What is American English

What is American English?

English is a globally spoken language, with 1.5 billion to 2 billion people worldwide speaking it. With these figures, many people consider English to be a world language.

It is not surprising that several versions of English have arisen due to the language’s widespread use. American English is one such variety.

But have you ever wondered what American English is exactly?

Search no more; this article is written to provide you with every piece of information there is to know about American English. Read on. 


History of American English

General American English is the type of English spoken by educated Americans on television and in the news and the type of English described in dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster and Random House.

Instead of “American English”, an English dictionary will normally use AmE, Am, or the US to give an American word or an American pronunciation of a word.

The English language used in the United States of America is known as American English. It is one of the two most often spoken varieties of English worldwide (the other being British English). People usually think of the General American Standard of English when they teach or learn American English. 

The colonization of the Americas by the British led to the usage of English in the United States. Early in the 17th century, the first wave of English-speaking settlers came to North America, followed by other migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, dialects from all over England and the British Isles were present in every American colony, allowing for extensive dialect mixing and leveling in which English varieties across the colonies became more homogeneous than the still distinct regional varieties in Britain. 

English thus predominated throughout the colonies even when the first non-English speakers from Western Europe and Africa arrived at the end of the 17th century, and personal accounts of a fairly uniform American English became popular after the mid-18th century.

Since then, American English has evolved into a variety of new variants, including regional dialects that, in some cases, reflect slight impacts from successive waves of immigrant speakers of other languages, predominantly European languages, throughout the last two centuries.


Characteristics of American English

Many patterns of pronunciation, vocabulary, syntax, and, especially, spelling, are unified across the United States yet distinct from other English dialects worldwide. Here are a few reasons why these people think that American English is unique:

In Academics and Literature

As these examples show, academics have discussed and written on American English, both in terms of its use in literature and its meaning in grammar, composition, and other contexts.

Andy Kirkpatrick (World Englishes: Implications for International Communication and English Language Teaching, 2007)

“Without a doubt, American English is the most influential and strong variation of English in the world today. A number of reasons have contributed to this.

For starters, the United States is currently the most dominant nation on the planet, and power always comes with influence.

Second, American popular culture, particularly the international reach of American films and music, extends America’s political influence.

Third, the international achievement of American English is frequently affiliated with the extraordinarily rapid development of communications technology.”


Zoltán Kövecses (American English: An Introduction. Broadview, 2000)

“The economy of American English can be evident in a variety of linguistic processes, such as the usage of shorter terms (math vs. maths, cookbook vs. cookery book, etc.), shorter spellings (color vs. colour), and shorter phrases (I’ll see you on Monday vs. on Monday). We can encapsulate the distinctions in the form of principles or maxims, such as ‘use as little (linguistic) form as feasible.

Regularity can be evident in the way American English modifies certain English paradigms with certain irregular parts. The deletion of irregular verb forms (burn, burned, burned, rather than burnt), the elimination of shall in favor of will to express future, the regularization of the word have (“Do you have…?” rather than “Have you…?”), and many others are examples.”



In History and Pop Culture

Important historical personalities, such as the Founding Fathers, have, of course, expressed their opinions on the use of American English. In addition, American English is widely used in popular culture.

Thomas Jefferson (Letter to John Waldo Monticello, August 16, 1813)

“When I saw the Edinburgh Reviews, the ablest critics of the century, set their faces against the introduction of new terms into the English language; they are particularly concerned that American writers will adulterate it, I was disappointed and skeptical of my own judgment.

Certainly, a rapidly rising population dispersed across such a huge area of the country, with such a diverse range of climates, productions, and arts will need to expand its language in order for it to fulfill its aim of communicating all thoughts, new and old.

The new conditions in which we find ourselves need the use of new words, phrases, and the translation of existing words to new things. As a result, an American dialect will emerge.”


Prince Charles (The Guardian, April 6, 1995)

“Americans have a proclivity for inventing new nouns and verbs and creating words that should not exist.

Now is the time to make sure that English, and by that, I mean ‘English English’, maintains its position as the world language.”




What are the Kinds of American English?

Most likely, Americans speak different dialects of English, depending on where they grew up. It is a miracle everyone understands each other with so many different ways of saying the same thing and so many different accents. Here are the different kinds of American English you might come across: 

New York City

Listen for classic New Yorkisms like the deletion of h before u (e.g., huge is pronounced yuge, and Houston is pronounced Youston) and the rounding of /a/ to an o-like vowel before -l in words like ball and call when visiting the New York City area. This includes neighboring parts of New Jersey and Long Island.

