American and British English: Differences in Grammar Part 2
Use of the Subjunctive
In American English it is particularly common to use subjunctive after words like essential, vital, important, suggest, insist, demand, recommend, ask, advice etc. (Subjunctive is a special kind of present tense which has no -s in the third person singular. It is commonly used in that clauses after words which express the idea that something is important or desirable.) In British English the subjunctive is formal and unusual. British people normally use should + Infinitive or ordinary present and past tenses.
- It is essential that every child get an opportunity to learn. (AE)
- It is essential that every child gets an opportunity to learn. (BE)
- It is important that he be told. (AE)
- It is important that he should be told. (BE)
- She suggested that I see a doctor. (AE)
- She suggested that I should see a doctor. (BE)
- She insisted that I go with her. (AE)
- She insisted that I should go with her. (BE)
Collective nouns like jury, team, family, government etc., can take both singular and plural verbs in British English. In American English they normally take a singular verb.
- The committee meets/meet tomorrow. (BE)
- The committee meets tomorrow. (AE)
- The team is/are going to lose. (BE)
- The team is going to lose. (AE)
Auxiliary verb + do
In British English it is common to use do as a substitute verb after an auxiliary verb. Americans do not normally use do after an auxiliary verb.
- May I have a look at your papers? You may (do) (BE)
- You may. (AE)
- You were supposed to have finished your homework before you went to bed.
- I have (done). (BE)
- I have. (AE)
As if/ like
In American English it is common to use like instead of as if/ as though. This is not correct in British English.
- He talks as if he knew everything. (BE)
- He talks like/as if he knew everything. (AE)
In American English it is also common to use were instead of was in unreal comparisons.
- He talks as if he was rich. (BE)
- He talks as if he were rich. (AE)
The indefinite pronoun One
Americans normally use he/she, him/her, his/her to refer back to one. In British English one is used throughout the sentence.
- One must love one's country. (BE)
- One must love his/her country. (AE)
Mid position adverbs
In American English mid position adverbs are placed before auxiliary verbs and other verbs. In British English they are placed after auxiliary verbs and before other verbs.
- He has probably arrived now. (BE)
- He probably has arrived now. (AE)
- I am seldom late for work. (BE)
- I seldom am late for work. (AE)
Sections in this articleAmerican and British English: differences in grammar - I
American and British English: differences in grammar - II
American and British English: differences in vocabulary - I
American and British English: differences in vocabulary - II
American and British English: differences in usage - I
American and British English: differences in usage - II
American and British English: differences in spelling