American English versus British English: Spelling

Some grammar rules (and embarrassing mistakes!) transcend the uniqueness of different regions and style guides. This new International Grammar section by OnlineBookClub.org ultimately identifies those rules thus providing a simple, flexible rule-set, respecting the differences between regions and style guides. You can feel free to ask general questions about spelling and grammar. You can also provide example sentences for other members to proofread and inform you of any grammar mistakes.
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dziak01
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Re: American English versus British English: Spelling

Post by dziak01 »

I've always preferred British English spelling. I more or less believe that English speakers and spellers have just become lazy and leave off letters. It saddens me that the English dictionary is even including certain slang terms and abbreviations of words that came about from misspelling or laziness of 'my' generation.

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Post by LivreAmour217 »

moderntimes wrote:On gray vs grey, generally in the US, grey is retained for hair color descriptions and gray is for non-person colors.
I did not know this! I always assumed it was strictly a US/British spelling variation. I don't color my hair, but the next time I go to the supermarket, I might peruse hair dye section to see how many brands mess this up!
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Post by moderntimes »

Over time, "grey" is slowly supplanting "gray" but I've got zero idea why. For me the words are identical.
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Post by zeldas_lullaby »

As per the haircolor discussion, I personally believe that "A Touch of Grey" sounds much more distinguished than "A Touch of Gray."

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moderntimes
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Post by moderntimes »

I think that many strong readers as well as authors have a penchant for "grey" because, as you say, it seems to imply a more distinguished tone.

Technically, per the latest stylebooks, "grey" is more preferred in Brit usage while "gray" is more US. "Official" US stylebooks like the AP prefer "gray" for usage here.

In my writing, I've begun to use "grey" for hair color and I simply don't remember using the word for any other purpose. Right now it's all dependent upon whichever stylebook you're using. For example, my publisher prefers the Oxford Univ style of punctuation but that also varies, because in the US we use the "doublequote" as the primary quotation mark and the 'singlequote' for interior 2nd level quotes, whereas the reverse is used in the UK. So my publisher's style requirements are a mixed bag. Thankfully I was able to easily alter any parts of my novels to match their usage via MS-Word, all that sort of changing is a snap these days. Lord help those who still use manuscript or typewriters. Eeek!

I just finished revising my 3 novels prior to final submission to the publisher and took pains to ensure that everything was done the requested way. There may still be a few gotchas but the editors will catch those, or I will, when I start on the galley proofs.

But for me, I'm using "grey" for hair color and I have noticed this trend in the US recently -- UK always uses "grey" anyway. It's no biggie so long as you're consistent.
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Post by PashaRu »

dziak01 wrote:I've always preferred British English spelling. I more or less believe that English speakers and spellers have just become lazy and leave off letters. It saddens me that the English dictionary is even including certain slang terms and abbreviations of words that came about from misspelling or laziness of 'my' generation.
I understand this and don't completely disagree with it. American English is, indeed, lazy English. However, language is always in a state of flux and evolving. It's a fascinating thing to watch how language changes over a period of just ten or twenty years, not to mention many decades or even centuries. A balance must be found between how much we should adhere to style guides, grammar books, and dictionaries and how much we should allow language to take its course and just "go with the flow," so to speak. We must admit that everyday usage defines language as much as any reference book. And everyday, vernacular speech (and even writing) drives the changes in language and is always several steps ahead of the style guides and dictionaries. We could be crotchety and insist that certain rules be observed, but how would we feel if someone decided that Middle or Old English was the "proper" form of English, and we all had to adhere to outdated, obsolete rules? Words, syntax, and grammar have changed so much. This didn't happen because someone decided to write a new style guide and change the rules.

In other words, at what point do we freeze the evolution of language and say, "This is the standard from now on"? Of course, that would be impossible. Spoken language always drives these changes. Gradually. But inevitably. Language is a living, changing thing. You can't define it and codify it once and for all. Rules become obsolete and irrelevant. And with the advent of email, forums, chat rooms, text messaging, etc., language is probably changing and evolving more quickly than ever before, and even more so the written word.

I certainly don't advocate a free-for-all; I think standards are good and necessary. At the same time, I think we need to be flexible and accept changes in language, even if those changes run contrary to our conceptions or beliefs or simply to what we've always accepted to be correct. Where's the middle ground? I don't pretend to know. I think it's undefinable. But acceptance that there should be a balance is a good step.
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Post by moderntimes »

Excellent comments, Pasha.

I don't think that deleting non-pronounced letters is lazy. It's just efficient. But we could then end up deleting all texture from the language and go to "Newspeak" (1984).

So you're right, a balance is preferred. And of course, when your book or article or story or whatever is sold for publication, you have to alter (or allow the editors to alter) the text according to the publisher's stylebook. That's typical, and it was in effect waaaay back when I worked for a newspaper. All of us had to adhere to the newspaper's stylebook. If we kept turning in stories that didn't abide with our newspaper's rules and this forced the editors to spend time redlining (or bluelining) the copy, we got politely chewed out.

