British & American spellings — a Back-to-school Guide & Toolkit

Still unsure which spelling applies to the next word in your school assignment or email at work? You realised/zed recently that you might have written the front of the sentence to be as British as tea with the Queen and the end of the same sentence as American as ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’? Neither is wrong but here are a few tools to help you safely navigate English language spellings around the globe!

What are the main differences between US and UK spellings?

The main differences between spellings include:

1) The use of ‘s’ or ‘z’ in words in which the last syllable starts with ‘s’ or ‘z’ (such as analyse → UK and analyze → US)

E.g.

(UK) I realised the colour of my tie was too bright for the occasion.

(US) I realized the color of my tie was too bright for the occasion.

2) The order of ‘e-r’/’ r-e’ in words like center/centre that finish with this combination of letters

E.g.

(UK) In the centre of the city there is a large movie theatre.

(US) In the center of the city there is a large movie theater.

What is the ‘golden rule’?

Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Don’t worry about picking the right spelling convention. Focus on using whichever spelling convention you select consistently. There is nothing worse than a text that uses multiple conventions; it looks sloppy. Of course, if you’re unsure which to choose, think about your target reader(s) and where they come from.

How do other English speaking countries tend to spell?

Canada & Australia: British spelling is the default. Especially in the case of -our words (e.g. neighbour and colour). However, perhaps because of the proximity to the US, Canadians sometimes spell the above mentioned s as z according to the American convention. Similarly, Australia keeps to the British spelling but occasionally takes on American spellings e.g. Australian Labor Party.

If I am unsure… where can I check quickly?

Tysto should be your go-to website whenever in doubt; it’s a full reference list! Don’t worry about uncertainty. Remember that:

  1. With time, you’ll have to check less and less and much of the spellings will become second nature as we say in English (in other words, they will come naturally to you!).
  2. Even native English speakers have to check sometimes, believe it or not! There is no shame in checking and the sign of a good writer is that they are always ready to learn more.

Want to learn more about spelling differences and how they came about?

This handy video by Oxford Dictionaries is a great extra guide and offers more background information. 

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