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|Issue #52 of the Writing.Com Reviewing Newsletter.
Your editor is: Arwee
[ Table of Contents ]
1. About this Newsletter
2. Letter from the Editor
3. Editor's Picks
4. Ask & Answer
5. Useful Links
[ About this Newsletter ]
WDC is a very open and diverse site with many users from all walks of life and ethnicities making up its community. The predominant language that we all use on this site is English. Or, at least, one of two major variations of it: American English and British English. Many times, these variations have small differences that can drive us all crazy! This newsletter’s aim is to highlight some of the major differences so that you, as reviewers, are aware of them as you go through a piece that may not be using the version of English that you are.
[ Letter from the Editor ]
Before I get started, I want to note that this newsletter is not meant as a comprehensive guide between the two styles of English. This is just a general guide for common differences that we may see while we review so we can avoid giving our reviewees conflicting information. After all, the more you know, the more you can pass on to others.
There are certain stylistic differences in the way that American (AmE) and British (BrE) English users construct their sentences and speak. I will not be going into that because that would make this newsletter way too long and far too complicated.
If you’ve been reviewing for a while on this site, you’ve probably had a brush with a writer who is using a different style of English than you. And perhaps, unknowingly, you’ve been giving them information that contradicts their accurate use. This is a common mistake that we all make. All the time.
Part of the problem lies in our use of Microsoft Word. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Word, it does everything it needs to do and it does it well. However, it heavily favors American punctuation and grammar rules. Many people are not aware of this and it is not your fault! But, now you know . In the interest of reducing reviewing foibles, let’s go over some of the differences between British English and American English:
Perhaps the most common difference that is cited between British English and American English are the differences in spelling for certain words.
The most recognized of these spelling differences is the -our in British English being replaced with the shorter -or in American English.
For example: Colour (British) vs. Color (American)
The other common spelling difference is the replacement of -ise in British with American grammar’s -ize.
For example: Realise (British) vs. Realize(American)
Spotting these sorts of differences is easy when you use a word processing program that checks your spelling and grammar for you. But, when you’re reviewing, always remain diligent. Some of us use web browsers that have automatic spellchecking functions (Firefox) and the dictionary that program uses may be set to AmE, thus flagging words that are actually spelled correctly. In this modern world where spellchecking is built into almost every program we use, a word that is misspelled consistently may not be wrong. It might just be another way of going about it.
The Relationship Between Punctuation and Quotes:
Here’s one I just discovered recently when I reviewed some friends using AmE who were quoting a sentence or paragraph. Please note that this difference does not apply to dialogue rules or how dialogue is written. Only note this difference when the writer is trying to quote.
In AmE, when we try to quote, the last item of punctuation should be placed inside of the quotation marks. For instance, let’s pretend we’re trying to quote this line from an essay using American English:
”We discovered that barn owl habitats are being destroyed at a frightening pace. Dr. Wrend proposed putting all of the owls in vacuum sealed baggies. Dr. Velt, on the other hand, thought the more modest gesture of establishing more parkland was more ideal.”
On the other hand, in British English, we will find that the last item of punctuation is placed outside of the quotation marks:
”According to Roe’s study on the worldwide increase in rabbit and hare populations, the deregulation of sasquatch hunting had a direct correlation”.
Now, those are more “academic” uses of this rule. But what about writing? After all, most reviewers on WDC will encounter fictional pieces instead of the plight of barn owls and the possibility of vacuum bagging them for freshness. Here’s a couple of examples on how this difference might look within a more creative writing environment.
First, the Americans:
Robert was excited. He finally figured out the meaning of “purple monkey dishwasher.”
Now the British:
Robert was excited. He finally figured out the meaning of “purple monkey dishwasher”.
It should be noted that this rule doesn’t only apply to quotations. It applies to use of parenthesis as well. Here’s an example:
AmE: I’m going outside to look at the stars (I hope it’s not cloudy.)
BrE: I’m going outside to look at the stars (I hope it’s not cloudy).
Easy way to remember this? Americans = Inside. British = Outside.
Many users of the AmE style are adopting the British technique when it comes to quotations, parenthesis and how they treat punctuation. So while this is alright in informal writing, don’t be surprised if an editor, teacher, or professor tells you to change things up.
The Oxford, Harvard or Serial Comma:
The serial comma is a comma that is placed just before a conjunction in a list. Despite being more well known as an Oxford Comma, the serial comma is more widely utilized in AmE. There is no global consensus on which English style this comma is associated with but it is something to be aware of.
Here’s how you use a serial comma:
Apples, peaches, and pears.
And here’s the same list without the serial comma:
Apples, peaches and pears.
Chances are, you may have used a serial comma in your own writing without even realizing it. These types of commas are very useful when trying to clear up ambiguity. In other instances, it sometimes causes a statement to look like there’s too many commas or may sometimes cause ambiguity. Whether you are for or against the serial comma, be aware that when a writer places one in their lists, they might not be incorrect.
The Past Tense Playground:
This is a large, overarching, rather complicated subject that won’t be able to be encompassed in a little section in a reviewing newsletter. However, in very general terms, AmE and BrE users use different simple past and past participle forms for verbs. AmE users often represent these verbs ending with –ed. Whereas, BrE users will often end the verbs with –t.
Some examples of common verbs that are affected by this difference:
American: burned, leaned, dreamed, pleaded, smelled.
British: burnt, leant, dreamt, pled, smelt.
Just as a reminder, again, this is not a comprehensive guide to this subject. If you want to know more about the differences in tense use between AmE and BrE, it’s best to visit your local library or do some more research online.
Spacing and Semicolons:
Did you know that it is formally correct for AmE users to place one space after a semicolon, but a BrE user must place two? This one puts a smile on my face and I never get on people’s cases for this. Okay, I admit it, I’m also guilty of violating it sometimes because, in my experience, it is a really obscure rule.
Full Stops and Abbreviations:
In AmE it is required that you place a full stop for your abbreviations and acronyms. Whereas in BrE, you are free to leave those full stops out most of the time.
So, for example, in AmE you may see these abbreviations being used:
In a list, they will look like: Dr., Mr., Mrs., W.W.C., U.N., W.D.C., A.M., P.M.
Whereas you BrE folks will see the same list more like this:
In a list, they will look like: Dr, Mr, Mrs, WWC, UN, WDC, AM, PM
The important thing to keep in mind with the two styles is that neither is wrong or better than the other. There is also no universally preferred way or style. We do have individual preferences for which we use depending upon where we were educated. However, we need to be considerate to those who use the other way. So long as they use it consistently, there is no incorrect style or better style. Just differing ones.
It is doubtful that either style is going anywhere anytime soon. So, we just need to keep plugging along and try our best, learning new and interesting things about this whacky language as we go.
[ Editor’s Picks ]
[ Ask and Answer ]
If you have any questions, comments, general suggestions, or suggestions for editor’s pick (even your own work! ), please send them to me. I’ll be more than happy to feature them in the next newsletter and address them to the best of my ability. It should be noted that if you send me e-mails, I will ask to use your comments in the Ask and Answer section.
[ Useful Links ]
"Feedback Central" – Send the editors some suggestions and general feedback.
"Reviewing Newsletters" – View previous issues of the Reviewing Newsletter.