New Yorkers can also be identified by the way they pronounce Manhattan and forward: they shorten the first vowel in the former (resulting in Mn-hattan) and eliminate the initial r in the latter (so it sounds like foe-ward). 


Eastern New England: Boston

Many Americans are familiar with the Boston pronunciation of /ar/, which is extremely similar to the Southern pronunciation of /ay/, thanks to the popular phrase “Park your car in Harvard Yard and Nomar Garciaparra”.

Boston’s ‘park’ sounds like the Southern’s pike. In many words, the sequence /or/ has an intriguing effect, as it sounds like the vowel in ‘off’. Unlike many Americans, they separate the vowels in ‘father’ and ‘bother’.


Western New England: Vermont

Because of the heavy French-Canadian presence in the area, you will find the best Canadian features south of the border, such as toque (pronounced [tuke]) for ‘woolen winter hat’ (known as a toboggan in some other parts of the country). ‘Poutin’ (pronounced put + sin, with the stress on sin) for gravy-coated french fries with cheese curds and sugar pie.

If you are visiting the Northeast Kingdom, pay attention to how the a and t in the name of the local town, Barton, are pronounced.


North Midland: Pennsylvania 

As you leave the Northeast, make a point of stopping in Pennsylvania, which has one of the most distinct dialect peculiarities. Some of these are attributable to the existence of Pennsylvania Dutch in the area.

the most famous characteristic of Philadelphia (and its satellites in southern New Jersey) is the pronunciation of water, which sounds like wood + er. When you go there to hear these fascinating linguistic insights and you run out of currency, ask for the MAC machine, not the ATM or the cash machine.


Midland: Cincinnati

One of the better instances of the Midlands dialect region in Cincinnati.

Instead of using the letter r, as in Boston and New York, they use the letter l: saw becomes sawl, drawing becomes drawling, and so on. Pony kegs are drive-through booze stores (and, for some, conventional liquor stores) that can be found in the Cincinnati region. (Pony keg, on the other hand, usually refers to a small keg elsewhere in the United States.)


Pacific Northwest

Native American languages have a stronger influence in this dialect. The term “potluck”, a derivation of the Native American “potlatch”, is an example, it is a meeting where everyone provides a dish.

Another Native American name borrowed by Northwesterners is “muckatymuck”, sometimes regarded as a big shot. Given that the region was populated relatively recently, there is less of an accent here than elsewhere.


Inland Northern 

It has some characteristics in common with the rest of Wisconsin. They pronounce Milwaukee as ‘Mwaukee’ and Wisconsin as W-scon-sin rather than Wis-con-sin.

They also have certain similarities to the Upper Midwest, such as pronouncing bag as baig and referring to parking garages as ramps or parking ramps (the same forms are used in Minnesota and Buffalo). It also contrasts from Wisconsin’s northern reaches in terms of many of the typical Upper Midwestern traits, such as the monophthongal e and o in words. 


The West: San Fernando Valley

It is more difficult to discover hardcore traditional dialects here, owing to the fact that the West was established relatively recently and by people from all over the world. It is impossible to find any Californians (or any other Westerner) who has lived in the area for more than two generations.

If you are trying to figure out whether someone is from the north or south of California, check to see if they use the words ‘hella’ or ‘hecka’ to mean ‘very’ (e.g. That car is hella cool!); and if they use “the” in reference to freeway numbers.  Southern Californians use “the 5”, “the 405”, and so on, whereas northern Californians just use “5” and “405”.


The South 

This is possibly the most linguistically different and cohesive region in the country. This includes not only obvious cases like y’all. The South as a whole pronounces “lawyer” as “law-yer”, refers to cold sweet tea as “tea”, and says “The devil is beating his wife” when it rains when the sun is shining, all of which are different from the rest of the country (elsewhere referred to as a sunshower, or by no name at all).

The South is so different from the rest of the country that you will hear a variety of fantastic accents virtually anyplace you travel, but the Deep South (start with Mississippi or Alabama) and New Orleans are especially recommended.


New Orleans

The Cajuns, a local community descended from the Acadians, a French people who were deported from Nova Scotia and settled in southern Louisiana in the 1760s, are well-known in Louisiana.

Some Cajuns continue to speak their own dialect, Cajun French, which has impacted the region’s English speech. Some of the creole components have made their way into the local English vernacular, such as “Where ya stay (at)”, and “gumbo”, which refers to a typical southern soup-like food. 


