British English: Wikis


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American and British English differences




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British English, or UK English or English English (BrE, BE, en-GB[1]), is the broad term used to distinguish the forms of the English language used in the United Kingdom from forms used elsewhere.[2] The Oxford English Dictionary applies the term to English "as spoken or written in the British Isles; esp[ecially] the forms of English usual in Great Britain...", reserving "Hiberno-English" for "The English language as spoken and written in Ireland".[3]

There are slight regional variations in formal written English in the United Kingdom (for example, although the words wee and little are interchangeable in some contexts, one is more likely to see wee written by someone from northern Britain (and especially Scotland) or from Northern Ireland than by someone from Southern England or Wales). Nevertheless, there is a meaningful degree of uniformity in written English within the United Kingdom, and this could be described as "British English". The forms of spoken English, however, vary considerably more than in most other areas of the world where English is spoken,[4] and a uniform concept of "British English" is therefore more difficult to apply to the spoken language. According to Tom McArthur in the Oxford Guide to World English (p. 45), "[f]or many people...especially in England [the phrase British English] is tautologous," and it shares "all the ambiguities and tensions in the word British, and as a result can be used and interpreted in two ways, more broadly or more narrowly, within a range of blurring and ambiguity".



English is a West Germanic language that originated from the Anglo-Frisian dialects brought to England by Germanic settlers from various parts of what is now northwest Germany and the northern Netherlands. Initially, Old English was a diverse group of dialects, reflecting the varied origins of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of England. One of these dialects, Late West Saxon, eventually came to dominate. The original Old English language was then influenced by two waves of invasion; The first was by language speakers of the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family; they conquered and colonised parts of Britain in the 8th and 9th centuries. The second was the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke Old Norman and ultimately developed an English variety of this called Anglo-Norman. These two invasions caused English to become "mixed" to some degree (though it was never a truly mixed language in the strictest sense of the word; mixed languages arise from the cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid tongue for basic communication).

Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Frisian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core of a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance branch of the European languages. This Norman influence entered English largely through the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a "borrowing" language of great flexibility and with a huge vocabulary.


Dialects and accents vary between the four countries of the United Kingdom, and also within the countries themselves. There are also differences in the English spoken by different socio-economic groups in any particular region.

The major divisions are normally classified as English English (or English as spoken in England, which comprises Southern English dialects, Midlands English dialects and Northern English dialects), Welsh English, and Scottish English (not to be confused with the Scots language). The various British dialects also differ in the words that they have borrowed from other languages. The Scottish and Northern English dialects include many words originally borrowed from Old Norse and a few borrowed from Gaelic, though most of the structure and common words are conservative Anglo-Saxon, hence 'kirk' (church), 'beck' (stream), 'feart' (feared), 'fell' (hillside), 'kistie' (chest, box), 'lang syne' (long ago) etc.

Following its last major survey of English Dialects (1949–1950), the University of Leeds has started work on a new project. In May 2007 the Arts and Humanities Research Council awarded a grant to a team led by Sally Johnson, Professor of Linguistics and Phonetics at Leeds University, to study British regional dialects.[5][6]

Johnson's team are[a] sifting through a large collection of examples of regional slang words and phrases turned up by the "Voices project" run by the BBC, in which they invited the public to send in examples of English still spoken throughout the country. The BBC Voices project also collected hundreds of news articles about how the British speak English from swearing through to items on language schools. This information will also be collated and analysed by Johnson's team both for content and for where it was reported. "Perhaps the most remarkable finding in the Voices study is that the English language is as diverse as ever, despite our increased mobility and constant exposure to other accents and dialects through TV and radio."[6] Work by the team on this project is not expected to end before 2010. When covering the award of the grant on 1 June 2007, The Independent stated:

Mr Upton, who is Professor of English at Leeds University, said that they were "very pleased" – and indeed, "well chuffed" – at receiving their generous grant. He could, of course, have been "bostin" if he had come from the Black Country, or if he was a Scouser he would have been well "made up" over so many spondoolicks, because as a Geordie might say, £460,000 is a "canny load of chink"[7]


The form of English most commonly associated with the upper class in the southern counties of England is called Received Pronunciation (RP).[8] It derives from a mixture of the Midland and Southern dialects which were spoken in London during the Middle Ages[9] and is frequently used as a model for teaching English to foreign learners.[8] Although speakers from elsewhere within the UK may not speak with an RP accent it is now a class-dialect more than a local dialect. It may also be referred to as "the Queen's (or King's) English", "Public School English", or "BBC English" as this was originally the form of English used on radio and television, although a wider variety of accents can be heard these days. Only approximately two percent of Britons speak RP,[10] and it has evolved quite markedly over the last 40 years.

