British English or American English?
Which English should you use?
English is the most widely-spoken language in the world. From Canada to Australia, Ireland, Singapore, New Zealand or South Africa, there are about 400 million native English speakers… And they don’t all speak exactly the same language!
In this article we’re going to focus on the two most common varieties of English language: British English and American English. We won’t talk about specific dialects or accents, but just the standard non-regional languages and their differences.
American and British English
There are some notable differences between British and American English. We won’t make a full list here – that’s not the point of this article. We just want to point out the main differences.
British and American people sometimes use different words to say the same thing. For example…
Some Brits live in a flat, go on holiday, play football, wear pants and trousers, enjoy a biscuit with their tea.
Some Americans live in a condo, go on vacation, play soccer, wear underpants and pants, enjoy a cookie with their tea – or soda.
Expressions, idioms and cultural references
While British people often go to the pub to have a pint with their mates, Americans are more likely to have a beer with their friends.
Typically British idioms, such as Don’t get your knickers in a twist, might not make sense across the pond. And it’s quite rare to hear an English person say that something is as big as Texas.
Spelling and grammar
Again, we’re not going to list all the differences here, this is just to give you an idea:
- Words ending in -tre / -ter such as centre / center, theatre / theater…
- Words ending in -ence / -ense such as defence / defense, offence / offense…
- Words ending in -our / -or such as colour / color, honour / honor…
- Verbs ending in -ise / -ize such as realise / realize, organise / organize…
- Verbs ending in -el getting 2 or 1 l when a suffix is added: travelling / traveling, cancelled / canceled…
- Irregular verbs such as learnt / learned, burnt / burned, dreamt / dreamed…
- And many more minor differences and nuances.
Thankfully, most British and American people can understand each other, as long as they don’t use regional dialects or speak with a strong accent.
What English for whom?
If some young English speakers don’t always get the difference between British and American English, it’s not the case for everyone. The older generations of Brits tend to dislike Americanisms, and you always have to be careful not to alienate your audience.
If you’re creating marketing content for any English-speaking market, you might want to avoid any specific British or American words or turns of phrase. If you can, it’s always better to localise your web content for your targeted market.
For international brands targeting the British market, we recommend using typically British words and sayings, as well as relevant cultural references. Your audience will appreciate the effort.
Consequences for web content
If your website has a .co.uk domain name, it’s pretty clear which type of English you should use. However, websites in English with a .com domain name don’t always let the user know if they’re British, American or any of the other options. Regarding the spelling and grammar rules, you have to make the call, but once you have chosen one, you have to stick to it. Make sure the language you use remains consistent across all your pages and channels of communication.
Knowing the difference between British and American English is also very important for your SEO. When doing keyword research, you have to make sure that you’re using the right spelling. Some keywords might work well with an American audience but not at all for the British market. This is something you must take into consideration.
Most multilingual agencies can produce content in English… But what exactly does that mean for you?
At Cam’s Writing, we believe that knowing a market is even more important than knowing a language. We don’t just write in English, we’re British content marketing experts. So if you want to know more about our services or ask us any questions, give us a shout.