• Galina Blankenship

Separated by a Common Language: U.S. English vs. U.K. English (Grammar and Usage)

Updated: Mar 30

English? Who needs that? I’m never going to England! — Homer Simpson

Image of U.S. flag and U.K. flag

Grammar and Usage

In grammar and syntax, the U.S. English and the U.K. English are very similar. Not least because the influence of the U.S. English on the U.K. English is constantly growing—through films, television, pop music, the internet, and so on. It is probably safe to expect that even the contrasts shown here are likely, if not to disappear, at least to diminish in importance.

Examples of the main differences between the two variants are listed below. It should be noted that, in many of the following cases, two (or more) different forms are possible in one variety of English, with the first one being the most common.

1) Irregular Verbs:

A number of verbs can be either regular or irregular in the Past Simple. However, in the U.S. and in the U.K., the forms most commonly used are not the same. Generally speaking, the regular form is usually preferred in the U.S. English, whereas the irregular form tends to be preserved in the U.K. English.

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The verbs fit, quit, and wet are regular in the U.K. English—but not in the U.S. English. In the case of quit and wet, however, American usage is now well on its way to replacing British.

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In the U.S. English, the past participle of get is either gotten or got, except in the structure have got, used as an alternative to have, which is the same as in the U.K. English.

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2) Use of Past Simple and Present Perfect Tenses:

In the U.S. English, these two tenses are often interchangeable in conditions where only the Present Perfect can be used in the U.K. English. For instance, when an action in the past has a result now (as in the first example below), the Present Perfect is normally employed.

Other typical cases are with words like just, already, and yet, as well as with ever and never referring to a period of time that continues until now.

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3) Auxiliary and Modal Verbs:

In the U.K. English, shall and its contracted negative shan’t can be substituted by will, indicating the future, when used with the pronouns I and we. In the U.S. English, shall is unusual, except for legal documents. Where shall is used in the U.K. to ask for advice, should is employed in the United States.

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