What is the difference between British and American English?

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I read an article titled Why We Have Both ‘Color’ and ‘Colour’ and I thought that it would be useful to share it here.

Although native speakers rarely need to think about questions like this, non-native speakers do. Whenever you need to write something in English you should always decide if you want to write British (UK) or American (US) English. It is important to know the differences, even though there are more similarities than differences between the two languages.

How should you decide which language to use?

Usually, we have a preferred language. Most often it’s the one we learned in school. Sometimes it’s the language of our favourite author. As you can see in the previous sentence, I prefer to write ‘favourite‘ (UK) and not ‘favorite’ (US). This is because although I have read lots of books written by US authors, I learned British English in school. Eventually, I prepared and sat for the Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) exam arranged by Cambridge (UK) University. Thus, UK English comes more naturally for me. However, due to the constant exposure to US movies, songs, and books throughout my life, I am also proficient in US English. When you think about it, which one is your preferred language?

For everyday mail and e-mail correspondence, it won’t matter which language you choose, as long as you are consistent. Using the preferred language most of the time (if not always) will make it easier for you when you want to improve your writing, because it will be less confusing for you. Stick to what you know, and keep writing to improve your writing proficiency.

If you are already proficient in both UK and US English you can adjust your scientific writing according to the publisher. If you want to publish in a US Journal then you should use US English, and vice versa.

What if I mix UK an US English in my writing?

Don’t do it. If you write in a Word document, you can choose the proofing language. If you use US English and mix US and UK English in the document, the UK English spelling will have ugly red lines beneath them. If you send your document to anyone in .doc or .docx format your recipient will also see the ugly red lines. It will look like any other spelling mistake and depending on the purpose of your document you will find that the recipient might be less agreeable than you anticipated. For most professionals, especially in academic settings, spelling errors indicate sloppiness. Considering how easy it is to run a spellcheck through your document, there really is no excuse for submitting a document with spelling errors in them. Make sure to spellcheck before sending your document to anyone – and that includes sending it for proofreading.

Until next time, take care and keep writing!

Yasmin

I am one of the founders and coaches here at Scientific Writing Coach. I am currently a researcher at Stanford University, US. I obtained my PhD from Uppsala University, Sweden and I have a Certificate of Proficiency in English from Cambridge University, UK.

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