Hawaii

In many ways, this is the most linguistically intriguing of the fifty states. Many Americans are familiar with Hawaiian, the Austronesian language spoken by indigenous Hawaiians prior to the arrival of European and Japanese colonizers, but fewer are familiar with Hawaiian Pidgin English, Hawaiian Creole English, or simply Pidgin, the English-based creole that has developed since that time. 

Pidgin combines elements of all of the languages spoken by early settlers, including Portuguese (e.g. “Where you stay go?” meaning “Where are you going?”, or “I called you up and you weren’t there already” meaning “I called you up and you weren’t there yet”). They also have their own English terms, such as “snow cone” for shave ice and “cockaroach” for cockroach.



Differences Between American and British English

While there are many more variations of English, the two most common are American English and British English.

Although it is generally agreed that no single version is “right”, there are clear preferences in usage.

Vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation are the most significant variations between American and British English. There are a few differences in grammar as well. 

Spelling

American EnglishBritish English
acknowledgmentacknowledgement
celiaccoeliac
centercentre
civilizationcivilisation
dialogdialogue
draftdraught
encyclopediaencyclopaedia 
graygrey
humorhumour
jewelryjewellery
learnedlearnt
licenselicence
pajamaspyjamas
sulfursulphur
whiskeywhisky

Vocabulary

American EnglishBritish English
checkbill
closetwardrobe
cotton candycandy floss
fallautumn
flashlighttorch
front deskreception
linequeue
mailboxpostbox
moviefilm
restroomloo
rubbereraser
scheduletimetable
silverwarecutlery
storeshop
vacationholiday

Grammar

  • Present Perfect and Past Simple Tenses

The present perfect is used to state an event that happened with relation to the present, in American English. However, people frequently use the past simple when they consider the action is finished. This is especially true of the adjectives ‘already’, ‘just’, and ‘yet’.

In British English, the present perfect tense is employed to describe a past event that is relevant to the present.

American EnglishBritish English
“He isn’t starving. He had lunch already.”

“Did you water the plants yet?”

“Yes, I just turned it off.” 
“He isn’t hungry. He has had lunch already.”

“Have you watered the plants yet?”

“Yes, I’ve turned it off.” 
  • Verb Forms with Collective Nouns 

In American English, collective nouns (nouns referring to specific groups of people or objects, such as staff, class, or team) are always followed by a singular verb.

In British English, collective nouns can be preceded by a single or plural verb depending on whether the group is considered one idea or many individuals.

Note: The noun ‘police’ is always plural (in both).

American EnglishBritish English
“My family is planning on a trip to South Korea.”

“My favorite team is leading, as of the moment.”

“The staff is organizing a project for the less fortunate.” 

“The police are about to give a statement about the case.” 
“My family is/are planning on a trip to South Korea.”

“My favourite team is/are leading, as of the moment.”

“The staff is/are organizing a project for the less fortunate.” 

“The police are about to give a statement about the case.” 
  • Use of ‘Got’ and ‘Gotten’ 

The word ‘gotten‘ is used as the past participle of ‘get’ in American English.

In British English, ‘got’ is used.

Note: In both American and British English, the word ‘have got’ is frequently used to indicate possession or requirement. ‘Have gotten’ is incorrect here.

American EnglishBritish English
“She could have gotten sick!”

“He’s gotten really smart.”

“I have gotten serious about my career.” 

“Has he got some money?”NOT “Has he gotten some money?” 

“She has got to call her parents soon.”NOT “She has gotten to call her parents soon.”
“She could have got sick!”

“He’s got really smart.”

“I have got serious about my career.” 

“Has he got some money”

“She has got to call her parents soon.” 
  • Use of ‘Have’ and ‘Take’ 

In American English, only the verb ‘take’ (not the verb ‘have’) is used to talk about washing with nouns like ‘bath’, ‘shower’, and ‘wash’, and to talk about resting with nouns like ‘break’, ‘vacation’, and ‘rest’.

In this sense, the verbs ‘have‘ and ‘take’ are commonly used in British English. 

American EnglishBritish English
“Let’s take a vacation.”

“She is going to take a shower.” 
“Let’s have/take a vacation.”

“She is going to have/take a shower.” 
  • Use of ‘Shall’

The word ‘shall’ is not commonly used in American English. Alternatives include “Should I/Can I…?”, “Do you want…”, and “Would you like…?”

In British English, phrases such as “Shall I…?” and/or “Shall we…?” are frequently used to express a willingness to help and/or to provide a recommendation.

American EnglishBritish English
“There is a storm. Can we go fishing tomorrow instead?”

