followed by either /n/ followed by another consonant, or /s/, /f/, or /и/ (e.g. plant, pass, laugh, path). However, many British accents, such as most Northern English accents, agree with GAm in having short A in these words, although it is usually phonetically [a] rather than [ж].

RP has a marked degree of contrast of length between "short" and "long" vowels (The long vowels being the diphthongs, and /iР/, /uР/, /\Р/, /TР/, /QР/). In GAm this contrast is much less evident, and the IPA length symbol (Р) is often omitted.

The "long O" vowel (as in boat) is realised differently: GAm pure [oР] or diphthongized [oЉ]; RP central first element[YЉ]. However there is considerable variation in this vowel on both sides of the Atlantic.

The distinction between unstressed /j/ and /Y/ (e.g. roses vs Rosa's) is often lost in GAm. In RP it is retained, in part because it helps avoid nonrhotic homophones; e.g. batted vs battered as /'bжtjd/ vs /'bжtYd/. It is, however, lost in Australian English (which is also non-rhotic) meaning both words are pronounced the same, unlike American or British English. Where GAm has /iР/ in an unstressed syllable at the end of a morpheme, conservative RP has /j/, not having undergone happY tensing. This distinction is retained in inflected forms (e.g. candied and candid are homophones in RP, but not in GAm). In GAm, flapping is common: when either a /t/ or a /d/ occurs between a sonorant phoneme and an unstressed vowel phoneme, it is realized as an alveolar-flap allophone [~]. This sounds like a /d/ to RP speakers, although many GAm speakers distinguish the two phonemes by aspirating /t/ in this environment, especially after /j/ or /ej/ (thus bitter and rated are distinguishable from bidder and raided), or by lengthening the vowel preceding an underlying /d/. [~] is an allophone of /r/ in conservative RP, which is hence caricatured in America as a "veddy British" accent. The degree of flapping varies considerably among speakers, and is often reduced in more formal settings. It does occur to an extent in nearly every speakers of American English, with "better" pronounced with a flap almost ubiquitously regardless of background. Pronouncing the t would be considered overly-formal. This does not mean it always completely merges with "bedder", as many speakers enunciate the d as to distinguish it slightly from the flapped t.

Yod-dropping occurs in GAm after all alveolar consonants, including /t/, /d/, /и/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/; i.e. historic /juР/ (from spellings u, ue, eu, ew), is pronounced /uР/ in a stressed syllable. In contrast, RP speakers:

always retain /j/ after /n/: e.g. new is RP /njuР/, GAm /nu?/;

retain or coalesce it after /t/, /d/: e.g. due is RP /djuР/ or /d'uР/, GAm /duР/;

retain or drop it after /и/, /l/: e.g. allude is RP /Y'ljuРd/ or (as GAm) /Y'luРd/.

retain, coalesce or drop it after /s/, /z/: e.g. assume is RP /Y'sjuРm/ or /Y'ѓuРm/, or (as GAm) /Y'suРm/;

In some words where /j/ has been coalesced in GAm, it may be retained in RP: e.g. issue is RP /'jsjuР/ or (as GAm) /'jѓuР/

French stress

For many loanwords from French where AmE has final-syllable stress, BrE stresses an earlier syllable. Such words include:

BrE first-syllable stress: adultA2,B2, balletA2, baton, beret, bidet, blasй, brevetA2, brochureB2, buffet, cafйA2, canardB2, chagrin, chaletA2, chauffeurA2,B2, chiffon, clichйB2, coupй, croissant, debrisB2, debut, dйcorm, detailA2, dйtenteB2, flambй, frappй, garageB2, gateau, gourmetA2, lam, montageA2, parquet, pastel, pastille, pвtй, prйcis, sachet, salon, soupзon, vaccine; matinйe, nйgligйe, nonchalant, nondescript; also some French names, including BernardB2, Calais, Degas, Dijon, Dumas, Francoise, ManetA2, Maurice, MonetA2, Pauline, Renault, RenйB2, Renoir, Rimbaud, DelacroixB2.

