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Verbs in American and British English

American and British English are largely similar to each other, but do differ from each other in minor ways. Some of these differences relate to the use of verbs in English, and consist of variations in spelling, morphology, syntax, and pronunciation.

vs. Spelling differences

For verbs ending in the suffix -ise/-ize (e.g. organise/organize, recognise/recognize), the suffix –ize is usually preferred in American English, while in British English –ise is more common (but both are acceptable). Similarly, for verbs ending in -yse/-yze (e.g. analyse/analyze, paralyse/paralyze) American English prefers the suffix –yze while British English prefers –yse. There are some exceptions; verbs always ending in –ise include advertise, disguise, exercise, and surprise, while the verb capsize always ends in –ize.

  • UK: I do not recognise him.
  • US: I do not recognize him.
  • UK: We need to analyse the results of the survey.
  • US: We need to analyze the results of the survey.

Verbs with more than one syllable ending in –l (e.g. cancel, fuel, travel) often double the final letter before the suffixes –ed and –ing in British English (cancelled, cancelling), but not in American English (canceled, canceling). However, both British and American English double the final –l in some verbs where the stress falls on the last syllable (e.g. control, controlled).

  • UK: He travelled to the Bahamas.
  • US: He traveled to the Bahamas.

vs. Morphological differences

In British English, some verbs form the past tense with the suffix –t, while in American English they have regular past tense forms ending in –ed. Examples of these include the verbs burn, dream, learn, lean, smell, spell, spoil, and leap. Conversely, there are a few verbs that conjugate regularly in British English, but have irregular past tense forms in American English, including dive, fit, quit, and sneak (with past tense forms dove, fit, quit, and snuck in American English).

  • UK: I learnt English at school.
  • US: I learned English at school.
  • UK: The swimmer dived into the water.
  • US: The swimmer dove into the water.

The verb to get has past participle got in British English; in American English the alternate form gotten is more common:

  • UK: He has got used to living abroad.
  • US: He has gotten used to living abroad.

vs. Syntactic differences

In British English the auxiliary shall may be used to form the future tense, while American English only uses the auxiliary will:

  • UK: I shall arrive early.
  • US: I will arrive early.

For possession, British English uses the phrasal verb have got more commonly than American English, which normally just uses have:

  • UK: Have you got a lighter?
  • US: Do you have a lighter?

When omitting a repeated verb, British English often uses do where American English simply omits the verb altogether:

  • UK: Have you finished your homework? I have done.
  • US: Have you finished your homework? I have.

When referring to a collective noun, British English may use plural agreement on the verb, while American English normally uses singular agreement:

  • UK: The team are trying to succeed.
  • US: The team is trying to succeed.

vs. Pronunciation differences

Two-syllable verbs ending in –ate (e.g. donate, locate, rotate, translate) usually are pronounced differently in British and American English; in British English these are stressed on the last syllable (do-NATE, lo-CATE) while in American English they are stressed on the first syllable (DO-nate, LO-cate). Exceptions include the verbs create, debate, and negate which are pronounced the same in British and American English. Verbs with more than two syllables ending in -ate typically are pronounced the same in both varieties of English, but there are some that are pronounced differently, such as elongate (British E-lon-gate, American e-LON-gate).