British vs. American English

There are many differences between British and American punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Neither version is more correct than the other; which version you should use just depends on who your primary audience is. Here are some of the most common differences between British and American academic English.

Punctuation

Single vs. Double Quotation Marks

British English uses single quotation marks to indicate quotations or dialogue.

  • The UWSC says, 'This is how British people do it.'

When there is a quotation inside the quotation, British English uses double quotation marks for the nested quotation.

  • The UWSC says, 'This is how British people, as they say, "do it".'

American English flips that method, and uses double quotation marks to indicate quotations or dialogue, and single quotation marks for nested quotations.

  • The UWSC says, "This is how American people, as they say, 'do it.'"

Commas and Periods Within Quotation Marks

British English puts commas and periods (full stops) outside the quotation marks unless the quotation is also a complete sentence or the punctuation is part of the quotation.

  • The UWSC says that British people write it "this way".

American English puts commas and periods inside the quotation marks.

  • The UWSC says that American people write it "this way."

When it comes to other punctuation, both versions write it similarly. Colons and semicolons go outside quotation marks, and exclamation points and question marks depend on whether they're part of the quote or the sentence as a whole.

Dates

British English writes dates in DD/MM/YY format.

  • 10/1/2019 means January 10, 2019.

American English writes dates in MM/DD/YY format.

  • 10/1/2019 means October 1, 2019.

Abbreviations

British English typically does not put a period after an abbreviation.

  • Dr, Mr, Mrs, Ms, and vs are all written without periods after them.

American English puts periods after abbreviations.

  • Dr., Mr., Mrs., Ms., and vs. all have periods after them.

Spelling

There are certain patterns of words that British and American English tend to spell differently.

British and American English Pattern and Word Examples
British Pattern British Example American Pattern American Example
'-our' colour, flavour '-or' color, flavor
'-ise' or '-yse' organise, analyse '-ize' or '-yze' organize, analyze
'-ence' defence, licence '-ense' defense, license
'-ae-' or '-oe-' foetus,
encyclopaedia
'-e-' fetus, encyclopedia
'-re' centre, theatre '-er' center, theater
'-mme' or '-nne' programme, tonne '-m' or '-n' program, ton

Grammar

Collective Nouns

Collective nouns are singular nouns that refer to a group of people, like "group" or "team."

British English tends to default to using the plural verb forms for collective nouns.

  • UNR's faculty are here to help you.

American English uses the singular verb form for collective nouns.

  • UNR's faculty is here to help you.

Past Tense Forms

British and American English have some differences in how they might spell the past tense
forms of some verbs.

British English might use '-t' to end the past tense forms of verbs ending in 'l,' 'm,' or 'n.'

  • Burnt, dreamt, learnt, spilt, spoilt

American English will use '-ed' for the past tense of pretty much all regular verbs.

  • Burned, dreamed, learned, spilled, spoiled

There are other differences between British and American English, but these are some of the
common ones that come up in academic writing.

Oxford International Education Group. (n.d.). The main differences in British and American spelling. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordinternationalenglish.com/differences-inbritish-and-american-spelling/

The Punctuation Guide. (n.d.). British versus American style. Retrieved from: https://www.thepunctuationguide.com/british-versus-american-style.