By Anna Hasper

25 January 2024 - 12:31

Students preparing for IELTS

Do I use British or American English when taking the IELTS test? In this article you learn about the differences between the two and know if one of them is favoured in IELTS.

Do you wonder which English is best for the IELTS test, British or American English? Have you heard stories that you only get a high band score when you use British English in the IELTS Speaking test? Or maybe you have heard the opposite? 

In this post, we will explore some of the main differences between British and American English before helping you choose which English is best for you to use.

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 Do I need to speak British or American English in the IELTS test?

It is important to remember that the ‘I’ in IELTS stands for International. That means that IELTS does not score one type of English more than the others. As long as your vocabulary, grammar, spelling and pronunciation are correct, you are fine! 

The best approach is to use the kind of English you are most comfortable with. If you have mostly studied British English, use that in the test. If you have mostly experienced American English, work on getting that right instead. 

Now, let’s take a look at the differences between these two versions of English, so you know which English you’re more comfortable communicating in for the purposes of taking the IELTS test. 

 What are the main differences between British English and American English? 

British and American English have many things in common, but it is good to know about some of the differences in vocabulary, pronunciation, spelling, and grammar structures. 

 1. Differences in Vocabulary

There are many vocabulary differences in British or American English. For some items, British and American English use different words. For example, ‘flat’ in British English becomes ‘apartment’ in American English, ‘holiday’ becomes ‘vacation’, and ‘film’ becomes ‘movie’. 

One of the most obvious differences is the difference in spelling of common words. Below are some of the main differences with some examples.

 

British English 

American English

Words ending in -our in British English end in -or in American English. 

colour 

favourite

neighbour

color

favorite 

neighbor

Words ending in -re  in British become -er in American English.

metre

theatre

kilometre

meter

theater

kilometer

Verbs ending in -ise in British become -ize in American English.

organise

realise

recognise

organize

realize

recognize

Interestingly, British and American English both use advice as a noun and advise as a verb. But British English differentiates between practice (a noun) and practise (a verb), whereas American English uses practice for both the verb and the noun.

2. Differences in Grammar

In addition, there are some grammar differences between the two. 

In British English, the present perfect is used to talk about actions in the recent past that have an effect on the present. The present perfect is also used in sentences with already, yet or recently. American English most often uses the present simple in both cases. 

British English 

American English

They have chosen a new government

They chose a new government

We’ve recently moved country

We recently moved country

There are also differences in the treatment of some verbs. Some verbs in British English are seen as irregular verbs and do not follow the verb+ed rule for the past simple. In American English, however, some of these verbs are treated as regular.

British English 

American English

leant

leaned

burnt

burned

learnt 

learned

spoilt

spoiled

leapt

leaped

dreamt

dreamed

Collective nouns also differ between British or American English. In British English nouns that cover a group of people, such as staff, government, company, group, team, etc. can be treated as singular or plural nouns. In American English these words are seen as singular nouns. 

British English 

American English

The staff is/are busy

The staff is busy

The team has/have won

The team has won

The use of prepositions was once quite different between British and American English, but nowadays the use is more similar. There are still a few differences. 

British English 

American English

At the weekend

On the weekend

Different to/from

Different from/than

3. Differences in Pronunciation

There are some concrete differences when it comes to British or American English: 

  • In American English, the /r/ sound is clearly pronounced in words like ‘car’ and ‘shark’. In British English, the /r/ is mostly silent in words unless followed by a vowel sound.
  • British speakers clearly pronounce the /t/ in ‘often’, ‘water’ and ‘got it’, but American speakers might drop the /t/ completely while saying ‘often’ or change the sound in ‘water’ and ‘got it’ to a /d/ sound. 
  • And of course, there are differences in the vowel sounds, for example in the word ‘can’t’ where British speakers would say /kant/ but Americans say /kaent/. 

There are more differences in how British and Americans say words, but even within the UK and America you hear a wide variety of different accents.  So don’t worry too much about taking on a specific accent, rather make sure your message is easy to understand. Focus on using sentences correctly, appropriate intonation and speaking clearly.

Which one does IELTS favour: British or American English? 

There is no preference when it comes to IELTS. Using British or American English won’t make any difference to your score. However, even though you do not need to be 100% consistent when writing, it is good practice to try and be as consistent as you can in using either British or American English spelling. 

So, if you choose to write ‘favourite’, try to write ‘organise’ instead of ‘organize’. And make sure you get used to listening to different accents because in the Listening section British, American, Australian, and other varieties of English accents might be used. 

Remember, your band score is not only based on accuracy, it is equally important in the Speaking and Writing sections to get your ideas across clearly and use a wide range of vocabulary and grammatical structures. So, focus on presenting your ideas clearly and in a logical order.  

Do you want to know more about how to best prepare for your upcoming IELTS test? Check IELTS Ready and join our Free IELTS preparation webinars