The Write Stuff
April 2024 Volume 20 Issue 4

American vs. British English

Do you turn on the closed captioning when watching British TV shows? You’re probably not alone, since it can be difficult to understand what the actors are saying, even though they’re speaking the same language we do in the U.S.—sort of.

Several years ago I was hired by a British travel company to Americanize its marketing materials. I quickly realized it was a bigger job than I anticipated, since we don’t just have different words for many things—trunk instead of boot and flashlight instead of torch, for instance—but there are lots of different spellings for the same words.

My focus here is on the latter, since I frequently see British spellings used by U.S. writers, likely inadvertently. Most people know British writers use our rather than orcolour vs. color, re rather than ercentre vs. center and ise rather than izespecialise vs. specialize—but here are some often overlooked “misspellings.”

U.S. Preferred               British Preferred
toward                                 towards
dialog                                  dialogue
among                                 amongst
check                                   cheque
spoiled                                 spoilt
while                                    whilst
esthetic                                aesthetic
donut                                   doughnut
gray                                     grey
sulfur                                   sulphur

It’s best to stick with either American or British English, since mixing them may result in readers thinking you’ve made spelling mistakes. And if you’re reading something written by an English writer, you may need to look up unfamiliar words and be aware of words that mean different things to us in the U.S. Two of my “favorites” are homely—which means ugly to Americans but comfortable, feeling like home to Brits and scheme—which has a negative connotation for Americans but means program in Britain.

I created a six-page document noting differences in American and British English for the above-noted client. I’m happy to share it with anyone who wants it; just send me an email.

A taxing day

I had to write something about taxes since this issue is going out on April 15. When most of us hear the word tax, we think of its most common definition: a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes. It also has a couple other definitions: a sum levied on members of an organization to defray expenses and a heavy demand. Thus, a sentence like this—The job taxed her strength.—actually has nothing to do with money.

Let’s agree

Subject-verb agreement is something we’re all taught in elementary school English class. Singular nouns take singular verbs—My sister has two children. Plural nouns take plural verbs—My sisters have straightened hair. But what about when the noun describes more than one person, such as family or team? A singular verb is used—My family is spread across the country. Our team is the best. Using are in those sentences would be wrong.

Published On: April 16th, 2024 / Categories: 2024 /

Recent Posts