Grammatical Differences: Australian vs. American English
  • 4-minute read
  • 7th July 2019

Grammatical Differences: Australian vs. American English

Previously, we’ve looked at some common spelling differences between Australian English and American English. But did you know there are differences between Australian and American grammar, too?

These are easy to miss if you’re not careful, so check out our guide to some key grammatical differences between English in Australia and the USA.

Preposition Switching in American English

One difference between Australian and American grammar is our use of prepositions (i.e. words that indicate a relationship between other words). For example, while we might look forward to relaxing ‘at the weekend’, our American cousins prefer to relax ‘on the weekend’. Other prepositions that may get switched include (Australian/American English):

  • In / At (I’m studying maths at college. / I’m studying math in college.)
  • For / In (I haven’t been there for years! / I haven’t been there in years!)
  • To / Through (I work Monday to Friday. / I work Monday through Friday.)

These distinctions are less clear than they used to be thanks to the spread of American English around the world. But they’re still worth watching out for, especially if you are writing for a US-based audience.

Verb Tense when Discussing Past Events

Australian and American English often differ when describing a past event that has consequences in the present. In Australian English, we prefer the present perfect tense. For instance:

Australian English: David has eaten too much, so he feels unwell.

But American English uses the simple past tense in similar situations:

American English: David ate too much, so he feels unwell.

The same distinction applied when a sentence contains a past-time adverb, like ‘just’ or ‘already’. For example:

Australian English: Beryl has just taken a painkiller.

American English: Beryl just took a painkiller.

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These are not major issues, but you may still want to think about which tense you use when writing about past events in American English.

Irregular Verb Forms

Some irregular verbs can differ in Australian and American English. This is rare, with most verb forms being the same between dialects. But there are some differences you need to know. The most famous example is probably ‘gotten’, which isn’t used in Australian English.

In American English, however, ‘gotten’ is the past participle of ‘got’:

American English: David has gotten ill from eating too much.

Australian English: David has got ill from eating too much.

Another word to look out for is ‘dove’, which is the simple past tense of ‘dive’ in US English. In Australian English, however, we’d simply say ‘dived’. As a result, ‘dove’ is hardly ever used as a verb in Australian English. In fact, you are only likely to see it used as a noun (i.e. a pigeon-like bird).

The question of how to describe a diving dove remains open.
The question of how to describe a diving dove remains open.

Finally, American English does not use ‘-t’ endings for past tense verbs like ‘learnt’ and ‘burnt’. Instead, these words are all treated as regular verbs in the United States. As such, make sure to spell terms like this with an ‘-ed’ ending if you are using US English (e.g. ‘learned’ or ‘burned’).

Does It Really Matter?

Before we leave you, let’s reflect on how much the issues above matter. In simple terms, the answer is ‘not a lot’. Australian and American English are much closer in grammar than spelling or vocabulary, so most people simply ignore the differences. And the lines between Australian and American English grammar are becoming increasingly blurred.

However, you may need to be aware of the differences between American and British grammar when:

  • Writing for a specifically American audience
  • Working for a US-based company or organisation
  • Studying at a US-based university or school

Thus, if any of the above apply to you, keep an eye out for grammar in your writing that sounds “Australian” and think about what the US equivalent might be. And if you’d like any more help localising your language in writing, don’t forget to have your work proofread.

Comments (2)
17th December 2021 at 02:32
What about might of, is that considered correct grammar in Australia? I was always taught might have is correct and might of is incorrect.
    17th December 2021 at 14:20
    Hi, Kristin. 'Might of' is always incorrect, regardless of the dialect. The major factor there is that 'of' is a preposition and 'have' is a verb, so they serve different roles in English and there's not really any situation in which they would be interchangeable.

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