British and American English

9 British and American English

British and American English can be differentiated in three main ways:

1  Differences in language use conventions: meaning and spelling of words, grammar and punctuation differences.

2  Vocabulary. There are a number of important differences, particularly in business terminology.

3  Differences in the ways of using English dictated by the different cultural values of the two countries.

It is necessary to choose between British or American English and then apply the conventions of the version you choose consistently. If you muddle up British and American standards, it implies that you do not understand that they are different.


Here are some of the key differences in language use conventions.

1  Dates. In British English the standard way of writing dates is to put the day of the month as a figure, then the month (either as a figure or spelled out) and then the year. For example, 19 September 1973 or 19.09.73. The standard way of writing dates in American English is to put the month first (either as a figure or spelled out), then the day of the month, then the year. For example, September 19th 1973 or 9/19/73. Commas are also frequently inserted after the day of the month in the USA. For example, September 19, 1973.

2  o and ou. In British English, the standard way of writing words which might include either the letter o or the letters ou is to use the ou form. For example, colour, humour, honour, behaviour. The standard way of writing such words in American English is to use only o. For example, color, humor, honor, behavior.

3  Through. In American English, the word through (or, in very informal use, thru) can be used to mean until. For example, ‘September 19th thru October 1st’, would be in British English ‘19 September until 1 October’.

4  Hyphens. Hyphens are often used in British English to connect prefixes with the main word. For example, pre-emption, pre-trial, co-operation. They are less common in American English. For example, preemption, pretrial, cooperation.

5  z or s? In British English, s is generally used in such words as recognise, authorise. The letter z is used in American English in such words as recognize or authorize. However, it is not wrong to use z in such words when using British English as standard.

Note, however, that some words must always end in -ise whether you are using British or American English standards. These include:

advertise advise
arise comprise
compromise demise
despise devise
disguise enfranchise
excise exercise
franchise improvise
incise merchandise
premise revise
supervise surmise
surprise televise