Friday, 20 September 2013

Britain Vs America: Round 1

Despite basically sharing a language, there are many differences British English and American English. Some of these differences are stealthy like little grammatical ninjas. The only reason I'm aware of some of them is because they've been pointed out as mistakes when I've been certain they’re not. Turns out we’re both sorta right.

It’s good to be aware of these things when critiquing work or when reading what critics have to say about your writing. So here’s yet another list. I hope it helps!

#1 : Mr and Mrs.


British preference is to leave out the full stop after abbreviation of titles where as American preference is to keep them in. Very simple.

But wait - the plot thickens. If the abbreviation ends with the different letter as the full word, a full stop is preferred. Take professor and prof. as an example. That’s why it may feel like there’s a pick and choose situation going on, although I can assure you there isn’t. It all makes perfect sense. It does. ;)

#2: s and z


I thought most writers were aware, but I’ve still had critics tell me realise, harmonise, organise, summarise etc. are errors. They’re not. American English opts for Z where Britain prefers ‘s’. There are loads of alternate spellings, such as for ‘color/colour’ and ‘honor/honour’. Before correcting typos, make sure it’s not just a cultural difference.

#3: Ellipsis – three dots or four?


Ellipsis are used to indicate that part of a sentence has been omitted. This is why I’m vouching for the British preference of only using 3 dots in a row. Ever.

Sometime in American usage, four full stops are used to mark that the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence. I find this preference a little silly – you’ve used punctuation to indicate how the sentence is incomplete and then used a full stop to say it is complete. Sounds contradictory to me.

I’ll take a deep breath and hum ‘preference’ for that one...

#4: Sneaked and snuck


‘Sneaked’ sounds better to me whereas ‘snuck’ may sound better to any Americans out there. Again, no need to draw out your red pens – it’s a matter of preference.

#5: While and Whilst


Whilst is an older version of the verb ‘while’. Apparently most Americans find ‘whilst’ too old time whereas British writers care a little less. This is the same for ‘among’ and ‘amongst’. Brits don’t care whereas you’d only find it in American writing when an author is trying to give his novel that aged feel.

However, ‘while’ and ‘whilst’ are not always interchangeable (unlike my other example). While can be a verb or a noun. Whilst can only be a verb. ‘For a while’ is the noun form and cannot be written ‘for a whilst’.Remember that, and you’re good to go. Or save a smidgen of brain power and only use ‘while’.


So here are five differences off the top of my head. My preferences are, funnily enough, entirely British. As long as you’re consistent, it really doesn’t matter which you use.