With the continuation of globalisation and the rise of the gig economy most blog or web article copywriters will find themselves with clients from all over the world. This is great news because diversity makes our job much easier but the version of English required by clients can vary from country to country and subtle differences in spelling, word meaning or grammar can catch the unwary copywriter out and irritate clients. We look at some of the key differences between UK English and American English.
Choose the right version of English
If you aren’t sure whether your client wants you to write in UK or American English be certain to ask. Mainland USA obviously uses American English but so do some of the areas of the world that the USA frequently trades or has historical connections with such as Japan, South Korea and Jordan. Most Caribbean countries also opt for American English but those that are part of the Commonwealth prefer the UK version.
American vocabulary is not always the same as English vocabulary
Most of us are used to understanding some of the common USA/UK vocabulary differences. Word interchanges like ‘tap’ and ‘faucet’ or ‘football’ and ‘soccer’ are well known. However, when you are a busy copywriter it is easy to slip up and miss some of the more subtle vocabulary differences. For example, if you are writing a travel post and use the sentence, ‘The coach arrived late’, there is a chance that your audience might be searching for a previous reference to a sports instructor. If you are ever unsure, considering checking with your client which version they prefer. If you don’t want to do that, there is help out there on the web. Oxford Dictionaries, for example, have a fairly comprehensive list of British words and expressions alongside their American equivalents. Some that you might want to watch out from a content point of view include:
- ‘car park’ (UK) and ‘parking lot’ (USA)
- ‘aluminium’ (UK) and ‘aluminum’ (USA)
- ‘current account’ (UK) and ‘checking account’ (USA)
- ‘estate agent’ (UK) and ‘real estate agent’ or ‘realtor’ (USA)
- ‘pay packet’ (UK) and ‘pay envelope’ (USA)
Learn the common differences between English and US spelling
Whilst it is possible to check any UK and US spelling differences online (Grammarist is a great place to do this) or alter your word processor’s grammar setting to the country of your choice, it will speed up your writing and help you avoid mistakes if you learn some of the basic spelling differences between English and US spelling.
- Word ending in ‘ise’ or ‘yse’ in UK English will be correctly spelt with ‘ize’ or ‘yze’ for an American audience. For example, organise/organize.
- UK English words that end in ‘our’ will typically be spelt with ‘or’ in USA English. For example, neighbour/neighbor.
- Words that in UK English end in ‘ce’ are often written with ‘se’ in American English. It should be noted that the rules for these in UK English can be complicated (usually ‘ce’ for a noun and ‘se’ for a verb).
American punctuation is not always the same as English punctuation
Apart from the obvious issues surrounding the cultural differences between ‘full stops’ and ‘periods’ American punctuation is very similar to English with a couple of key exceptions:
- Americans tend to use double quotation marks whereas single ones are more common in English (both are acceptable although not in the same document).
- In USA English it is usual for a comma to be placed before the ‘and’ at the end of a list. In UK English this would be incorrect.
We have only picked out a few of the differences between UK English and US English. It is important not to be put off a job just because you will need to write in the version of English that is no so familiar to you. Instead, spend some time reading related blogs and articles in the same version. You will find that this will help to familiarise you with language and grammar expectations. Set your spelling and grammar checker to the version you require and it will do most of the hard work for you. Language is not a static beast and in a few years time, these rules may well have changed. At Fi Darby Freelance we say embrace the differences, they may not be with us for much longer!
For a friendly and experienced chat about web content development for your project in either US or UK English please feel free to get in touch with us at Fi Darby Freelance.