Even in the South East there are significantly different accents; the London Cockney accent is strikingly different from RP and its rhyming slang can be difficult for outsiders to understand. In the South Eastern county of Surrey, where RP is prevalent, closer to London it approaches Cockney, further south it becomes more rural, and this continues through Sussex and Hampshire where the accents and language are even more rustic. In fact the accents and dialect of the south coast can range from the classic South Eastern RP through rustic to increasing an West Country accent as one passes through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Devon and finally into the Celtic county of Cornwall, where the language of Cornish is also spoken by some people.

Estuary English has been gaining prominence in recent decades: it has some features of RP and some of Cockney. In London itself, the broad local accent is still changing, partly influenced by Caribbean speech. Communities migrating to the UK in recent decades have brought many more languages to the country. Surveys started in 1979 by the Inner London Education Authority discovered over 100 languages being spoken domestically by the families of the inner city's school children. As a result, Londoners speak with a mixture of accents, depending on ethnicity, neighbourhood, class, age, upbringing, and sundry other factors.

Since the mass immigration to Northamptonshire in the 1940s and its close accent borders, it has become a source of various accent developments. There, nowadays, one finds an accent known locally as the Kettering accent, which is a mixture of many different local accents, including East Midlands, East Anglian, Scottish, and Cockney. In addition, in the town of Corby, five miles (8 km) north, one can find Corbyite, which unlike the Kettering accent, is largely based on Scottish. This is due to the influx of Scottish steelworkers.

Outside the southeast there are, in England alone, other families of accents easily distinguished by natives, including:

Although some of the stronger regional accents may sometimes be difficult for some anglophones from outside Britain to understand, almost all "British English" accents are mutually intelligible amongst the British themselves, with only occasional difficulty between very diverse accents. However, modern communications and mass media[citation needed] have reduced these differences significantly. A small number of British films have been dubbed when released in America as Americans struggle to understand certain dialects (e.g. Kes in the Yorkshire dialect, Trainspotting in the Edinburgh dialect).

In addition, most British people can to some degree temporarily 'swing' their accent towards a more neutral form of English at will, to reduce difficulty where very different accents are involved, or when speaking to foreigners. This phenomenon is known in linguistics as code shifting.



As with English around the world, the English language as used in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland is governed by convention rather than formal code: there is no equivalent body to the Académie française or the Real Academia Española, and the authoritative dictionaries (for example, Oxford English Dictionary, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, Chambers Dictionary, Collins Dictionary) record usage rather than prescribe it. In addition, vocabulary and usage change with time; words are freely borrowed from other languages and other strains of English, and neologisms are frequent.

For historical reasons dating back to the rise of London in the 9th century, the form of language spoken in London and the East Midlands became standard English within the Court, and ultimately became the basis for generally accepted use in the law, government, literature and education within Britain. Largely, modern British spelling was standardised in Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), although previous writers had also played a significant role in this and much has changed since 1755. Scotland, which underwent parliamentary union with England only in 1707 (and devolved in 1998), still has a few independent aspects of standardisation, especially within its autonomous legal system.

Since the early 20th century, numerous books by British authors intended as guides to English grammar and usage have been published, a few of which have achieved sufficient acclaim to have remained in print for long periods and to have been reissued in new editions after some decades. These include, most notably of all, Fowler's Modern English Usage and The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers. Detailed guidance on many aspects of writing British English for publication is included in style guides issued by various publishers including The Times newspaper, the Oxford University Press and the Cambridge University Press, and others. The Oxford University Press guidelines were originally drafted as a single broadsheet page by Horace Henry Hart and were, at the time (1893) the first guide of their type in English; they were gradually expanded and eventually published, first as Hart's Rules and, most recently (in 2002), as part of The Oxford Manual of Style. Comparable in authority and stature to The Chicago Manual of Style for published American English, the Oxford Manual is a fairly exhaustive standard for published British English, to which writers can turn in the absence of any specific document issued by the publishing house that will publish their work.

See also


  • McArthur, Tom (2002). Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866248-3 hardback, ISBN 0-19-860771-7 paperback.
  • Bragg, Melvyn (2004). The Adventure of English, London: Sceptre. ISBN 0-340-82993-1
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Simpson, John (ed.) (1989). Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


a. ^ In British English collective nouns may be treated as either singular or plural, according to context. An example provided by Partridge is: " 'The committee of public safety is to consider the matter', but 'the committee of public safety quarrel as to who its next chairman should be' ...Thus...singular when...a unit is intended; plural when the idea of plurality is predominant." BBC television news and The Guardian style guide follow Partridge but other sources, such as BBC Online and The Times style guides, recommend a strict noun-verb agreement with the collective noun always governing the verb conjugated in the singular. BBC radio news, however, insists on the plural verb. Partridge, Eric (1947) Usage and Abusage: "Collective Nouns". Allen, John (2003) BBC News style guide, page 31.