Generally, however, a US writer needs to adhere to US style and a UK writer to UK styles. The difference can be noticeable:

Karen said, "Mike told me 'Shut up!' so I did." (US)
Karen said, 'Mike told me "Shut up!" so I did.' (UK)

Regardless, the author needs to be consistent, because making changes during the edit process can be easy via MS-Word. But I can attest that a writer whose work is sold for publication needs to work with the publisher as much as possible and adhere to the stylebook.
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Post by Blueobscurity »

I find this topic very interesting. Having grown up in a country that was colonised by the British and still follows the British education system, there are some words that I have always associated with specific connotations. In the last ten years or so, it seems as if these connotations and rules that I learnt have become archaic. An example would be "different than" and "different from". I was always taught that " than" is used when comparing the same characteristic in two different objects, such as size: A is bigger than B. Therefore saying something is 'different than' the other seems strange to me and for most of my life I thought it was an American thing. Now it seems as if everyone is using it in this way though.
Any thoughts on this?

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Post by moderntimes »

The phrase "different than" is, I think, not good grammar. I was also taught that it's "different from".

My recent peeve is "persuaded" vs "convinced". I can persuade you, you can be convinced. Now I see "convince" used almost exclusively.

Of course English is an evolving language. In the US, the comma prior to the "and" in a list was once the rule, now it's omitted per British preference. For example, once in the US this was okay:

"I bought red, blue, and green balloons."
but now it's the UK preferred style:
"I bought red, blue and green balloons."

and I had to re-edit my 3 novels prior to publication to "fix" this. This change has occurred only in the past 10 years or so.
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Post by MarkMueller »

I am American born and raised, so I use American grammar and vocabulary. What I don't like is when a British writer sets their story in America--with American characters--and then uses the British dialect throughout the book, including dialogue. The same goes for American writers who do the opposite--creating a British setting with British characters, and then using only the American dialect. It makes the whole book feel "off," and ruins the atmosphere. I recall the old adage: "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

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Post by moderntimes »

Mark, sometimes the publisher is British and uses Brit-preferred typography. And the author is sometimes also to blame, even if writing an American-set story, and trying to use US-preferred text, makes mistakes in the "conversion" and the publisher, being British, may mess this up too.

I saw this in the superb thriller, "The Straw Men" by Michael Marshall. He's from England but lived in the US off and on, and set his "Straw Men" thriller trilogy in the USA while living in England. So at times we find an occasional Brit-spec typography. I had to "blink" past it because the books are so damn good.

I'd highly recommend this series for those who like a dark thriller with conspiracy theory backgrounds. "The Straw Men", "The Upright Man" and "Blood of Angels" in that order.

Marshall has since moved to the USA and we're email pals. Nice guy, smart.

Another writer friend of mine, Tom Wright, a fellow Texan, had his first novel published in England first via a very convoluted process of who had read the early drafts and passed it on to whom. For this novel, a great coming of age story with a mystery underpinning, "What Dies in Summer" there are occasional cross-ocean typographic changes, too.

Thankfully, the quality of these books is too good to pass up.
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Post by jamesfcurry »

Oh. It is very popular problem nowadays.

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Post by Goms »

I understand what you mean. I am used to UK English, so it looked strange to me when I started reading books written by American authors. I thought they were very poor at spelling at first, until I started getting the hang of it. I still prefer UK English, but I've started adopting the U.S. English now, especially in forums full of Americans.

I can't stop wondering why the Americans decided to change their spelling, since their ancestors came from Europe anyway :shock: bugs me, really :eusa-think:.

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Post by Florence Omenye »

I think it's best to use the accepted form in your region. Though as a teacher I've found that because students are exposed to books from all over the world, it's easy for the lines to become blurry.

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Post by moderntimes »

I don't think that the smaller things such as spelling are a problem. We can all understand "favor" vs "favour" without any complaints.

What is occasionally difficult, however, is regional usage of certain phrases which the author may use and not necessarily realize (realise, ha ha) that others from another part of the globe may find these terms confusing.

We're all used to words such as "subway" vs "underground" or "semi" vs "lorry" and that shouldn't be a problem for most readers. But recently, a very nice short story was posted here about a haunted bus and the author used quite a few regionally preferred British terms. I could glean the definition but some readers might have problems.

It's incumbent, I think, for both authors and publishers to ensure that they at least have some recognition of this small problem and try to not use phrases which are regionally popular but may not be nationally known.

One term in the story was "bedsit" which is a Brit slang term for a cramped, 1-room apartment, just a bed and chair and maybe small kitchenette alongside. I doubt most Americans would recognize this.
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