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British or American English?


  • Page extent: 364 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.53 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521379939 | ISBN-10: 0521379938)

British or American English?

Speakers of British and American English display some striking differences in their use of grammar. In this detailed survey, John Algeo considers questions such as:

*Who lives on a street, and who lives in a street?

*Who takes a bath, and who has a bath?

*Who says Neither do I, and who says Nor do I?

*After “thank you”, who says Not at all and who says You're welcome?

*Whose team are on the ball, and whose team is?

Containing extensive quotations from real-life English on both sides of the Atlantic, collected over the past twenty years, this is a clear and highly organized guide to the differences – and the similarities – in the grammar of British and American speakers. Written for those with no prior knowledge of linguistics, it shows how these grammatical differences are linked mainly to particular words, and provides an accessible account of contemporary English as it is actually used.

JOHN ALGEO is Professor Emeritus in the Department of English, University of Georgia, Athens. His previous posts include Fulbright Senior Research Scholar, University College London (1986–7), Guggenheim Fellow (1986–7), and University of Georgia Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor (1988–94). Over the past forty years he has contributed papers to a wide variety of books and journals, including 91 book reviews.


The aim of this series is to provide a framework for original studies of English, both present-day and past. All books are based securely on empirical research, and represent theoretical and descriptive contributions to our knowledge of national varieties of English, both written and spoken. The series covers a broad range of topics and approaches, including syntax, phonology, grammar, vocabulary, discourse, pragmatics and sociolinguistics, and is aimed at an international readership.

General editor
MERJA KYTӦ (Uppsala University)

Editorial Board

Bas Aarts (University College London), John Algeo (University of Georgia), Susan Fitzmaurice (Northern Arizona University), Richard Hogg (University of Manchester), Charles F. Meyer (University of Massachusetts)

Already published in this series:

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Infinitival Complement Clauses in English: a Study of Syntax in Discourse
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Apposition in Contemporary English
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Functional Sentence Perspective in Written and Spoken Communication
Izchak M. Schlesinger
Cognitive Space and Linguistic Case
Katie Wales
Personal Pronouns in Present-day English
Laura Wright
The Development of Standard English, 1300–1800: Theories, Descriptions, Conflicts
Charles F. Meyer
English Corpus Linguistics: Theory and Practice
Stephen J. Nagle and Sara L. Sanders (eds.)
English in the Southern United States
Anne Curzan
Gender Shifts in the History of English
Kingsley Bolton
Chinese Englishes
Irma Taavitsainen and Päivi Pahta (eds.)
Medical and Scientific Writing in Late Medieval English
Elizabeth Gordon, Lyle Campbell, Jennifer Hay, Margaret Maclagan, Andrea Sudbury and Peter Trudgill
New Zealand English: Its Origins and Evolution
Raymond Hickey (ed.)
Legacies of Colonial English
Merja Kytö, Mats Rydén and Erik Smitterberg (eds.)
Nineteenth Century English: Stability and Change

British or American English?

A Handbook of Word and Grammar Patterns


University of Georgia

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© John Algeo 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

ISBN-13 978-0-521-37137-7 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-37137-6 hardback
ISBN-13 978-0-521-37993-9 paperback
ISBN-10 0-521-37993-8 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