BrE second-syllable stress: attachй, consommй, De Beauvoir, Debussy, dйmodй, denouement, distingue, Dubonnet, escargot, fiancйe(e), retours

A few French words have other stress differences:

AmE first-syllable, BrE last-syllable: addressA2 (postal), m(o)ustacheA2; cigaretteA2, limousineB2, magazineB2,

AmE first-syllable, BrE second-syllable: exposйB2, liaisonA2, macramй, Renaissance

AmE second-syllable, BrE last-syllable: New Orleans

-ate and -atory

Most 2-syllable verbs ending -ate have first-syllable stress in AmE and second-syllable stress in BrE. This includes castrate, dictateA2, donateA2, locateA2, mandateB2, migrate, placate, prostrate, pulsate, rotate, serrateB2, spectate, striated, translateA2, vacate, vibrate; in the case of cremate, narrate, placate, the first vowel is in addition reduced to /Y/ in BrE. Examples where AmE and BrE match include create, debate, equate, elate, negate, orate, relate with second-syllable stress; and mandate and probate with first-syllable stress. Derived nouns in -ator may retain the distinction, but those in -ation do not. Also, migratoryA2 and vibratory retain the distinction.

Most longer -ate verbs are pronounced the same in AmE and BrE, but a few have first-syllable stress in BrE and second-syllable stress in AmE: elongate, infiltrateA2, remonstrate, tergiversate. However, some derived adjectives ending -atory have a difference, as stress shifting to -at- can occur in BrE. Among these cases are regulatoryB2, celebratoryA2, participatoryB2, where AmE stresses the same syllable as the corresponding -ate verb; and compensatory, where AmE stresses the second syllable.

A further -atory difference is laboratory: AmE /'lжbrjМtTri/ and BrE /lY'bRrYt(Y)riР/.

Miscellaneous stress

There are a number of cases where same-spelled noun, verb and/or adjective have uniform stress in one dialect but distinct stress in the other (e.g. alternate, prospect): see initial-stress-derived noun.

The following table lists words where the only difference between AmE and BrE is in stress (possibly with a consequent reduction of the unstressed vowel). Words with other points of difference are listed in a later table.


-ary -ery -ory -bury, -berry, -mony

Where the syllable preceding -ary,-ery or -ory is stressed, AmE and BrE alike pronounce all these endings /Yri(Р)/. Where the preceding syllable is unstressed, however, AmE has a full vowel rather than schwa: /[ri/ for -ary and -ery and /Tri/ for -ory. BrE retains the reduced vowel /YriР/, or even elides it completely to /riР/. (The elision is avoided in carefully enunciated speech, especially with endings -rary,-rery,-rory.) So military is AmE /'mjljt[riР/ and BrE /'mjljtYriР/ or /'mjljtriР/.

Note that stress differences occur with ending -atory (explained above) and a few others like capillary (included above). A few words have the full vowel in AmE in the ending even though the preceding syllable is stressed: library, primaryA2, rosemary. Pronouncing library as /'lajb[ri/ rather than /'lajbr[ri/ is highly stigmatized in AmE, whereas in BrE, /'lajbriР/ is common in rapid or casual speech.

Formerly the BrE-AmE distinction for adjectives carried over to corresponding adverbs ending -arily, -erily or -orily. However, nowadays most BrE speakers adopt the AmE practice of shifting the stress to the antepenultimate syllable: militarily is thus /Мmjl?'t[rjliР/ rather than /'mjljtrjliР/.

The placename component -bury (e.g. Canterbury) has a similar difference after a stressed syllable: AmE /b[ri/ and BrE /br?Р/ or /bYrjР/. The ending -mony after a stressed syllable is AmE /moЉni/ but BrE /mYnjР/. The word -berry in compounds has a slightly different distinction: in BrE, it is reduced (/bYriР/ or /briР/) after a stressed syllable, and may be full /b[riР/ after an unstressed syllable; in AmE it is usually full in all cases. Thus, strawberry is BrE /'strTРbYriР/ but AmE /'strTb[ri/, while whortleberry is BrE /'wTРtlb[riР/ and similarly AmE /'wTrtlb[ri/.


