Differences Between U.S. and U.K. English to Know

The Essential Differences Between American and British English

By Joseph Priest, APR

This article was originally published in the February 2020 issue of Strategies & Tactics, the monthly newsletter of the Public Relations Society of America, and is republished here with permission.

If you were working for a company that speaks British English rather than American English, would it be correct to write, “She will send it towards the end of April”? Or should it be, “She will send it toward the end of April”?

Would you write, “This sentence needs a period,” or “This sentence needs a full stop”? How about, “The team are playing well,” versus “The team is playing well”? (In British English, the correct answers are “towards,” “full stop” and “are.”)

English has become the common language of the global economy. Spoken in more than 100 countries around the world and the official language in 35 countries, English is also the most commonly studied foreign language.

Still, it’s easy to forget that this language has two major forms: American English, spoken mainly in the United States; and British English, used in the U.K. and many former British colonies. In fact, most English-speaking countries, including such economic leaders as Australia, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa, use British English. 

Although American English and British English are generally interchangeable, they contain enough differences to cause awkward errors. In an increasingly globalized business world, it’s important to be adept at both forms.

For help, here’s a rundown of differences between some common American-English and British-English usages that can cause confusion, along with resources for further guidance. Knowing these differences will make your work more accurate and inclusive in a world where British English represents another element of diversity that PR pros should strive to appreciate.

Same Words, Different Spellings
American English -- British English
airplane -- aeroplane
canceled -- cancelled
program -- programme
theater -- theatre
toward -- towards
traveled -- travelled

Different Words, Same Meaning
American English -- British English
calendar (appointment book) -- diary
ad -- advert
anchor (for TV news) -- presenter
period (punctuation mark) -- full stop
résumé -- CV (curriculum vitae)
zee (pronunciation of letter “z”) -- zed

Same Words, Different Meanings
American English -- British English
biscuit (small piece of bread) -- (small cookie)
chips (potato chips) -- (French fries)
pants (clothing for lower part of body) -- (underwear for lower part of body)
pudding (sweet dish made with sugar, flour and milk) -- (dessert)
toilet (commode) -- (restroom)
torch (stick with flame on end) -- (flashlight)

What day is it?
One difference between the two forms is that American English uses the month-day-year format: “Amy will arrive on March 16, 2020.” British English, on the other hand, follows the day-month-year format: “Amy will arrive on 16 March 2020.”

Quote me on this
As professional communicators, we know that in American English periods and commas are always enclosed within quotation marks (“I won’t go,” John said), and question marks and exclamation points follow quotation marks unless they’re part of the quote. In British English, however, only those punctuation marks that appear in the original material should be enclosed, and commas fall outside the closing quotation marks: “I won’t go”, John said

One or many?
In British usage, collective nouns that represent groups often take a plural verb, as in, “The band are loud.” In American English, of course, we use the singular form: “The band is loud.”

A list of specific word differences between American and British English follows below. For further help, consult The Cambridge Dictionary online, or the book The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship between American and British English, by Lynne Murphy.

Joseph Priest is a corporate writer at Syniverse, a Tampa, Fla.-based software and services company, and has over 20 years of experience working with American- and British-English-speaking clients at such companies as IBM, AT&T and Ketchum. Email him at [email protected].

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Event Recap: Media Crystal Ball - 2020 Forecast

By Shayla O'Keeffe 

At PRSA Tampa Bay’s recent Media Crystal Ball event, leaders in Tampa Bay’s journalism industry shared their insights into hot topics for the new year. Moderator Danielle Bayard Jackson, co-founder of Stride Media Group, asked the panelists questions that PR professionals in the community were eager to learn about, including:

The Impact of Mergers
Panelists acknowledged the trend, which means some longtime local businesses may no longer be headquartered in Tampa Bay. Business Observer Tampa Bay Editor Brian Hartz pointed out that there is a positive side to be considered because mergers and acquisitions “send a signal that Tampa Bay is a place to grow,” and it makes local companies attractive to those out of the local market.

Tourism and Transportation
Tampa Bay is a shining destination for tourists, with many signs pointing to a growing interest in the area. As ABC Action News Reporter Jackie Callaway put it: if you build it, they will visit it. The ferry between St. Petersburg and Tampa, along with free trolley rides in downtown Tampa, are two examples of how a free service can bring more visitors to local businesses.

Several large sports and entertainment events are coming to the Tampa in the next year, including March Madness, WWE Wrestlemania and Super Bowl LV, which puts even more pressure on transportation systems to provide solutions quickly.

Evolution of News Media
Jackson asked the panelists to explain how communicators can adapt to the noise, change and confusion during the current evolution of news media and consumer habits.

Graham Brink, Tampa Bay Times business columnist, said that although the Times has gone from producing one newspaper a day to a website a minute, investigative work “is the best it’s ever been.” Tampa Bay Business Journal Editor-in-Chief Alexis Muellner reaffirmed this and added that the entire community needs strong media organizations that act as truth-seekers. In a time of technology greatly impacting news, it’s crucial as PR and communications professionals to stay focused on the meat of the stories and not get distracted by the clutter.

Tampa Bay is thriving for small businesses and corporations alike. Its cities are gaining the attention of large organizations and tourists, and PR professionals have the unique ability to be on the frontlines of all the change. According to Brink, Callaway, Hartz and Muellner, 2020 will be a year full of dynamism, so get ready for the ride!

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Volunteer for Feb. 21 Communication Skills Session at Metropolitan Ministries

Help wanted! Please join PRSA Tampa Bay on Friday, Feb. 21, to once again give back to our community when we host a special communication and decision-making skills session at Metropolitan Ministries.

As part of our chapter’s public service commitment, we’re recruiting members to donate a couple of hours to participate in a workshop that is part of Metropolitan Ministries’ life skills program. We’ll be hosting a session for about 10 economically disadvantaged job seekers who are looking to rebuild their communication and business skills in order to restart their careers. As part of this, our chapter has been asked to host a session that provides guidance on common-sense communication and decision-making skills in the business world. The workshop will include a presentation of personal insights and best practices followed by a short question-and-answer period.

Please lend your expertise to help us help our community. Email Joseph Priest and Olivia Keegan at [email protected] and [email protected] to register or find out more information.

What:   Metropolitan Ministries communication and decision-making skills session

When:  Fri., Feb. 21
            11 a.m.-12 p.m.

Where: Metropolitan Ministries Outreach Center
             2301 N. Tampa St.
             Tampa, FL 33602


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