Spend a few minutes on the internet and you will find dozens of blogs on every topic under the sun: from comments on the latest astronomical findings, to discussions of the intricacies of building flavor, to ponderings on the origins of obscure words in every language.
The act of blogging may not be as old as the internet itself, but what is considered by many to be the oldest blog made its appearance in 1994. Since then, blogging has only grown in popularity and is now a mainstay of most internet content.
In general, blogs are informal, especially when they are written as a hobby. They do not typically follow rigid formats or rules that dictate formal writing, such as avoiding the use of “and/or,” or adopting an objective viewpoint. However, even when used informally, English is not free of complications.
One aspect of the language that can bewilder even the most experienced writers is the differences between American and British English (let alone the countless other iterations of the language that exist on the basis of nationality–Australian, Indian, South African, etc).
While it is mainly formal writing that insists on consistency in the use of one type of English throughout a text, bloggers, too, would gain from following this advice. Depending on the target audience, bloggers ought to stick with the spelling, grammar and vocabulary of either American or British English in their posts.
Doing so will reduce the chances of confusion among readers, and the consistency is also likely to be appreciated by discerning readers.
Why Is There a Difference Between American English and British English?
The English language originated in England, and as the British Empire engaged in colonization, the language traveled to the colonies. However, at the time, several aspects of the language— spelling in particular—were not standardized. In fact, several new words were also added to English, borrowed from the native languages it encountered.
By the late 1700s in England, attempts had begun to standardize English spelling. However, these did not cross over to America in any significant way because by then, the American Revolution had begun.
A few years after American Independence, attempts to standardize the use of English began in the new nation as well. This was partly done to form a cohesive national identity distinct from their former colonial rulers.
Thus, differences began to appear between the English used in Britain and in America. Over time, the differences grew, and with different words gaining popularity in the two countries, we saw the emergence of two different styles. Today, there is a noticeable difference between American and British English (besides the accents).
The former is popular in the USA and Canada, whereas the latter is commonly used across the UK and several of its former colonies.
In the context of spelling, there are a few general points of difference between American and British English. Most of these are related to the way words are ended.
- British spellings that end in -ise or -yse, are spelled as -ize or -yze in American English.
For instance, it is analyse in British English, and analyze in American English.
- Words with -re endings in British English have -er endings in American English.
For example, theatre versus theater.
- Some words in British English have a silent e at the end, which is removed in American English. It is programme in British English, and program in American English. However, there are words in American English that sport the silent e at the end, such as judge. While the word on its own may be identical in British and American English, a difference arises when suffixes have to be added. Then, the British spelling retains the e, whereas American spelling drops it. Thus, it is judgement in British English, and judgment in American English.
- Words ending in -ence in British English end in -ense in their American versions; consider the difference between defence and defense.
- British -our endings are converted into -or endings in American English. A commonly recognized example of this is colour/color.
- When adding suffixes to words that end in a single l, British spelling doubles it, whereas American spelling does not. For instance, if you want to add -ing to the word travel, in British English it would be travelling, but the American spelling would traveling.
- On the other hand, if the original word ends with a double l (ll), the American spelling retains the doubling when adding a suffix, while in British English, one of the ls is dropped: will becomes willful in American English, and wilful in British English.
- British spellings also use double vowels, such as -ae- and -oe-. American English replaces them with an e. Therefore, while it is encyclopaedia in British spelling, it is encyclopedia in American English.
The differences in punctuation may seem minor; to the untrained eye, they are barely noticeable. However, they contribute a great deal to the reading experience, and in some instances, varying between the two types of English may cause some confusion among readers.
The major differences in punctuation in the British and American styles are as follows:
- Quotations: There are two points to note here.
- Periods and commas that are not a part of the quoted material may be included within the quotation marks in American English, but not in British English.
- The American style uses double quotes (“”) for initial quotations, and then single quotes (‘’) for any quotations within it. The British style reverses this convention.
Therefore, using the American style, it would be –
“He definitely loves to preach that ‘honesty is the best policy,’” she said.
In the British style, it would be written as follows:
‘He definitely loves to preach that “honesty is the best policy” ‘, she said.
- Date: The difference in the date format (it is mm dd yyyy in the American style and dd mm yyyy in the British style) is well known. The American style also includes a comma between the date and the year. Using the British style, it would be 5th May 2020, and in the American style, it would be May 5th, 2020.
- Time: When writing out time using the twenty-four hour system, the British style uses a period–13.00–while the American style uses a colon–13:00.
- Abbreviations: The American style uses periods in abbreviations: U.S.A., Dr., Ms.Claire; the British style does not: USA, Dr, Ms Claire.
Most rules of grammar, from simple to complex, remain the same in both American and British English. The differences, however, are subtle.
- Collective nouns: Collective nouns are treated as singular in American English, and as plural in British English. Therefore, it is “His family is visiting today” in the former, and “His family are visiting today” in the latter.
- Gotten: The past tense of get is got in both American and British English. But, the past participle of the verb is gotten in American English, and got in British English. “She has got a backache” would be the British version, whereas the American version would be “She has gotten a backache.”
- Use of shall: The (more formal) word shall is rarely used in American English. Will and should are used instead.
- Contractions: British English uses contractions such as needn’t and I’ve not. In American English don’t need/do not need and I have not/haven’t are more common.
Several items are known by different names in these two versions of the language. Some of the most common ones are listed below.
|American English||British English|
A Quick Tip
Most word processors allow users to pick their preferred version of English. As a fun exercise, you can shift between the British and American versions in order to see the differences in errors flagged by your processor. In general, keep your spell-check on, and make sure you are using the correct version for your text. When in doubt, refer to Merriam-Webster for American spellings and Cambridge for British spellings.