The British people came and ruled us for ages and changed our lives in many ways. Out of many such things, the introduction of English has been the one that has impacted us in a positive way. Indians got a hang of this language and reached new heights. But more often people who have to are part of the training industry, who create training materials, or are in the profession of writing, publication and similar jobs are sandwiched between using British English and American English. Of course, as per the requirement of a client and deliverable either British English (BrE) is used or American English (AmE) is used. British English originated from United Kingdom and American English emerged from the United States of America.

Both forms of English appear very similar in written forms but there are differences in terms of how certain words are spelt and used. In this post I will take you through many such examples and both simple and complex to give you an idea as to what my article entails. Also, going forward in the article I will refer to British English as (BrE) and American English as (AmE).

Word(s) used in construction:

In a multi-storied building often we have many floors, and a floor at the ground level is referred to as ‘ground floor’ in BrE whereas ‘first floor’ in AmE. Similarly, one floor above ground level is referred to as ‘first floor’ in BrE whereas ‘second floor’ in AmE.

Difference between BrE and AmE in how both tell the time:

In BrE: 

  • Both 24-hour format and 12-hour format are acceptable.
  • In BrE if it’s two-thirty, it is written as 14.30 in a 24-hour format.
  • If the clock strikes two in the 12-hour format, it is written as 2am or 2pm and not as 2.00am and 2.00pm.   
  • If the time is five thirty, it is okay to write it as 5.30pm.
  • It is inappropriate to use a period in am or pm.
  • Also, there should be no space between the number and am or pm. Example 2pm is correct usage where as 2 pm is incorrect usage.
  • In BrE 4.45 is represented as quarter to five.
  • In BrE 2.15 is Quarter past two.

 In AmE:

  • It is appropriate to stick to 24-hour format. In addition, it is best to avoid the A.M/P.M format.
  • In BrE 4.45 is represented as quarter of five.
  • In BrE 2.15  is  Quarter after two.

Difference between BrE and AmE in how both tell the date:

In BrE the following type of date format is applicable:

  • They use the DDMMYYYY format (day month year), without any punctuation like this 10 April 1984
  • As a practice various forms of writing date is followed such as 20.2.2014; 20/2/2014 or 20-2-2014
  • But is it better to refrain from writing date entirely in figures to do away with confusion.
  • Also, it is appropriate to write the year in full like 2014 instead of ’14.

In AmE the following type of date format is applicable:

  • In AmE the MMDDYYYY format like Feb 24, 2014 is used.
  • It is inappropriate to use the DDMMYYYY format as 12 February 2014.
  • Avoid using date in all number like 5/12/2014 or 12/5/99; it adds to your confusion.
  • Avoid using just numbers to specify a date as May 23rd.

Difference in how phone numbers are written:

In BrE:

  • Usually telephone numbers are  specified as-
  • 0113 XXX XXXX
  • 033 7XXX XXXX
  • 044 8XXX XXXX
  • 04423 XXX XXX
  • 0400 XXX XXX 
  • In a nutshell, the telephone number should be preceded with the area code.
  • It is best to use spaces instead of hyphens or parentheses to show the divisions in the numbers as shown in the example above.

In AmE:

  • It is mandatory to use parentheses and not a hyphen to split the area code from the seven-digit phone number.
  • You can specify a phone number like this as shown- (445) 544-0870; (327) 555-1111 in American English.

Let me wrap up this article by saying that there are subtle differences between these two forms of English at the face of it; but it can become a glaring issue if not followed while writing dates, time, and telephone numbers in both American English and British English. I will continue with the rest of the differences in British English and American English in my next post; until then happy writing and reading. 


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