This article is published in the monday issues of Times of India.This article was written by Dr V Saraswathi.
America and Britain are said to be two different countries divided by one language. The Americans have tried their level best to Americanize English whereas the British have been desperately eager to preserve the purity of English Unfortunately, both have failed miserably. There are of course some differences between the two varieties, but they are peripheral, not central.
Let us look at some of the variations in grammar. Where the British use as if, Americans prefer like, as in the story below:
Some tourists in the museum of Natural History were marveling at the dinosaur bones. One of them asked the curator, “Could you tell me how old these dinosaur bones are” Pat came the reply,”They are three million four years, six months old. “”You talk like you bred them! How can you tell their age so precisely” The man replied,“ Well, the dinosaur bones were three million years old when I joined this place, and that was four and a half years ago.“
Our grammar teachers ask us to use shall with the first person and will with the second and third persons. Americans flout this rule. For them, shall does not exist. A British professor said, “I shall now illustrate what I have in mind,” and he erased the board.
An American professor would have used will instead. Adverbs of indefiniteness like just, already and yet are used with the present perfect tense in British English. The Americans use these words with the present perfect as well as past tense. Consider this conversation:
Patient: Everyone hates me.
Psychiatrist: Don’t be ridiculous. Everyone did not meet you yet!
Gotten is a hot favourite with Americans. They use it except when get means have. For the British, gotten is vulgar. The following conversation is acceptable in both varieties.
Joe: What sort of a car has your dad got
Jay: I can’t remember the name. I think it starts with T.
Joe: Really Ours only starts with petrol.
Notice the difference:
He has gotten a purse. (He possesses a purse.)
I got two sisters. (have)
Collective nouns like committee for instance, could be either singular or plural as the situation demands as per British grammar.
The committee is unanimous in their decision.
The committee are divided in their opinion.
In American English, all collective nouns are singular always. The distinguished Reception committee at Harvard University is searching in vain for Sir Walter Raleigh, descendant of the famous personage in English and American history, due for a course of lectures at Harvard. Seeing an impressive looking stranger, the committee accosts him.“Pardon me, are you. Are you Sir Walter Raleigh“ the chairman asks. “Thunders , No! “he answers with emphasis, ” I am Christopher Columbus. Sir Walter is in the next room playing cards with Queen Elizabeth.”