Words ending in unstressed -ile derived from Latin adjectives ending -ilis are mostly pronounced with a full vowel (/ajl/) in BrE but a reduced vowel /jl/ or syllabic /l/ in AmE (e.g. fertile rhymes with fur tile in BrE but with turtle in AmE). This difference applies:

generally to agile, docile, facile, fertile, fissile, fragile, futile, infertile, missile, nubile, octile, puerile, rutile, servile, stabile, sterile, tactile, tensile, virile, volatile;

usually to ductile, hostile, (im)mobile (adjective), projectile, textile, utile, versatile;

not usually to decile, domicile, infantile, juvenile, labile, mercantile, pensile, reptile, senile;

not to crocodile, exile, gentile, percentile, reconcile; nor to compounds of monosyllables (e.g. turnstile from stile).

Related endings -ility, -ilize, -iliary are pronounced the same in AmE as BrE. The name Savile is pronounced with (/jl/) in both BrE and AmE. Mobile (sculpture), camomile and febrile are sometimes pronounced with /il/ in AmE and /ajl/) in BrE. Imbecile has /ajl/ or /iРl/ in BrE and often /jl/ in AmE.


The suffix -ine, when unstressed, is pronounced sometimes /ajn/ (e.g. feline), sometimes /i(Р)n/ (e.g. morphine) and sometimes /jn/ (e.g. medicine). Some words have variable pronunciation within BrE, or within AmE, or between BrE and AmE. Generally, AmE is more likely to favour /in/ or /jn/, and BrE to favour /ajn/: e.g. adamantineA2, carbine, crystallineA2, labyrinthine, philistine, serpentineA2, turbineA2. However, sometimes AmE has /ajn/ where BrE has /iРn/; e.g. iodineB2, strychnineA2.

1.4 Miscellaneous grammatical differences

In AmE, some prescriptionists feel that which should not be used as an antecedent in restrictive relative clauses. According to The Elements of Style (p. 59), "that is the defining, or restrictive pronoun, which the nondefining, or nonrestrictive." This distinction was endorsed by Fowler's Modern English Usage, but the use of which as a restrictive pronoun is common in great literature produced on both sides of the Atlantic.

In names of American rivers, the word river usually comes after the name (for example, Colorado River), whereas for British rivers it comes before (as in the River Thames). Exceptions in BrE include the Fleet River, which is rarely called the River Fleet by Londoners outside of official documentation, and also where the river name is an adjective (the Yellow River). Exceptions in the US are the River Rouge and the River Raisin, both in Michigan and named by the French. This convention is mixed, however, in some Commonwealth nations, where both arrangements are often seen.

In BrE speech, titles may precede names, but not descriptions of offices (President Roosevelt, but Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister and Mr Jones, the team's coach), while both normally precede names in AmE (President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Coach Jones).

In BrE the word sat is often colloquially used to cover sat, sitting and seated: I've been sat here waiting for half an hour. The bride's family will be sat on the right-hand side of the church. This construction is not often heard outside the UK. In the 1960s, its use would mark a speaker as coming from the north of England but by the turn of the 21st century this form had spread to the south. Its use often conveys lighthearted informality, when many speakers intentionally use a dialect or colloquial construction they would probably not use in formal written English. This colloquial usage is widely understood by British speakers. Similarly stood can be used instead of standing. To an American, these usages are passive, and may imply that the subject had been involuntarily forced to sit or stand, or directed to hold that location.

In most areas of the United States, the word with is also used as an adverb: I'll come with instead of I'll come along, although it is rarely used in writing. Come with is used as an abbreviation of come with me, as in I'm going to the office - come with by speakers in Minnesota and parts of the adjoining states. This possibly arises from German (kommst du mit?) in parts of the United States with high concentrations of German American populations. It is similar to South African English, where the expression comes from Dutch, and is used by Afrikaans speakers when speaking English. These contractions are not used by native BrE speakers.

