In addition to the punctuation differences I discussed last week in my piece about using quotation marks, American English and British English have many more subtle (and not so subtle) differences.
Canadian English, meanwhile, is a sort of British-American hybrid, but with French and Scottish influences. Canadian English appears to follow British English more commonly than American English, especially in regards to spelling. But it is its own dialect in and of itself.
Each dialect has its own unique grammatical tendencies, spelling variations, and even words that mean something completely different than they do in other dialects.
So why should you care? Maybe you don’t. But maybe you have clients in another country and you think it might be nice to brush up on that client’s specific dialect. Either way – what can it hurt?
Grammar Rules & Style
The use of the word “rule” is subjective because of how often the language evolves and the rules change (or maybe just how often people ignore the rules). Think of these as rules in a very general sense. There are bound to be Americans who use grammar that is more common in British English, and vice versa.
Use of the Past Perfect Tense
Use of the past perfect tense is generally more common in American English than British English.
American: “I had said I preferred the other store.”
British: “I said I preferred the other store.”
When giving directions, Americans often use some form of “be going to” (“You’re going to take a right at the stop sign and then you’re going to take a left at the light.”).
British English typically leaves this out (“Take a right at the stop sign and then take a left at the light.”).
The way each dialect uses prepositions also has subtle differences:
American: in years (“I haven’t spoken to her in years.”)
British: for years (“I had not spoken to her for years.”)
American: on the weekend (“What are you doing on the weekend?”)
British: at the weekend (“What are you doing at the weekend?”)
American: on (“They lived on Maple Street.”)
British: in (“They lived in Maple Street.”)
American: through (“We stayed Monday through Thursday.”)
British: to (“We stayed Monday to Thursday.”)
One similarity: The debate over whether or not you can end a sentence with a preposition is common to many English dialects.
American English replaces certain letters used in British (and Canadian) English.
American English also removes letters from British spellings.
In addition, American English often reverses the placement of the “e” and “r” in British spellings of words like “theatre” or “centre” (“theater” and “center”).
Same Word, Different Meaning
Potentially one of the most confusing differences between the English dialects is that some words don’t mean the same thing in each dialect.
For example, when you read the word “lift,” what do you think of? Well, if you’re American you probably think of picking something up, whereas if you’re British, there’s a good chance you pictured an elevator.
Here are some other differences:
American: French fries
Whatever the English dialect, there are debates about proper (or acceptable) grammar, spelling, punctuation, and more. Remember to write for your audience and be consistent. Above all, ensure your writing is clear so it communicates your intended message.
Come back next week when I’ll discuss using “they” as a gender-neutral, singular pronoun. And as always, if you need help writing web content, give us a call: 888-521-3880.