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Australian English vs. American English vs. British English

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When you’re learning English in a classroom, online or offline, it’s easy to forget that there’s not just one universal English. Even for native speakers, these different “Englishes” can be really confusing!

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English
Australian English vs. American English vs. British English

Take Australian English, for example. I’m originally from the United States and I moved to Australia over seven years ago. I remember when went to the drugstore for the first time to buy some shampoo. Well, first of all, when I checked Google Maps for “Drugstores”, there were no results. That’s when I found out that in Australia, they’re called chemists or pharmacies. So I found the nearest one, picked out my shampoo and took it to the register. The girl working there asked me about my day … or at least I thought she did! Even though we both spoke English, after being in Australia for only a day I couldn’t understand her accent or some of the words she was using!

Like a lot of native English speakers, I expected the differences between our versions of English to be small and easy to ignore, but it’s important for us — and for students — to remember that these differences can be challenging (and fun)!

Pronunciation

The most obvious difference between Australian English, American English, and British English is in the accents or pronunciation. This difference is especially noticeable in vowel sounds. Check out Korean Billy’s excellent YouTube videos for great explanations (and demonstrations!) of the different accents.

The letter   can also be very tricky! American English is famous for its clear /r/ sounds, whereas British or Australian English lose the /r/ sound if it’s at the end of a word or syllable. For example, the word “smarter” is pronounced /smɑrtər/ in American English, but /smɑːtə/ in British and Australian English.

In addition to the pronunciation of words, the intonation (the pitch of your voice) can be very different in different countries. For example, if a person asks a yes/no question in American English, their voice goes up at the end. But if a person asks that question in Australian English or British English, their voice would go down!

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Pronunciation
Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Intonation

And it gets even more confusing when you remember that in each country, there are many different accents! There’s not just one “Australian English” pronunciation, there are several! For example, a person from Melbourne will sound slightly different to one from Cairns.

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Vocabulary (especially slang)

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Vocabulary

The next difference you’ll probably notice is in vocabulary. Lots of everyday words are different in different English-speaking countries, like candy (USA), sweets (UK) and lollies (AU).

There are also huge differences in slang! Casual words like “sanga” may be perfectly clear in Australia, but no one in the USA would know that they’re talking about a sandwich! Check out these fun resources for more interesting slang differences:

Australian words that mean something different in the US
British words that mean something different in the US

Spelling

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling
Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling

Spelling is the next major difference between these different varieties of English. The good news is that here, there are only two spelling systems, not three! The UK and Australia share the same spelling, while the United States decided to create their own spelling system. (We’ve always been a little rebellious…) Here are some examples:

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling Table 1
Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling Table 1

Grammar

Probably the least noticeable difference between American English, Australian English and British English is grammar. There are only a few small examples, like collective nouns or past tenses.

Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling Table 1
Australian English vs. American English vs. British English Spelling Table 1

One other difference is the use of the Present Perfect (for example, I have eaten dinner already). This is much more common in Australian English and British English. In the United States, people will use the past simple more often — they would say, “I ate dinner already.”

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Sometimes the differences between Australian English, American English and British English can be frustrating and difficult. But you should remember that overall, these three varieties of English are more similar than different, and the little differences are what give a language its unique “flavor”!

Written by: Lucy

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All Comments 7
  • Very interesting. I’m Canadian, and we in Canada have a spelling system that’s sort of in between Britain’s and the United States’. For instance, we’ll write “organized labour” rather than “organized labor” (US spelling) or “organised labour” (British or Australian, for that matter) – as far as I know, there’s no jurisdiction where they would write “organised labor.” The fact is that even though we’re a Commonwealth country – our coins have the Queen on them, for example – we’ve become very Americanized due to our proximity to the US. So that makes us probably the least “Anglo” of all the Commonwealth nations, including Australia.

    • gregory brandy says:

      like wise in the Caribbean, we switch between spellings and there are no penalties for it, i was surprised when i researched and was told that one should stick to either language form when writing. very informative article though now i have to readjust and train myself over (im 17, in college so you might figure. lol)

  • I’m English and need to say that not all English accents lose the hard “rr” sound. It depends where they live. West Country accents, such as Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Dorset all have the hard “rr” sound. Many of them also pronounce their “T” like a lot of Americans, almost like an “L” sound. For example, if they are saying “See you later”, for someone from where I live in Devon, they pronounce it, “See you layl’rrr”, almost dropping the “e” after the “l” sounding “t” but then they say a strong “r” sound. There is a place in Devon called Exeter, which is how I pronounce is, as I’m not originally from this area, but someone from Devon will usually pronounce it “Exel’rrr”, again tending to drop the third “e” and pronouncing an “L” sounding “T” and hard “rrr” sound. The Pilgrim Fathers sailed to America from Plymouth where a lot of them were from and that’s partly how American’s got the hard “r” in their accents and the almost “L” sound in their “T”. For instance someone from Devon would usually pronounce ghetto as ghello.

    Some Nort West English, such as Lancashire sometimes have the “rr” sound, though a totally different accent to South West Country Devon, etc, accents.
    I’m half Irish but am English born with a London, almost Cockney accent. I don’t pronounce the hard “r” and I quite often drop the “t” as in ghetto becomes “ghe-o” (say gheh and and o together quickly then you have it).
    There are a lot of similarities between some Australian accents and some London accents. I’ve had people asking me in the past if I’m Australian because of some of my vowel sounds are similar.

    With regards to forgot/forgotten, I personally say either, “I forgot about it” or “I had forgotten about it”, not “I had forgot about it”.

  • watching a tv show made in AU I noticed they shorten many words like mosquito to mozzie (sp?)
    generator to genny, presents to prezzies. Is that a correct observation? I’m from US, love to hear different accents!!

    • Absolutely! I’m an English teacher in Australia (I’m Aussie born and bred) and I made a list for some students on the shortening of our words. I didn’t actually realise that we use it so frequently and that it’s even adapted into our “formal” speech. Some examples-
      Arvo – afternoon
      Servo – service station
      Rego – registration
      Maccas – McDonalds
      Relos – relatives

  • Not all American accents have a hard R at the end of a word. I left the USA to live in Australia from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I talked like a Kennedy! Aussies would always look puzzled when I talked, as they understood I spoke like an American and something completely different–dropping R’s as they do. I’d constantly be asked where I was from. I’ve been living in Alabama for almost 30 years now, so my Massachusetts accent is mostly gone, but sometimes a word is so strong… I’ll still drop the R, or put one on the end, like JFK’s Cuber for Cuba.

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