The word also is used at the end of a sentence in AmE (just as as well and too are in both dialects), but not so commonly in BrE, although it is encountered in Northern Ireland. Additionally, sentence ending as well is more formal in AmE than in BrE.

Before some words beginning with h with the first syllable unstressed, such as hallucination, hilarious, historic(al), horrendous, and horrific, some (but not most) British writers prefer to use an over a (an historical event, etc.). American writers normally use a, although there are occasional uses of an historic(al) in AmE.[Unlike BrE, AmE typically uses an before herb, since the h in this word is silent for most Americans. In AmE absent is sometimes used to introduce an absolute construction (Absent any objections, the proposal was approved.). This usage does not occur in BrE.

1.5 Morphological differences

The past tense and past participle of the verbs learn, spoil, spell (only in the word-related sense), burn, dream, smell, spill, leap, and others, can be either irregular (learnt, spoilt, etc.) or regular (learned, spoiled, etc.). In BrE, the irregular and regular forms are current; in some cases (smelt, leapt) there is a strong tendency towards the irregular forms (especially by speakers using Received Pronunciation); in other cases (dreamed, leaned, learned) the regular forms are somewhat more common. In AmE, the irregular forms are never or rarely used (except for burnt and leapt). Nonetheless, as with other usages considered nowadays to be typically British, the t endings are often found in older American texts. However, usage may vary when the past participles are actually adjectives, as in burnt toast. (Note that the two-syllable form learned /'l??n?d/, usually written simply as learned, is still used as an adjective to mean "educated", or to refer to academic institutions, in both BrE and AmE.) Finally, the past tense and past participle of dwell and kneel are more commonly dwelt and knelt on both sides of the Atlantic, although dwelled and kneeled are widely used in the US (but not in the UK). Lit as the past tense of light is much more common than lighted in the UK; the regular form enjoys more use in the US, although it is somewhat less common than lit. By contrast, fit as the past tense of fit is much more used in AmE than BrE, which generally favors fitted.

The past tense of spit "expectorate" is spat in BrE, spit or spat in AmE.

The past participle of saw is normally sawn in BrE and sawed in AmE (as in sawn-off/sawed-off shotgun).

The past participle gotten is never used in modern BrE, which generally uses got, except in old expressions such as ill-gotten gains. According to the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, "The form gotten is not used in British English but is very common in North American English, though even there it is often regarded as non-standard." In AmE, gotten emphasizes the action of acquiring and got tends to indicate simple possession (for example, Have you gotten it? versus Have you got it?). Gotten is also typically used in AmE as the past participle for phrasal verbs using get, such as get off, get on, get into, get up, and get around: If you hadn't gotten up so late, you might not have gotten into this mess. Interestingly, AmE, but not BrE, has forgot as a less common alternative to forgotten for the past participle of forget.

In BrE, the past participle proved is strongly preferred to proven; in AmE, proven is now about as common as proved. (Both dialects use proven as an adjective, and in formulas such as not proven).

AmE further allows other irregular verbs, such as dive (dove) or sneak (snuck), and often mixes the preterit and past participle forms (spring-sprang, US also sprung-sprung), sometimes forcing verbs such as shrink (shrank-shrunk) to have a further form, thus shrunk-shrunken. These uses are often considered nonstandard; the AP Stylebook in AmE treats some irregular verbs as colloquialisms, insisting on the regular forms for the past tense of dive, plead and sneak. Dove and snuck are usually considered nonstandard in Britain, although dove exists in some British dialects and snuck is occasionally found in British speech.

By extension of the irregular verb pattern, verbs with irregular preterits in some variants of colloquial AmE also have a separate past participle, for example, "to buy": past tense bought spawns boughten. Such formations are highly irregular from speaker to speaker, or even within idiolects. This phenomenon is found chiefly in the northern US and other areas where immigrants of German descent are predominant, and may have developed as a result of German influence (though in German, both are regular past participle forms, cf. kaufen, kaufte, gekauft (bought) and lesen, las, gelesen (read)). Even in areas where the feature predominates, however, it has not gained widespread acceptance as "standard" usage.

