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Color or Colour? American vs. British English Writing Styles

Color or Colour?: American vs. British English Writing Styles
Written by Cassie LaJeunesse

Since the first settlers ventured “across the pond” and took up residence in the United States, American life has been diverging from its British origins. English-speaking Americans quickly began to have a range of new experiences that didn’t exist in Great Britain, interacting with Native Americans and immigrants from other countries. Over centuries, the language began to diverge, leaving us with a few significant spelling differences between British English and American English. Let’s take a look.

Suffixes

Suffixes

Most spelling differences in British vs. American English occur in suffixes. One of the commonly known distinctions is the British addition of the letter U into words that end in –or, but there are several others.

-or vs. -our

American: color, humor, flavor

British: colour, humour, flavour

-er vs. -re

Am: theater, center, liter

Br: theatre, centre, litre

-ize vs. -ise

Am: incentivize, apologize, organize

Br: incentivise, apologise, organize

-yze vs. -yse

Am: analyze, paralyze

Br: analyse, paralyse

-ense vs. -ence

Am: defense, license, offense

Br: defence, licence, offence

Extra Letters

The American writing style often opts for fewer letters while the British writing style often doubles letters or adds extra vowels.

Double L

Am: traveled, canceled, traveling, canceling

Br: travelled, cancelled, travelling, cancelling

Double Vowels

British English has many spellings that use ae or oe vowels to achieve a certain sound. American English tends to use only the e.

Am: estrogen, pediatric

Br: oestrogen, paediatric

Aside from spelling differences, there are a few common distinctions between British and American English grammar and punctuation as well. As I’ve mentioned before, correct punctuation is imperative for good writing. In order to ensure that your punctuation is always impeccable no matter the continent you’re writing on, let’s talk about a few common British vs. American English punctuation differences.

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Quotations

Quotations

For quotations, American style uses double-quotes. If a quotation occurs inside another quotation, American style uses single quotes.

Ex: “I was talking to my sister yesterday, and suddenly she says ‘What if I dye my hair purple?’ I was shocked.”

British style flips this around. For quotations, British writing style uses single quotes, while American writing style uses double quotes for quotations inside other quotations.

Ex: ‘I was talking to my sister yesterday, and suddenly she says “What if I dye my hair purple?” I was shocked’.

In British style, periods and commas are placed outside of the quotation marks if it is not part of the original quote. American style puts these punctuation marks inside the quotation marks whether they are part of the quote or not.

Times and Titles

American style opts for a colon between hours and minutes when writing time, while British style uses a period.

Am: The train arrives at 11:11.

Br: The train arrives at 11.11.

For courtesy titles such as Ms. or Mr., American style uses a period, while British does not.

About the author

Cassie LaJeunesse

Cassie LaJeunesse is doing everything in her power to prove wrong the people who scoffed at her English degree. A former college newspaper editor, she now writes and edits content for a regional magazine. She also finds time to freelance for her alma mater and other publications, writing and editing in a variety of styles and subjects. Now that she has completed her degree, she uses her free time to read as much as possible, sing in a choir, and hang out with her cat, Gilbert.

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