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Guide to Differences between American and British English

The differences between British and American English are greater than you think, with differences in
vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. As a general rule, British English will not sound wrong to
American speakers, but perhaps more formal, polite, or old-fashioned; likewise, American English may
sound slightly informal or less polite to British ears.

Keep these differences in mind when submitting articles for publication; most journals will specify one
English or the other, or will allow you the choice, but will stipulate that you use one style consistently.
Remember this, too, when writing the cover letter for your article, resume, or CVthis is probably the
first time that the editor or employer is reading your writing, and you dont want to make even the
smallest error!

Setting your word processor to the correct English will catch most grammar and spelling errors,
although it will not be much help for errors of register (formal/informal) or word choice.

British English uses which and that interchangeably. In American English, that is
used for restrictive clauses, while which is reserved for non-restrictive clauses. I find
a good explanation is provided here:
British and American English use prepositions differently; this is too broad a point to
offer rules on, but please note the American and British speakers may disagree about
correct usage on this point.
British English often sounds much more formal to American speakers (especially with
regard to shall, which is almost never used by American speakers, even in the most
formal settings).
British English has different rules for punctuation; the single and double quotations
are generally used in direct opposition to the American rules. In British English,
commas and periods are placed outside quotation marks (it is the opposite in
American English). In both British and American English, semicolons and colons are
generally placed outside of quotations (unless they are part of the quoted material).
When using the abbreviations i.e. and e.g. to present parenthetical information,
American English puts a comma after these abbreviations (e.g., like this) while British
English does not. Finally, British English typically does not place periods (full stops)
after abbreviations of personal titles. For example, in American English, one is Ms.
Smith or Dr. Jones; in British English, one is Ms Smith or Dr Jones.
It is not a rule, but American writing is particularly characterized by progressive
tenses this is my own anecdotal observation. I find that progressive tenses convey
the enthusiasm and dynamism associated with American culture.
There are many spelling and vocabulary differences between these two Englishes
just ask any American who has ever complimented someone on his or her pants ;-) .
Past tense is sometimes different in American/British English. Americans will often
use one past tense form as an adjective, but another for an action. For example:
o I burned the toast/I love eating burnt toast.
However, if you make an error of this nature, you will simply come across as
British or formal, not incorrect.
Note that American home and office printers use US letter sized paper, as opposed to
A4, which may cut off important information, especially when sending PDFs. Be sure to
choose the correct paper size in your word processor.

Julia McMillan / Academic American English Handouts /