Use of tenses

Traditionally, BrE uses the present perfect tense to talk about an event in the recent past and with the words already, just, and yet. In American usage, these meanings can be expressed with the present perfect (to express a fact) or the simple past (to imply an expectation). This American style has become widespread only in the past 20 to 30 years; the British style is still in common use as well.

"I've just arrived home." / "I just arrived home."

"I've already eaten." / "I already ate."

Recently, the American use of just with simple past has made inroads into BrE, most visibly in advertising slogans and headlines such as "Cable broadband just got faster". Similarly, AmE occasionally replaces the pluperfect with the preterite. Also, US spoken usage sometimes, especially with the contracted forms, substitutes the conditional for the pluperfect (If I would have cooked the pie we could have had it for lunch), but this tends to be avoided in writing.

In BrE, have got or have can be used for possession and have got to and have to can be used for the modal of necessity. The forms that include ``got'' are usually used in informal contexts and the forms without got in contexts that are more formal. In American speech the form without got is used more than in the UK, although the form with got is often used for emphasis.

Colloquial AmE informally uses got as a verb for these meanings - for example, I got two cars, I got to go.

The subjunctive mood (morphologically identical with the bare infinitive) is regularly used in AmE in mandative clauses (as in They suggested that he apply for the job). In BrE, this usage declined in the 20th century, in favor of constructions such as They suggested that he should apply for the job (or even, more ambiguously, They suggested that he applied for the job). Apparently, however, the mandative subjunctive has recently started to come back into use in BrE

Prepositions and adverbs

In the United States, the word through can mean "up to and including" as in Monday through Friday. In the UK Monday to Friday, or Monday to Friday inclusive is used instead; Monday through to Friday is also sometimes used. (In some parts of Northern England the term while can be used in the same way, as in Monday while Friday, whereas in Northern Ireland Monday till Friday would be more natural.)

British athletes play in a team; American athletes play on a team. (Both may play for a particular team.)

In AmE, the use of the function word out as a preposition in out the door and out the window is standard to mean "out through". For example, in AmE, one jumps "out of a boat" by jumping "out the porthole," and it would be incorrect in standard AmE to "jump out the boat" or climb "out of the porthole." In BrE, out of is preferred in writing for both meanings, but out is common in speech. Several other uses of out of are peculiarly British (out of all recognition, out of the team; cf. above);all of this notwithstanding, out of is overall more frequent in AmE than in BrE (about four times as frequent, according to Algeo).

The word heat meaning "mating season" is used with on in the UK and with in in the US.

The intransitive verb affiliate can take either with or to in BrE, but only with in AmE.

The verb enrol(l) usually takes on in BrE and in in AmE (as in "to enrol(l) on/in a course") and the on/in difference is used when enrolled is dropped (as in "I am (enrolled) on the course that studies....").

In AmE, one always speaks of the street on which an address is located, whereas in BrE in can also be used in some contexts. In suggests an address on a city street, so a service station (or a tourist attraction or indeed a village) would always be on a major road, but a department store might be in Oxford Street. Moreover, if a particular place on the street is specified then the preposition used is whichever is idiomatic to the place, thus "at the end of Churchill Road."

BrE favours the preposition at with weekend ("at (the) weekend(s)"); the constructions on, over, and during (the) weekend(s) are found in both varieties but are all more common in AmE than BrE. Adding at to the end of a question requesting a location is common in AmE, for example, "where are you at?", but would be considered superfluous in BrE. However, some south-western British dialects use to in the same context; for example "where are you to?", to mean "where are you".

After talk American can also use the preposition with but British always[citation needed] uses to (that is, I'll talk with Dave / I'll talk to Dave). The American form is sometimes seen as more politically correct in British organisations, inducing the ideal of discussing (with), as opposed to lecturing (to). This is, of course, unless talk is being used as a noun, for example: "I'll have a talk with him" in which case this is acceptable in both BrE and AmE.

