UK English vs. US English

A client asked me for the main things to keep in mind when “translating” documents. So here’s an (ongoing) list.

Titles

  • US English titles capitalize all words except articles and prepositions: Sense and Sensibility
  • British titles are not capitalized: Sense and sensibility
  • But don’t forget to capitalize proper nouns in UK titles: The death of Ivan Ilych

Quotation marks

  • In the US, it’s double quotation marks:
    “Hey, that’s my sweater,” Fred said.
  • Single quotation marks across the pond:
    ‘Oi, that’s me jumper,’ Nigel said.

Spelling

Everybody knows about adding the “u” — Americans have colors; Britons have colour. In a lot of latinate words, also, the American “z” becomes an “s” — organized to organised, etc. There is a great list here. But really the best thing is once the doc is finished, change the language in spellcheck to whichever English you’re using. It’s saved my ass (arse) more than once.

Certain words to look out for

  • While in the US, whilst in the UK.
  • P.S. in the US, PS in the UK (nice article on postscripts here).
  • Some other ones you likely already know:
    US elevator, UK lift
    US eggplant, UK aubergine
    US TV, UK telly

Grammar quirks

  • In British English, collective nouns take plural (“Arsenal are…”)
  • When speaking of possessions, Americans tend to use got when Britons may use have got:
    “I got a dog,” Murray said.
    ‘I have got a dog,’ Nigel said.

When writing fiction

Or drama or screenplays, I strongly recommend having a native read your work. It drives me nuts when British writers have an America say, “I reckon…” when they mean “I suppose.” I was lucky enough to have this novella I wrote about an American in England copyedited by an Englishman, and he saved me from some clunkers.

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