Two nations, one language? Well, kind of. While Britain and the USA share English as their main language, there are also lingual differences that separate them and cause all manner of cultural confusion. And then on top of that you have regional accents…
Most people know that there are several spelling differences between British and American English, as well as totally different words, but might not be au fait with them. I have spent many years as a proofreader and editor working on "American" texts and soon got to learn the variations – which were more than I first realized. (I'm from England and know from experience "American English" is more straightforward than the British English I had to learn in school.)
So, let's look at those differences. In order to make them clearer, I'll list them into categories, starting with the two most common differences, “-ise” and “-ize” and “-our” and “-or” spellings.
-ise and -ize
British people write “realise”, “visualise” and “stigmatise” and American write “realize”, “visualize” and “stigmatize”. It should be noted, however, that British English is increasingly using the “ize” spelling. You'll find many "-ize" suffixes in The Oxford Dictionary. I tend to refer to The Oxford Dictionary when proofreading and editing "British English" texts.
-our and -or
This is a common difference between British and American spellings. Britons write “colour”, “favour”, “honour” and “neighbour”, whereas Americans write “color”, “favor”, “honor” and “neighbour”. The words are, however, pronounced the same regardless of the spellings.
There are also some lesser-known differences:
-re and –er
In London you would visit a theatre in the centre of town only a few metres from your flat. In New York you would visit a theater in the center of town only a few meters from your apartment.
-ce and -se
In American English the “se” spelling is used for these words: defense, offense, pretense. However, in British English the spellings are: defence, offence and pretence.
-yse and -yze
In addition to that, there are also differences between words ending in “yse” and “yze”. In British English the “yse” ending prevails – analyse, paralyse, and in America, the “yze” endings are used – analyze and paralyze.
Oe and ae
There are further differences in the use or “oe” and “ae”. In British English, for example, we say “oestrogen” and “aesthetic” whereas in the United States the spellings are “estrogen” and “esthetic”. Notice that both words begin with “e”.
The dropped “e”
American English tends to drop the “e” in many of its spellings, preferring “aging” to British English’s “ageing” and “likable” instead of “likeable”.
-ogue and -og
In British English we refer to a dialogue or a catalogue, but in America it is a dialog or a catalog. Notice that the “ue” is skipped entirely in American English.
In Britain there are travellers who like travelling because it fulfils them, whereas in America there are travelers who like traveling because it fulfills them. Note how double consonants appear and disappear in each example.
Men in England have moustaches, whereas men in America have mustaches. In Britain people like to watch TV programmes, but in America they watch TV programs. A person in Britain will pay their bills by cheque, but an American will write a check. British people have autumn, whereas Americans have fall.
One language, many differences!
This article is a guest post I wrote for top career mentor, Bud Bilanich, who very kindly invited me to contribute to his blog last month.
You'll find that the 6 essential tips listed in the article apply to all kinds of writing, not just business communications.
You can read my whole article on Bud's blog here. Enjoy!
As the saying goes, there is always room for improvement. All writers can benefit from working on improving the quality of their work. Use these five tips to become a better writer and it will pay dividends in your studies and career:
Become an avid reader
It goes without saying that writers should also be readers, but sometimes time constraints stop us reading as much as we should or would like.
However, reading is vital when it comes to improving your writing. The key is to read as widely as possible – not just subjects that are in your field of interest but as many topics as you can. Everything you read will give you ideas, motivation, enjoyment and awareness of others’ writing skills. So read fiction and non-fiction, crime, romance and biographies.
Study good examples of writing
This is stating the obvious, but it’s important to study the language you read. Whether it’s a novel or article, if you find a piece of writing that you think is excellent, study its construction and re-read it as many times as you need to in order to understand why it works so well.
Think about why the writing has caught your attention. Is there something in the text that the writer does that you don’t currently use in your work? Can you use something similar into your style of writing (but remember that your own writing style is yours and yours alone and not something to copy from other writers)?
This can also be done with examples of “bad” writing. Study what makes the text poor and think about what improvements could be made. It is all good practice for your own work.
Increase your vocabulary
Reading is excellent for improving your vocabulary and adding words to your repertoire. The English language has an abundance of words – knowing how and when to use them is crucial to the quality of your writing.
Get a good dictionary, either in book form or download an internet dictionary and thesaurus, and make it your aim to learn a few new words each day or week. Check the meanings and spellings of words – don’t assume you simply know – it’s surprising how many words are misspelled and misused!
It’s also good to check the synonyms of different words – this can add to the richness of your descriptions as well as avoid clichés!