In both dialects, from is the preposition prescribed for use after the word different: American English is different from British English in several respects. However, different than is also commonly heard in the US, and is often considered standard when followed by a clause (American English is different than it used to be), whereas different to is a common alternative in BrE. It is common in BrE to say opposite to as an alternative to opposite of, the only form normally found in AmE. The use of opposite as a preposition (opposite the post office) has long been established in both dialects, but appears to be more common in British usage.

The noun opportunity can be followed by a verb in two different ways: opportunity plus to-infinitive ("the opportunity to do something") or opportunity plus of plus gerund ("the opportunity of doing something"). The first construction is the most common in both dialects, but the second has almost disappeared in AmE and is often regarded as a Briticism. Both British and Americans may say (for example) that a river is named after a state, but "named for a state" would rightly be regarded as an Americanism. BrE sometimes uses to with near (we live near to the university), while AmE avoids the preposition in most usages dealing with literal, physical proximity (we live near the university), although the to reappears in AmE when near takes the comparative or superlative form, as in she lives nearer/nearest to the deranged axe murderer's house.

In BrE, one calls (or rings) someone on his or her telephone number; in AmE, one calls someone at his or her telephone number.

When referring to the constituency of a US Senator the preposition "from" is usually used: "Senator from New York," whereas British MPs are "for" their constituency: "MP for East Cleveland." In AmE, the phrases aside from and apart from are used about equally; in BrE, apart from is far more common.

Phrasal verbs

In the US, forms are usually but not invariably filled out, but in Britain they can also be filled in. However, in reference to individual parts of a form, Americans may also use in (fill in the blanks). In AmE the direction fill it all in (referring to the form as a collection of blanks, perhaps) is as common as fill it all out.

Britons facing extortionate prices may have no option but to fork out, whereas Americans are more likely to fork (it) over or sometimes up; both usages are however found in both dialects. In both countries, thugs will beat up their victim; AmE also allows beat on (as both would for an inanimate object, such as a drum) or beat up on, which are often considered slang. When an outdoor event is postponed or interrupted by rain, it is rained off in the UK and rained out in the US.

Most of the differences in lexis or vocabulary between British and American English are in connection with concepts originating from the 19th century to the mid 20th century, when new words were coined independently. Almost the entire vocabularies of the car/automobile and railway/railroad industries are different between the UK and US, for example. Other sources of difference are slang or vulgar terms, where frequent new coinage occurs, and idiomatic phrases, including phrasal verbs. The differences most likely to create confusion are those where the same word or phrase is used for two different concepts. Regional variations, even within the US or the UK, can create the same problems.

It is not a straightforward matter to classify differences of vocabulary. David Crystal identifies some of the problems of classification on the facing page to his list of American English/British English lexical variation, and states "this should be enough to suggest caution when working through an apparently simple list of equivalents".

A lexicon is not made up of different words, but different "units of meaning" (lexical units or lexical items e.g. 'fly ball' in baseball), including idioms and figures of speech.This makes it easier to compare the dialects.

Though the influence of cross-culture media has done much to familiarize BrE and AmE speakers with each other's regional words and terms, many words are still recognized as part of a single form of English. Though the use of a British word would be acceptable in AmE (and vice versa), most listeners would recognize the word as coming from the other form of English, and treat it much the same as a word borrowed from any other language. For instance, an American using the word chap or mate to refer to a friend would be heard in much the same way as an American using the Spanish word amigo.

Equivalent Idioms

A number of English idioms that have essentially the same meaning show lexical differences between the British and the American version; for instance:

British English American English

not touch something with a bargepole not touch something with a ten-foot pole

sweep under the carpet sweep under the rug

touch wood knock on wood

see the wood for the trees see the forest for the trees

throw a spanner (in the works) throw a (monkey) wrench (in the works)

skeleton in the cupboard skeleton in the closet

a home from home a home away from home

blow one's trumpet blow (or toot) one's horn

a drop in the ocean a drop in the bucket

storm in a teacup tempest in a teapot

flogging a dead horse beating a dead horse

haven't (got) a clue don't have a clue or have no clue

a new lease of life a new lease on life

if the cap fits (wear it) if the shoe fits (wear it)

lie of the land lay of the land

english language agreement grammatical morphological

Practical Part

2.1 The Philadelphia Dialect

The Philadelphia dialect is the dialect of English spoken in Philadelphia; and extending into Philadelphia's suburbs in the Delaware Valley and southern New Jersey. It is one of the best-studied dialects of American English since Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania is the home institution of William Labov, one of the most productive American sociolinguists. Unlike the dialects found in much of the rest of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia dialect shares some unusual features with the New York dialect and Southern American English, although it is a distinct dialect region. The Philadelphia dialect is, however, in most respects similar to the dialects of Wilmington, Delaware and Baltimore, together with which it constitutes what Labov describes as the "Mid-Atlantic Dialect".

Actual Philadelphia dialects are seldom heard nationally; Philadelphia natives who attain national prominence often make an effort to tone down or eliminate their dialects. However, Chris Matthews is a conspicuous example of the real thing. Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money, is another.This dialect is commonly heard on the show Parking Wars, which takes place in Philadelphia.

Movies and television shows set in the Philadelphia region generally make the mistake of imbuing the characters with a working class New York dialect (specifically heard in Philly-set movies such as the Rocky series, Invincible, and A History of Violence) which is not how Philadelphians actually speak. A contrary example is the character of Lynn Sear (played by Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, who speaks with an accurate Philadelphia dialect.

The use of geographically inaccurate dialects is also true in movies and television programs set in Atlantic City or any other region of South Jersey; the characters often use a supposed "Joisey" dialect, when in reality that New York-influenced dialect for New Jersey natives is almost always exclusive to the extreme northeastern region of the state nearest New York City. An important factor here is that in the real world, "local" TV, political, and sports personalities in South Jersey are Philadelphians, not New Yorkers.

The precise realizations of features of the Philadelphia dialect vary to some degree among different ethnic groups, social classes, and parts of the Philadelphia region. The general phonological features of the dialect, however, are as follows:


Philadelphia is resistant to the cot-caught merger (unlike areas of the Midwest and West) because the vowel phoneme of words like caught, cloth, and dawn is raised to a high [?], increasing its distance from the [?] of cot. Philadelphia shares this feature with New York, and southern New England. (Other dialect regions, such as the South and Inland North distinguish between cot and caught also, but not in the same way that Philadelphia does.)

On is pronounced /?n/, so that, as in the South and Midland varieties of American English (and unlike New York and the Inland North) it rhymes with dawn rather than don. The /o?/ diphthong of goat and boat is fronted, so it is pronounced [??]. Fronting of /o?/ also occurs in the Midland and the South. The diphthong in house and loud (/a?/) is fronted as well --sometimes even more extremely than the /o?/, reaching as far as [??] for some speakers (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 144, 237). Kurath & McDavid (1961) show /a?/ as being fronted (approaching [ж?]) but less so than later studies by Labov and company.

