Because I’m gearing up to go to university in the UK, and I’ve been brought up to know Americanese, I decided I should look into any potential problems I might come across when writing my essays at uni. I was mostly thinking along the lines of punctuation rules, though as it turns out, there’s quite a few differences!
Singular and Plural Group Nouns
Group nouns are nouns (person, place, or thing) that have to do with a group of people or beings. So, a pack of wolves, the government, the staff, a team, etc. Apparently, while Americans will always have a singular verb following, depending on the context, British English with have either singular or plural.
The examples given by One Stop English are as follows:
My team is winning.
The other team are all sitting down.
Which team is winning?
Which team is/are losing?
To go a little further, The Writer makes mention that Americans have a tendency to view brand names as teams, and thus will treat them as a single entity, while in British English, it is treated as a plural.
Amazon have changed their logo
Google is making a new phone
Take and Have
In American English, some verbs use “take” in front of them. However, in similar verbs, British English would use “have” instead of “take”. .
Have a shower –> Take a shower
Have a holiday –> Take a vacation
Have a nap –> Take a nap
We’ll work with the generic term of past tense, for now, and just ignore the various past tenses that branch out from taking about events which have gone. However, there are some terms that are used one way in one country, and differently in the other. I’ll only point out the blaring ones, but you can read the whole of the table here.
American | British
Gotten | got
Proven | proved
Stank/stunk | stank
Woke/waked | woke
When looking at the spelling differences between American English and British English, it’s easy to see the connection to France. Many of the British English spellings are similar to the French spellings of similar words. I can’t say why American English decided they were cool enough to alter language and the history that comes with it, but I suppose that makes a statement about the country itself.
There are some of the obvious ones, that if you speak a latin-based alnaguage on the side of English, happen to live very close to Canada, or just love to read British books, you’ll already know. These ones are the general insertion of the letter u into certain, or the reversing of “er” in other words:
There are exceptions to this. Words like acre, massacre, mediocre, and ogre all carry the same spelling in all versions of English.
Words which end in -og in American English are not exempt from spelling alterations. In British English, this will glue back on some vowels, –ue, to be precise. Words like:
However, as both SpellZone and my American spellcheck assure me, the –ue ending is acceptable in US spellings as well.
Other words trade out an s for a z (by the way, in the UK, and basically every other English-speaking country other than the US, a z is called “zed”). In words ending in -ize in American English, the British kick out the zed and turn it to an s:
However, in American English, we hold on to the s, in some words, while in British English, it might be a c. These are generally words ending in –se such as:
But it gets a little more complicated than that. While in American English, we’re happy to have many words have the same spelling for their verb as their noun, in English spelling they will change the spelling.
American English, words like practice, license, and advice are all spelled the same regardless of whether they’re an action word or a thing. However, in British English:
Noun | Verb
Practice | Practise
Licence | License
Advice | Advise
Then there’s the obscure ones, such as words written with a ae/oe in British English. Those words, when translated into American spellings, shift to just an e. So, words like:
This gets interesting. Let’s start with the basic, present tense. There are American English words which end in -oll and -ill, which when written in British English, drop one of the l’s:
However, if something generally ends in -ll (like skill), but there is a modifier on it which turns it to an adjective, American English will just tack the modifier on without change. British English, will get rid of the l’s in the root word before doing this:
If there is a modifier which alters the verb, but still keeps it a verb, then there is no change in spelling. Example words are:
There is an exception to this rule, and unfortunately, I can’t give any details as to why this is an exception. But in British English, turning label to past tense warrants an extra l in there at the end, whereas in American English, it doesn’t.
There is a more extensive list of these anomalies here, or you can see more sources in the links at the bottom of the page.
Odd ones out
There are more odd ones out, and a few will be listed here (American spelling first, as has been the trend in this post), though a more extensive list can be found this Quora Forum.
Tires–>tyres (the wheel)
Most people have read something published in the UK, and might have spotted the difference when it comes to quotation marks. In the US, the double marks are used (as you’ll have seen earlier in this post, but incase you haven’t, these are “double quotations”). In British literature, you’ll see the ‘single quotations’. This is also the only reason why I made sure every one of my Harry Potter books were purchased in the UK.
With other punctuation
This one gets a little tricky to explain, so I’ll take a quote right from the Oxford University Style Guide:
“If the quote would have required punctuation in its original form, place the punctuation inside the quotation marks. (if it is unclear, try writing the whole sentence out without quotation marks and ‘he said’ etc, and replace the resulting punctuation.)
Bob likes cheese –> ‘Bob’, I said, ‘likes cheese.’ OR
‘Bob likes cheese,’ I said.
Bob, do you like cheese? –> ‘Bob,’ I asked, ‘do you like cheese?’
Out, damn’d spot!–> ‘Out,’ said Lady Macbeth, ‘damn’d spot!’
‘You’re engaged to Florence?’ I yipped, looking at him with wild surmise.
“Place any punctuation which does not belong to the quote outside the quotation marks (except closing punctuation if the end of the quote is also the end of the sentence).
After all, tomorrow is another day. –>
‘After all,’ said Scarlett, ‘tomorrow is another day.’ OR
‘After all, tomorrow’, said Scarlett, ‘is another day.’
‘The kitchen’, he said, ‘is the heart of the home.’”
This actually has nothing to do with the use of it, but rather the terminology. In American English, the end of the sentence is generally (though not always) concluded with a period. In British English, it’s concluded with a full stop. It’s the same dot at the end, just different ways of comment on it.
Likewise, while there is different terminology for the end of a sentence, there is different terminology at the beginning of it (as well as other applications). The first word of a sentence is always capitalized/capitalised. In the UK, it’s common to say capitalised lettering and small letters, whereas in the States, they’ll be referred to as upper and lower cases.
There are two meanings for the word “bracket”. In the US, a bracket is the square looking things that we might use in math problems, and sometimes in journalism and quoting: [ ]. In the UK, however, they are the rounder ones, the ones that are called, in the US, parentheses, as well as the square ones. They differentiate in terms, calling them round brackets ( ) and square brackets [ ].
- According to One Stop English, in international classrooms—so classes on both sides of the pond—both forms of English are accepted.
- There are plenty of online sources if confusion does occur
- If you start with British English in a piece/paper, carry through in British English style. Likewise with American English. The moral of the story, is don’t mix and match.
- The Writer: “British vs American English”
- American Journal Experts: “American English vs. British English in Research Manuscripts: A Free Guide” by Casi Newell
- The Site Wizard: “4 Things to Be Aware of When Writing English Content for an International Audience” by Christopher Heng
- One Stop English: “Differences in American and British English Grammar – article” by Kerry Maxwell and Lindsey Clandfield
- Oxford University Style Guide
- SpellZone: “Difference between British English and American English Spelling”
Have you noticed some key gramatical differences between Englishes? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments!