Three Differences Between US and UK English

Anyone who knows me knows I’m rather fond of Americanisms. But I’m also a fierce advocate for speaking and writing in the brand of English you grew up with. I fight hard to prevent Americanisms from cropping up in my speech and make sure I spell words the UK/Irish way. When I see my fellow Irish citizens, or British people, using American English, a very small part of me dies.

There’s always been a bit of friendly rivalry between speakers of US and UK English. American writers may argue that their spellings are simpler and hark back to an older, purer form of English. Writers in UK English may counter-argue that American spelling is dumbed down, or that their words are more authentic. In reality, neither is right or wrong. They’re just different, and different in many subtle ways that go beyond the question of colour/color.

Here are three of the main differences.

How Words Are Spelt (or spelled in US English!)

This is the most obvious one. In US English, words are often written the way they’re pronounced, whereas UK English may add or change. At night, a British person may wear pyjamas, while an American wears pajamas. A British sceptic becomes a US skeptic. US English tends to swap double letter ms or ls for single ones. Therefore, a British jeweller becomes a US jeweler, and a TV programme on the BBC would be described as a TV program if it is exported to the US.

How Sentences Are Punctuated

The debate continues to rage over the Oxford comma. Despite its name, this comma is favoured by American writers. This is the comma that appears before “and” in a list. So American writers would say, “For Christmas, I got chocolates, flowers, and a brand new TV. British writers would leave out the comma before and. Another significant difference in punctuation styles relates to quotation marks. In American books, double quotation marks (“”) are used to denote dialogue, and single quotation marks (‘’) are used for quotes within a sentence. It’s the exact opposite for UK English.

Vocabulary Quirks

us-english-chart
Difference between US and UK English bring richness to language.

Some words in US and UK English are very different from each other. This distinction is most obvious in the names of certain vegetables. In US English, an aubergine becomes an eggplant, a courgette becomes a zucchini and a beetroot becomes a rutabaga. Also, US English often uses older forms of English words such as, “I had gotten” instead of “I had got,” or describing graduates as alumni. Some words appear to be the same, but have very different meanings. A biscuit in UK English is a sweet treat, but to an American, it’s a type of savoury scone, often eaten at breakfast.

So as you can see, the differences between the two are vast, so vast that editors will specify to their clients whether they can offer editing in UK or US English, to ensure that the manuscript remains true to the chosen language. Because in the end, it’s up to you which version of English you choose. Neither are right or wrong; they are just gloriously different. The important thing is to understand the rules of the version you choose, and use it consistently in your writing.

Have you got an opinion on US or UK English? If you are in the UK or Ireland, do you find that there are sound professional reasons for using US English, or vice versa?

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4 thoughts on “Three Differences Between US and UK English

  1. Great post! My daughter watches and reads a lot of american cartoons/books and she notices a lot the difference (she’s 8) does make me chuckle that she announces they have spelt it wrong!

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