As in New York English, historical short-'a' has split into two phonemes: lax /ж/ (as in bat) and tense /e?/ (as in bath). Their distribution is however different from that of New York City: for instance, the words mad and sad do not rhyme in Philadelphia. For more details on both the Philadelphia and New York systems see: phonemic ж-tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region. As in New York, Boston, and most native dialects of English outside North America, there is a three-way distinction between Mary [me??i], marry [mж?i], and merry (sometimes [m??i]). However, in Philadelphia some speakers have a merger of /?/ and /?/ before /r/ (the furry-ferry merger), so that merry is merged instead with Murray (both are pronounced as the latter, [m?i]). Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006: 54) report that about one third of Philadelphia speakers have this merger, one third have a near-merger, and one third keep the two distinct. Relatedly, many words like orange, Florida, and horrible have /?/ before /r/ rather than the /?r/ used in many other American dialects. Canadian raising occurs for /a?/ (as in price) but not for /a?/ (as in mouth) (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 114-15, 237-38). Consequently, the diphthong in like [l??k] differs from the diphthong in live [la?v]. Canadian raising in Philadelphia occurs before voiceless consonants, and it is extended to occur before some voiced consonants as well, including intervocalic voiced stops as in tiger and spider. It has been argued that /a?/ has actually undergone a phonemic split in Philadelphia as a result of Canadian raising. The raising of /a?/ is unusual as the innovators of this change are primarily male speakers while the other changes in progress led by primarily females. There is a (non-phonemic) split of /e?/ (face) so in open syllables (for example, day) it has an open starting point and is similar to the [ж?] found in Australian and New Zealand English (and some forms of English English), while in closed syllables (for example, date) it is pronounced more like the [i] in deet (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 237). Pairs of words which may be confused as a result of this development include eight and eat, snake and sneak, slave and sleeve. The earlier Kurath & McDavid (1961) report lowered /e?/ but the raising in open syllables.

Back vowels preceding /r/ are shifted: /ur/ as in tour is lowered[citation needed] to the vicinity of /?r/ and merges or comes close to merging with /?r/ as in tore. In phonetics, a lowered sound is articulated with the tongue or lip lowered (the mouth more open) than some reference point. Relatedly, /?r/ as in tar is raised and rounded to [?r]. In earlier work, /?r/ was found to be rounded but not raised [?r].

The /?/ vowel is phonetically backed.


Unlike many of the urban areas of the eastern seaboard (Boston, Providence, New York, Richmond, Charleston), Philadelphia has never had non-rhoticity as a widespread feature among white speakers; however, there is some sporadic non-rhoticity found especially in South Philadelphia. It has been conjectured that the reason non-rhoticity is only found in South Philadelphia has to do with the Italian immigrants to the area: Italians pronounce r as an alveolar trill (informally called a rolled R), and second-generation kids, wanting to avoid their parents' foreign dialect (heavily stigmatized by establishment Philadelphia), solved the problem by leaving most r's completely out of their speech.

The sibilant /s/ is palatalized to [?] (as in she) before /t?/. Thus, the word streets might be pronounced "shtreets" [?t?its].

L-vocalization is very common pronouncing /l/ after a vowel as a semivowel similar to [w]. This leads in part to the stereotypical local pronunciation of Philadelphia as "Fluffya".

Phonemic incidence

The word water is commonly pronounced /w?d?r/ (with the first syllable identical to the word wood, so that it sounds somewhat like wooder.) This is considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Philadelphia dialect.

Both long-e and long-a sounds are shortened before /g/. Eagle rhymes with giggle /??g?l/ (as in "the Iggles"); league rhymes with big /l?g/; vague and plague rhyme with peg (pronounced /v?g/ and /pl?g/, respectively). For some Philadelphians, colleague and fatigue also have /?/ (pronounced /?k?l?g/ and /f??t?g/, respectively). However, these are words learned later, so many use the standard American /?k?lig/ and /f??tig/.

In words like gratitude, beautiful, attitude, Baltimore, and prostitute, the i may be pronounced with a long ee sound [i], as in bee.

Many words ending in -ow or -o, such as window, widow, tomato, or casino, are pronounced with a schwa ending (like the indistinct vowel sound at the end of the word coda). Thus, windows would be pronounced windas [?w?nd?z] and tomorrow would be pronounced tomorrah.


The interjection yo was popularized (and possibly originated in its current meaning) in the Philadelphia dialect among Italian American and African American Philadelphians. Today, Philadelphia natives in general are known to commonly use the interjection.

Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and sometimes second person singular, much like the mostly Southern / Western espression "y'all." "Youse" (often "youse guys" when addressing multiple people) is common in many working class northeastern areas, but is often associated with Philadelphia especially. This may be in part due to Philadelphians distinctly pronouncing the word as "yiz" (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?").

Long sandwiches are known as hoagies as opposed to subs or grinders.

Anymore is used as a positive, e.g. "Jimmy's hoagies taste different anymore."

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