“How about we buy her a bouquet of flowers?”

“Do you want to go to the groceries now?”
“There is a storm. Shall we go fishing tomorrow instead?”

“Shall we buy her a bouquet of flowers?”

“Shall we go to the groceries now?”


American or British English: Which One Should You Use?

While it is true that there are variations in the English language, it is vital to remember that different does not imply bad. Comments like “American English is inferior to British English”, or “American English is better than British English”, are based only on the speaker’s own opinion. The real question to ask yourself is “Which one should I use?” or “When should I use one over the other?”.

The solution is to emphasize the distinction. The discrepancies are not so many that they could be overwhelming, and they are usually manageable. If you want to live, work, or study in other countries, know that both versions of English are allowed in most international exams. You should, however, strive to maintain consistency while writing for an international exam (or when writing in English in general). If they prefer (or favor) American spelling and syntax, you should stick to it throughout your work.

On the other hand, if you work in an environment where you do not know which to use, ask yourself this question: “Do I have many clientele or colleagues from the United States or the United Kingdom?”

This may help you decide if you should use American or British English. You might think one type of English is simpler than the other, which can help you pick which to study. You can use any of these factors to help you decide which sort of English to use.

Tips for Using American English in Your Writing

Now that we have gone through the distinctions between American and British English, do you feel ready to take on a writing job anywhere in the world? Here are our top five tips for learning how to write in American English (or British English).

  • Keep an American English dictionary on you at all times.

Since you are trying to write in American English, make sure that you utilize an American English dictionary.

Be familiar with the differences between American English and British English, especially in spelling and vocabulary. 


  • Allow a native speaker (of American English) friend to proofread your work.

Because you are unlikely to catch all of your errors, have a fluent American English buddy proofread your work.

Having someone else double-check your writing will improve your writing and provide you with fresh, innovative ways to express yourself in American English. They can alter the entire document or only the section that is causing you problems.


  • Strive for consistency. 

The most vital point to keep in mind when writing is to stick to one spelling/usage. If you write ‘colour’ once, make it a habit to write ‘colour’ all throughout.

Inconsistency is always unprofessional, regardless of reader or editor preferences. Make a style sheet every time you learn a new term and put down the required or recommended spelling. Because these might get rather extensive, make sure your style sheet is well-structured so that it is not difficult to understand.


  • Set your spell-checker to American English. 

Set the spell-checker to the language you are writing in and turn it on when you are writing in a word processor.

This will automatically highlight any words that you have mistakenly spelled incorrectly. Keep in mind too that your communications platforms’ and cloud documents’ default autocorrect settings are also impacted.


  • Look up the information on the internet.

If you are not sure what a term means, look it up rather than guess. When it comes to editing, it is not simply about recognizing what is right. It is also about foreseeing what might go wrong. Recognize that a term has an American or British variation.

Once you have mastered a new term, add it to your style sheet. Because dictionaries differ in their content, choose one and use it as your reference.



What are the Countries Using American English Spelling?

American English (AmE) is the English dialect spoken mostly in the United States of America. About two-thirds of native English speakers live in the United States, according to research.

However, aside from the US, there are also other English-speaking countries that use American English spelling. Here they are: 

Central America

Being the United States of America’s neighbor, Central America favors American English, especially in translation. 

  • Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama

South America

Another US’s neighbor, South America, also favors American English, especially in translation. 

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Uruguay

(Some) Asia Pacific Countries 

The second group consists of Asia-Pacific countries with which the United States maintains a military relationship.

  • China (Northern)
  • Japan
  • Philippines
  • South Korea 

Middle East Allies 

These countries also follow the American English spelling, having good ties with the US. 

  • Iraq
  • Israel
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia

African Countries

While these countries have their own kind of English (West African English), they mostly use American English. 

  • Liberia
  • Nigeria
  • Sierra Leone


Why Does Learning American English Matter?

American English is the most widely spoken language in entertainment and industry, and there are just more people who speak it around the world. But that is not to say that you should not learn British English at all. The fact remains that no language or dialect is intrinsically superior or inferior to another. They are just not the same.

People frequently hold strong opinions on which English is superior, clearer, or easier to grasp. While this may be true for that specific person, there is no proof that one variety is simpler to learn or comprehend than the other.

Keep in mind that speaking English increases your chances of finding an excellent job in a multinational corporation, whether in your home country or elsewhere. Learning English is also vital for socializing, enjoyment, and employment because it is the language of international communication, the media, and the internet. This is a fact about the English language, regardless of which English you prefer. 




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