Skip to content

Grammarflex

Grammarflex logo

What’s the Difference Between UK English and US English?

UK vs. US English

When communicating in English, it’s important to consider the varying styles of English that exist. This article focuses on the differences between US and UK English.



Differences in UK English vs. US English

The two prominent variations of English are:


  • American English (or US English)


  • British English (or UK English)


While both are fundamentally the same language, they possess nuances in spellings, pronunciations, idiomatic expressions, punctuation and formatting preferences that set them apart.


Most of the differences are minor, but because of the regularity with which we use certain words it’s worthwhile to recognize their proper spelling according to the form that’s relevant in your case.



UK English vs. US English spelling

US EnglishUK English
spells –ize, –yze (paralyze, analyze, realize)spells –ise, yse (realise, analyse) sometimes both
spells –er center, meter, theater spells –re centre, metre, theatre
spells –or color, favor, favorite, honor spells –our colour, favour, favourite, honour
verbs use one “l“; e.g., canceled,
labeled, traveled, modeled
verb use double “l“; e.g., cancelled,
labelled, travelled, modelled
spells –se defense, offense, license spells –ce defence, offence, licence
UK vs. US English



Words with ‘our’/’or’

The dropping of the “u” in words that originally included “our”, is a pattern that appears across many common words. This is a spelling distinction that confuses many.


UK EnglishUS English
colourcolor
behaviourbehavior
labourlabor
humourhumor
favouritefavorite
favourfavor
honourhonor
neigbourneigbor



One or two L’s in verbs

Verbs with a double L drop to a single in US English spelling. The same applies to other forms of the word.


UK EnglishUS English
labelled, labelling labeled, labeling
cancelled, cancelling canceled, canceling
modelled, modelling modeled, modeling
travelled, travelling traveled, traveling



UK vs. US verb forms

US spelling prefers regular verb forms (which adds “-ed” in the past tense). UK spelling typically uses irregular verbs in the past tense and as a past participle.


UK EnglishUS English
burntburned
speltspelled
leaptleaped
leantleaned
smeltsmelled
spilltspilled
spoiltspoiled

Note: some irregular verbs are still used in US English as a past participle or past tense. Likewise, some standard verb past tenses are preferred in UK English.



Why are there two types of English?

American English is based upon late 17th century British English, which was brought to North America or the US from its earliest settlers. At that point, they would have spoken the exact same way.


The natural theory that evolves from this is that as America became more independent so did their language or version of English. Many argue that this was a way for America to establish their own identity apart from Britain.


Also worth noting, as America began exploring their own territory, they began introducing their own words into English, moving even further apart from its original UK English counterpart. The differences in spelling between the two we can largely attribute to the American lexicographer and dictionary-developer, the inimitable Noah Webster.


Linguafonica’s article on the evolution of American English says,


…The first dictionaries in both countries being written by two different authors with two different perspectives on language…The American dictionary was put together by lexicographer Noah Webster, who wanted spelling to be more straightforward and better reflect the pronunciation of words. 

Liam at Linguafonica



Learn more about spelling



Sources

  1. Scribbr, UK vs. US English spelling.
  2. “How did American English Become Different from British English?”


Recent Posts

Assent, ascent or accent?

Assent or Ascent (or Accent?)

When to use assent, ascent and accent The differences between assent, ascent and accent: Assent may be a noun or a verb: the former refers

Device or devise?

Devise or Device? (Meaning, Usage)

What’s the difference between device and devise? Devise is a verb meaning “to invent or plan”. Device is a noun that refers to “an object

Paid or payed?

Is “Paid” or “Payed” Correct?

What is the correct past tense of “pay”? The verb pay, which describes giving money to someone for something you want to buy or for

Amiable or amicable?

When to Use Amiable or Amicable?

Are amiable and amicable the same? Both amiable and amicable are describing words (i.e., adjectives); the difference mostly concerns what it is that they describe:

Is it creeped or crept?

What’s the Past Tense of Creep?

Is it creeped or crept? If you’re trying to say that you’re creeped out by something, use creeped. Otherwise, both creeped and crept are accepted