  1. ^ en-GB is the language code for British English , as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).
  2. ^ Peters, p 79.
  3. ^ "British English; Hiberno-English". Oxford English Dictionary (2 ed.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 1989. 
  4. ^ Stuart Jeffries, The G2 guide to regional English, The Guardian, 27 March 2009.
  5. ^ Professor Sally Johnson biography on the Leeds University website
  6. ^ a b Mapping the English language – from cockney to Orkney, Leeds University website, 25 May 2007.
  7. ^ McSmith, Andy. Dialect researchers given a 'canny load of chink' to sort 'pikeys' from 'chavs' in regional accents, The Independent, 1 June 2007. Page 20
  8. ^ a b Fowler, H.W. (1996). "Fowler's Modern English Usage". Oxford University Press. 
  9. ^ Sweet, Henry (1908). "The Sounds of English". Clarendon Press. 
  10. ^ Learning: Language & Literature: Sounds Familiar?: Case studies: Received Pronunciation British Library

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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1861 (US), British + English.

Proper noun

British English


British English

  1. The English language as written and spoken in Britain, especially in England, contrasted with American English and that of other places.
    • 1861, “The Shakespeare Mystery”, in The Atlantic Monthly, v 8, n 47, Boston: Ticknor and Fields, p 258 (note):
      We shall not say that this is British English; but we willingly confess that it is not American English.
    • 1863, George Perkins Marsh, “The English Language in America”, in Lectures on the English Language, 4th ed., New York: Charles Scribner, p 667:
      Some noticeable and general differences between American and British English may be explained by the fact, that considerable bodies of Englishmen sometimes emigrated from the same vicinity, and that in their new home they and their multiplied descendants have kept together and continued to employ dialect peculiarities of their native speech, or retained words of general usage which elsewhere perished.
    • 1868, Richard Grant White, “Words and their Uses: British English and American English”, in The Galaxy, v 4, New York, p 102:
      Now, according to my observation, no man whom the Dean of Canterbury, or the Public Orator of Cambridge, would accept as a speaker of pure English, says, with thick utterance, “a gloss of ayull;” and yet thousands of their countrymen do speak thus, and this peculiarity of British English passes very gradually away as social and mental culture increase, until among the best-bred and best-educated people it vanishes, and is heard no more than it or a nasal twang is heard among similar people here.
  2. The English language as written and spoken in Britain and much of the Commonwealth of Nations, contrasted with American English.




Simple English

British English is the kind of English language which is used in the United Kingdom and countries that used to be in the British Empire.


Pronunciation (The Way People Say Things) in British English

In the United Kingdom, many different people say words in different ways. For example: a man from a place near London may not say his "r"s the same as a man from Scotland or a man from Northern Ireland. In fact, people's languages are different across the UK, depending on the area you are in for example in Wales one might speak welsh or in Ireland Irish(although they are not part of the UK) . across the country the accent is different for instance in Liverpool one speaks with a "scouse" accent or in London one speaks with a "cockney" accent. Different variations on all of British English exist from the manner in which words are pronounced to the manner in which they are spelt.

Spelling in British English

British English often keeps more traditional ways of spelling words than American English.

  • Some British English words end in "re" that are often simplified to "er" in American English.
British English: centre, litre, metre.
American English: center, liter, meter.
  • Some British English words end in "our" and are simplified to "or" in American English.
British English: colour, favour, honour, labour
American English: color, favor, honor, labor
  • Some British English words the have come originally from the Greek language use "ph". This has been changed to "f" in some other languages.
British English: Sulphur, not Sulfur
  • Some words in British English use "s" where "z" is used in American English.
British English: colonisation, realisation, organisation
American English: colonization, realization, organization

Vocabulary in British English

In British English, "dock" refers to the water in the space between two "piers" or "wharfs". In American English, the "pier" or "wharf" could be called a "dock", and the water between would be a "slip".

Some simpler differences:

British - American

  • accelerator - throttle
  • autumn - fall
  • biscuit - cookie
  • bonnet - hood (of a car)
  • boot - trunk (of a car)
  • bum, arse - butt, ass
  • car - automobile
  • caravan - trailer, mobile home
  • chips - French fries
  • courgette - zucchini
  • crisps - chips
  • face flannel - washcloth
  • flat - apartment
  • football - soccer
  • garden - yard
  • handbag - purse
  • jumper - sweater
  • lift - elevator
  • lorry - truck
  • manual gearbox - stick shift
  • metro, underground, tube - subway
  • motorway - freeway
  • mum - mom
  • nappy - diaper
  • number plate - license plate
  • pavement - sidewalk
  • pram - stroller
  • petrol - gas or gasoline
  • post - mail, mailbox
  • railway - railroad
  • shifting - moving
  • shopping trolley - shopping cart
  • surname - last name
  • take-away - take-out
  • tap - faucet
  • trousers - pants
  • to let - to rent
  • torch - flashlight
  • tram - streetcar

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