There are many different forms of English around the world. The two largest standard varieties are British and American – let’s call these BrE and AmE for ease of discussion.

Other varieties include, amongst others: Australian English, Canadian English, Hong Kong English, Indian English and Jamaican English. Many of the written conventions are from British English, with additional regional influences on the lexicon (words) and phonology (pronunciation patterns).

Recognising differences

Knowing some key differences between American and British English can be useful. One reason is that international companies often have an official or unofficial preference for their communications.

Another reason is to respect linguistic diversity. Even though English is considered a lingua franca, varieties add local flavour to communication and many people take pride in their particular way of speaking and spelling.

Finally, it can save you some embarrassment. A wise man once said: suspenders keep a man’s pants (or trousers, for that matter) up in America, while they may very well do the opposite across the pond…

Some matters to consider:

  • How to win the spelling bee. Most people know the classic “color with a ‘u’” distinction. That is to say, ‘colour’ in BrE and ‘color’ in AmE. In many instances Americans replace ‘s’ with a ‘z’ (note: pronounced ‘zed’ in BrE and ‘zee’ in AmE), such as with ‘prioritize’ (AmE) in contrast to ‘prioritise’ (BrE).
  • A weighty issue. The measurement unit ‘tonne’ (BrE) is spelled ‘ton’ in AmE. However, the difference does not stop there as the value is also different. The tonne (known as the ‘metric ton’ in AmE) is 1,000 kg (2,204.6 lbs), while the US ton is 907 kg (2,000 lbs).
  • The dating game. Imagine you have a conference on 10/12/2016. Straightforward, huh? Well, it depends where you are located. The month is written before the day in America, but in the UK (and much of the rest of the world), the day is noted before the month – making this conference in either October or December. To avoid confusion, it is a good idea to write the month’s name out in international correspondence.

Whatever the variety of English, it is good practice to be consistent. You don’t want to lose the respect of your audience over a misplaced zed. As always, our experienced copywriting team of native speakers is here to help iron out the details.