  Preface page xi
  Acknowledgments xii
  Introduction 1
  British and American as national varieties 1
  Differences between British and American 2
  The basis of this study 2
  Sources of comparative statistics and citations 4
  Conventions and organization of this study 6
Part I Parts of Speech 9
1   Verbs 11
  1.1  Derivation 11
  1.2  Form 12
  1.3  Verb phrases 24
  1.4  Functions 31
2   Determiners 43
  2.1  Definite article 43
  2.2  Indefinite article 49
  2.3  Possessive construction 52
  2.4  No determiner versus some determiner 53
  2.5  Predeterminers and postdeterminers 64
3   Nouns 69
  3.1  Derivation 69
  3.2  Form 76
  3.3  Function 86
  3.4  Names and titles 102
  3.5  Genitive constructions 104
4   Pronouns 107
  4.1  Personal 107
  4.2  Impersonal 110
  4.3  Demonstrative 111
  4.4  Relative 112
  4.5  Interrogative 114
  4.6  Indefinite 114
  4.7  Expletive 115
  4.8  Case 116
5   Adjectives 119
  5.1  Derivation 119
  5.2  Frequency and collocation 126
  5.3  Comparison 128
  5.4  Adjective order 131
6   Adverbs 133
  6.1  General 133
  6.2  Disjuncts 146
  6.3  Comparison 148
  6.4  Adverb order 148
  6.5  Adverbial particles 151
7   Qualifiers 153
  7.1  Modifying adjectives or adverbs 153
  7.2  Modifying prepositional phrases 157
  7.3  Modifying comparative structures 158
8   Prepositions 159
  8.1  Choice of preposition 159
  8.2  Omission of any preposition 194
  8.3  Omission of the prepositional object 197
  8.4  Prepositional phrase versus noun adjunct 197
  8.5  Order of numbers with by 197
9   Conjunctions 199
  9.1  Coordinating conjunctions 199
  9.2  Subordinating conjunctions 201
10   Interjections 207
Part II Syntactic Constructions 215
11   Complementation 217
  11.1  Complementation of verbs 217
  11.2  Complementation of nouns 251
  11.3  Complementation of adjectives 257
  11.4  Complementation of adverbs 261
12   Mandative constructions 263
  12.1  Mandative present indicative 264
  12.2  Mandative past indicative 266
13   Expanded predicates 269
  13.1  Five “light” verbs in British and American 270
  13.2  Modification and complementation of the expanded predicate noun 276
  13.3  Other expanded-predicate-like constructions 277
14   Concord 279
  14.1  Verb and pronoun concord with collective nouns 279
  14.2  Verb concord in other problematical cases 285
15   Propredicates 287
  15.1  Propredicate do 287
  15.2  Complements of propredicates 292
16   Tag questions 293
  16.1  Canonical form 293
  16.2  Anomalous forms 293
  16.3  Frequency of use 296
  16.4  Rhetorical uses 297
  16.5  Other forms and uses 302
17   Miscellaneous 305
  17.1  Focus 305
  17.2  Phatic language 308
  17.3  Numbers 310
  17.4  Dates 311
  Bibliography of British book citation sources 313
  Bibliography of studies, dictionaries, and corpora 319
  Index of words 325


The study on which this book is based began about forty years ago as a casual interest in the subject engendered by Thomas Pyles’s history textbook, The Origins and Development of the English Language (now in its fifth revised edition, Algeo and Pyles 2004). It was focused during a year (1986–7) the author spent in the Survey of English Usage at University College London as a Fulbright Senior Research Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellow. In those days, the Survey was only beginning to be converted into electronic form, so at first research involved hunting through paper slips and copying information by hand. Later, as the Survey was computerized, electronic searches became possible, initially only at the Survey office and later through a CD anywhere.

   The present study later benefited from the collection of citations made by Allen Walker Read for a historical dictionary of British lexical items. My wife, Adele, and I then set out to supplement Read’s files with citations we collected from more recent material than he had used, including citations for grammatical as well as lexical matters. Our own corpus of British citations is now about three million words in size. That is not large for a contemporary data file, but it consists entirely of citations that we had reason to suspect exemplified British use.

   Work on this book was delayed by a variety of other duties to which its author had fallen heir. It is now presented, with painful awareness of its limitations, but, as the French are fond of saying, faute de mieux. Undoubtedly, British and American English are grammatically different in ways not reported here. And some of the grammatical differences reported here may be less certain than this book suggests because of difficulties in identifying and substantiating those differences or because of the misapprehension of the author. Nevertheless, I hope that it will be helpful in pinpointing various areas of structural difference between the two major national varieties of the language.


The debts owed for help in producing this book are more than the author can pay. The greatest debt for a labor of love is to his wife, Adele Silbereisen Algeo, who has assisted him in this, as in all other activities during the nearly fifty years of their married life. In particular, she has been the major collector of British citations that compose the corpus from which most of the illustrative quotations have been taken. She has also critiqued and proofed the text of the book at every stage of its production.

   Gratitude is also due to a succession of editors at the Cambridge University Press who have, with kind hearts and gentle words, tolerated a succession of delays in the book’s preparation. Likewise gratitude is due to the Cambridge University Press for permission to use the Cambridge International Corpus, without which statements of relative frequency in British and American use would be far more intuitional and far less data-based than they are.

   I am indebted to a variety of scholarly studies, both general and specific, for their insights into British-American differences. These are cited in the text of this book and listed in the bibliography of scholarly works at the end. I am particularly indebted to the works by Randolph Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, and Jan Svartvik (1985), Michael Swan (1995), and Pam Peters (2004). For existing scholarship that has not been cited here, I can only say “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.”

   Individuals who, over the years, have kindly sent Adele and me quotations that have been entered into our corpus include notably Catherine M. Algeo, Thomas Algeo, L. R. N. Ashley, Carmen Acevedo Butcher, Ronald Butters, Tom Creswell, Charles Clay Doyle, Virginia McDavid, Michael Montgomery, and Susan Wright Sigalas.

   Finally, and in a sense initially, I am grateful for the support of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and the Fulbright Senior Research Scholar Program for support at the Survey of English Usage, University of London, during the academic year 1986–7, when the project was begun, and to the now departed Sidney Greenbaum, who as Quain Professor of English Language and Literature invited me to the Survey

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