Guide to British and American English

Author Services Guide To British And American English

Since the introduction of English to North America in the late 16th Century, American English has diverged a reasonable amount from its British equivalent. Not only are there differences in pronunciation, but spelling, grammar, and punctuation as well.

In this article, we look at some of the main differences between UK and US English for authors to be aware of.


The biggest difference between both American and British English is in their approaches to spelling. UK English tends to maintain the spelling conventions for words inherited from other languages—predominantly French and German. American English, however, tends to be more pronunciation focused.

Here are some of the major differences between UK and US spelling:


British English

American English

-ise vs. –ize

-yse vs. –yze

synthesise; verbalisation; hydrolysation; analyse synthesize; verbalization; hydrolyzation; analyze

ae vs. e

haemophile; encyclopaedia; leukaemia; aetiology hemophile; encyclopedia; leukemia; etiology

oe vs. e

oestrogen; oesophagus; manoeuvre estrogen; esophagus; maneuver

-our vs. -or

behaviour; colour; tumour behavior; color; tumor

-ence vs. ense

defence; licence; pretence defense; license; pretense

-re vs. -er

fibre; centre; titre fiber; center; titer

ll vs. l

travelled; cancelled; fulfil; enrol traveled; canceled; fulfill; enroll;

-og vs. -ogue

analogue; dialogue; catalogue analog; dialog; catalog


Paying attention to these subtle differences in spelling will improve the coherence of your paper and signify professionalism and attention to detail.

One easy way to ensure no inconsistencies remain in your text is by ensuring that the language settings are set to identify mistakes, choosing either UK or US English (or even Canadian or Australian English) as your proofing language.


Punctuation is generally applied the same way in American and British English; the main difference is in their approach to quotations.

In British English, single quotation marks are favoured, with double quotation marks being used within. For example:

The author stated that ‘With the “placebo” group, there was no correlation’.

It should also be noted that the usage of commas or full stops after quotations differs. In British English, punctuation follows the quotation marks if part of another sentence (but not if the quotation is the full sentence). US English punctuates within the quotation, with double quotation marks used as initials and singles internally. For example:

The author stated that “With the ‘placebo’ group, there was no correlation.”

Any other punctuation—such as question or exclamation marks—should be placed within the quotation marks in both US and UK English.

Numbers and dates

Another difference between the two variants is their approach to dates and numbers. In British English, the day of the month is written first, followed by the month and year. For example:

20 October 2016


UK English also commonly uses ordinal numbers in dates, adding -st, -nd, -rd, and -th to the day, as in 1st or 22nd, and sometimes use “the [day] of [month]” format. Commas are also used to enclose the year, depending on the author’s preference.

20th October, 2016

The 20th of October 2016

American English favours putting the month before the day and does not use ordinal numbers. Additionally, commas always separate the day from the year.

July 2

July 2, 1997


Subject‒verb agreement

The agreement between subject and verb is also slightly different between UK and US English in the context of collective nouns. Collective nouns are words used to refer to a group or collection of people or things. For example: group, crowd, company, team, etc.

In American English, collective nouns almost always take singular verbs. For example:

The research group was unable to agree on the methodology.

In UK English, collective nouns can take either plural or singular verbs, depending on what is being emphasised. The previous example is more likely to take a plural verb in British English:

The research group were unable to agree on the methodology.

This is because the group’s individuals are in focus, in particular their disagreement with one another. When treating the group as one entity, singular is more appropriate. For example:

The research group was provided with materials by the university.

Writers opting for US English may choose to rewrite this sentence to place emphasis on the individuals. For example:

The members of the research group were unable to agree on the methodology.

Should I use UK or US English?

Both variants are commonly used in academic writing, so it is up to the author’s personal preference which one to choose. It’s important to be aware of the differences between each when writing your paper and stick to one or the other to ensure consistency.

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