Grammar Differences Between American and British English

The Most Important Ones

When learning or speaking English, most people do not realise the vast differences between American and British versions of the language. Though the original 'correct' grammar originally comes from old British English, grammar is constantly changing and many new ways of using grammar are coming from across the pond from American influence through the media and internet.

Both types of language structure can be considered right, though in British and American education systems there are different rules depending on which English is being taught. There are various differences in spelling and punctuation, but this does not affect the spoken language as the grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation differences do.


In British English, the present perfect tense is used a lot more than in American English. Present perfect tense is used to describe a past event that has present consequences, but in American English, the simple past tense is normally used.

For example:
  • "Robert feels sick, he has eaten too much" - British English
  • "Robert feels sick, he ate too much" - American English

  • "I have got to leave now" - British English
  • "I have to leave now" - American English

  • "I have already seen that movie"- British English
  • "I already saw that movie" - American English

  • "You've missed Sarah. She's just left." - British English
  • "You missed Sarah. She just left" - American English

Informal Speech

When the British would say "going to" for example, Americans may say "gonna" and this informal shortened word is becoming more popular with many English speakers.
  • "Are you going to come later?" - British English
  • "Are you gonna come later?" - American English


Some verbs that are regular in British English are irregular in American English.

For example:
  • "She wet her hair before washing it" - British English
  • "She wetted her hair before washing it" - American English

  • "All the shoes fit in to the shelves" - British English
  • "All the shoes fitted in to the shelves" - American English

With verbs of perception such as senses are used independently in American English whereas British English speakers will use 'can' or 'could'.

For example:
  • "I could smell the flowers" - British English
  • "I smelled the flowers" - American English

  • "I could hear the birds outside" - British English
  • "I heard the birds outside" - American English

  • "I can see the beach" - British English
  • "I see the beach" - American English

In British English, many past simple verbs can end in 'ed' or in 't', but in American English the ending of 'ed' is normally preferred.

For example:
  • "She learnt to play the piano" - British English
  • "She learned to play the piano" - American English

  • "He always dreamt of being a footballer" - British English
  • "He always dreamed of being a footballer" - American English

Collective Nouns

When referring to groups of people, collective nouns are treated differently in American and British English.

For example:
  • "The audience are very quiet" - British English
  • "The audience is very quiet" - American English

  • "The government are making a decision" - British English
  • "The government is making a decision"- American English

The Brits tend to treat collective nouns as plural whereas Americans treat them as singular which is technically correct.

Though it may seem like a lot of differences, they are actually only slight and most of the grammar in British and American English are in agreement. Both variations are generally understood by the whole English-speaking population.

This lesson was written by Alex Godwin.

His British English blog:

His teaching site:

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