We probably don’t need to tell you that English is a global language. So there are bound to be regional differences – people all over the world grow up speaking different flavours of English from birth. While British English is certainly the oldest variety, American, Indian, Canadian, Australian, South African and EU English all have their own quirks and rules.
There are too many varieties of English to talk about here, and too many differences to explain in a style guide (though it’s a Wikipedia wormhole we recommend).
We tend to toggle between British and American English. Here are some of their main differences.
-ise vs -ize. One of the biggest differences comes with words ending in ‘-ise’. American English changes pretty much all of these to ‘-ize’ – ‘organize’, ‘recognize’, and so on. They do the same thing with ‘-yse’ (‘analyze’, ‘paralyze’).
-our vs -or. Most words ending in ‘-our’ in British English end in ‘-or’ in American English (color, flavor, honor, neighbor, rumor, labor, humor). Except for ‘contour’, ‘velour’, ‘paramour’ and ‘troubadour’ which are spelt the same everywhere.
-re vs -er. In American English, ‘centre’ becomes ‘center’. Same goes for ‘kilometer’, ‘theater’, ‘caliber’, ‘fiber’, ‘saber’ and ‘somber’.
-ce vs -se. Both UK and US English use ‘advice’ as a noun and ‘advise’ as a verb, but American English has abandoned the ‘licence’/‘license’ and ‘practice’/‘practise’ distinction (UK hangs on to it) and uses ‘practice’ and ‘license’ for both meanings. American English uses ‘defense’ and ‘offense’, while Brits write ‘defence’ and ‘offence’. ‘Defensive’ and ‘offensive’ always have an ‘s’.
-ae, -oe vs -e. Words written with ‘ae’/‘oe’ in British English have a single ‘e’ in American English, like ‘amoeba’, ‘anaemia’, ‘anaesthesia’, ‘foetal’, ‘haemophilia’, ‘oesophagus’, ‘orthopaedic’ and ‘paediatric’.
The biggest difference is in quote marks. British English goes single, American double.
There are obviously loads of differences. These are the ones we think will come up most that you’re least likely to realise need tweaking.
Brands and collective nouns. American English tends to treat brands, for example Apple, and collective nouns like ‘team’ or ‘staff’ as single units. So ‘Apple changed its logo’, not ‘Apple changed their logo’. For Brits, it’s the opposite.
Got vs gotten. British English uses ‘got’ as a past participle, where American English only uses ‘gotten’. So, ‘I haven’t got cash out’ is fine in British English, but you’d need to say ‘I haven’t gotten cash out’ in American English.
I haven’t vs I’ve not. This is a subtle one, and it might not come up much in writing. But American English leans more heavily on including ‘have’ in some way. British English allows sentences like ‘I’ve not been there before’, where American English would have ‘I haven’t been there before.’
Chat vs have a chat. American English always goes for the verb: read, think, try. British English, especially when we’re being chatty, tends to make it into a ‘have a X’. So: have a read, have a think, have a go.
Some of the biggest differences in British and American Englishes sit above spelling, punctuation and grammar and more in the realms of meaning. No, not just differences in vocabulary like lift/elevator, trousers/pants (though we’ve got some great stories there). But things like, ‘It needs a bit of work’ means ‘We’re almost there’ in American English, and is a dire warning in British English.
Yes, the stereotype is true: British English is all about understatement. Or rather, is a bit to do with understatement…