These two varieties of English are very similar that most American and British speakers can understand each other without great difficulty. There are, however, a few differences of grammar, vocabulary and spelling. The following guide is meant to point out the principal differences between American English (AE) and British English (BE).
Use of the Present Perfect
The British use the present perfect to talk about a past action which has an effect on the present moment. In American English both simple past and present perfect are possible in such situations.
Other differences include the use of already, just and yet. The British use the present perfect with these adverbs of indefinite time. In American English simple past and present perfect are both possible.
- I have lost my pen. Can you borrow me yours? (BE)
- I lost my pen. OR I have lost my pen. (AE)
- He has gone home. (BE)
- He went home. OR He has gone home. (AE)
- He has just gone home. (BE)
- He just went home. OR He has just gone home. (AE)
- I have already seen this movie. (BE)
- I have already seen this movie. OR I already saw this movie. (AE)
- She hasn't come yet. (BE)
- She hasn't come yet. OR She didn't come yet. (AE)
The British normally use have got to show possession. In American English have (in the structure do you have) and have got are both possible.
Use of the verb Get
- Have you got a car? (BE)
- Do you have a car? OR Have you got a car? (AE)
In British English the past participle of get is got. In American English the past participle of get is gotten, except when have got means have.
- He has got a prize. (BE)
- He has gotten a prize. (AE)
- I have got two sisters. (BE)
- I have got two sisters. (=I have two sisters.)(AE)
In British English it is fairly common to use shall with the first person to talk about the future. Americans rarely use shall.
In offers the British use shall. Americans use should.
- I shall/will never forget this favour. (BE)
- I will never forget this favour. (AE)
- Shall I help you with the homework? (BE)
- Should I help you with the homework? (AE)
In British English needn't and don't need to are both possible. Americans normally use don't need to.
Use of the Subjunctive
- You needn't reserve seats. OR You don't need to reserve seats. (BE)
- You don't need to reserve seats. (AE)
In American English it is particularly common to use subjunctive after words like essential, vital, important, suggest, insist, demand, recommend, ask, advice etc. (Subjunctive is a special kind of present tense which has no -s in the third person singular. It is commonly used in that clauses after words which express the idea that something is important or desirable.) In British English the subjunctive is formal and unusual. British people normally use should + Infinitive or ordinary present and past tenses.