Read your work aloud
Reading your writing out loud allows you to check its rhythm and flow. If your work sounds odd to your ears or feels clumsy, it’s a sure sign that you need to revise and rewrite your text. Listen out for word repetitions and superfluous adjectives that make your work sound like long-winded waffle. In writing, less is usually more.
Also make sure you check the length of your sentences. Overly long sentences will stand out clearly when you read them aloud because you’ll need to take a breath mid-sentence!
Proofread and edit
As hard as it can sometimes be, you need to look at your work dispassionately and scrutinise the spelling, grammar, flow and effectiveness of what you have written. Proofreading and editing your text is vital.
Once you have completed your writing, it is best to put it away for a few hours or days and then return to it with fresh eyes.
Carefully read your work again and check the spelling, grammar, remove any unnecessary adjectives and check for repetitions. Are all your verbs in the right tense? Are the facts correct and is the text consistent? These are important considerations when you critically check your work.
Proofreading and editing polishes your text and helps to make it the best it can be and is something you should do after each piece of writing.
Bad English in advertisements can be very funny to read. For the advertiser, however, it's usually no laughing matter.
Spelling, punctuation and grammar errors as well as incorrect word usage can completely change the meaning of sentences and make the advertised product or service memorable for all the wrong reasons. Time and money are lost, and reputations compromised.
The person who wrote the ad in the above photo, for example, has no idea how to correctly use apostrophes or spell. (Pies, Pasties, Sandwiches and Cakes.)
Here are some more bad ads that were actually published in newspapers:
“Include Your Children When Baking Cookies.”
“Our experienced Mom will care for your child. Fenced yard, meals and smacks included.”
“Get rid of aunts. ZAP does the job in 24 hours!”
“Dog for sale: eats anything and is fond of children.”
These bad ads are another reminder to check grammar, spelling and sentence structure in all your texts, especially ones you plan to publish for the world to see.
Remember, what may seem clear to you when you write something, might completely confuse (or amuse) the reader.
And don't trust your spellchecker too much – it can't tell the difference between aunts and ants, smacks and snacks! Always read through your text again, just to be sure.
Spelling words in English can be somewhat challenging at times. Even many native English speakers have problems correctly spelling certain words.
The main reason for this is that many English words are not spelt the way they are spoken and this can cause a lot of confusion, especially for anyone learning English.
Let’s start with a good example of irregular spelling in English - words containing “ough”:
Bought – this is pronounced “bawt”
Brought – “brawt”
Tough – “tuff”
Through – “throo”
Dough – “doe”
Maddening, isn’t it? Let’s look at some other common problems when spelling in English, such as homophones – words that sound the same as each other. English is full of homophonic words:
Two, too and to (all pronounced like “too”)
Through, threw (both pronounced “throo”)
New, knew (“niew”)
Not, naught, knot (“not”)
There are also what we call many “swallowed syllables” in English – parts of the word that are not pronounced:
Different – “diffrent”
Every – “evry”
Aspirin – “asprin”
Temperature – “temprature”
Vegetable – “vegtable”
Comfortable – “comftable”
To make things even more confusing there are several words where letters remain silent when pronouncing them:
B – dumb, thumb, plumbing
D - sandwich, Wednesday
G - sign, align, foreign
GH - daughter, night, light, right
H - why, honest, hour, honour
K - know, knee, knight, knob
L - should, walk, talk, half
P - cupboard, psychology, psychiatrist
S – aisle, island
T - whistle, glisten, listen, hasten, fasten
U - guess, guilty, guitar
W - who, write, wreck, wrong
Lastly, let's look at unusual letter combinations that affect the way a word is pronounced:
GH ('F') as in - cough, trough, enough, rough, laugh
CH ('K') – character, chemistry, Christmas, stomach, ache
EA ('EH') - breakfast, head, bread, lead, instead
EA ('EI') – break, steak
EA ('EE') – beak, weak, streak
OU ('UH') - country, double, enough, tough
Spelling in English is, unarguably, tricky. If in doubt (pronounced “dowt”), check your dictionary or, even better, use an online dictionary that enables you to also listen to the pronunciation of different words.
And remember – practice makes perfect!
There are lots of effective ways to proofread your documents, but if you are in a hurry, the best five tips listed below will ensure your documents are as error-free as possible:
The Key Blog
Hello and welcome to The Key Blog! This is where you'll find information and tips on writing, proofreading, and the English language in general. Feel free to use the articles in your own e-zines, blogs or websites etc., as long as you include the resource box. Thank you!