It’s All English, Ain’t It?

british vs american grammar and spellingSeveral months ago, I helped a fellow indie author with some final proofreading on her novel. When I opened her draft, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe all the spelling and grammar errors from an author that had been listed in at least one of Amazon’s top lists. Then, I realized she had not lost her mind, she’s British.

As an American author, I knew that there were some differences between American English and English across the Pond. However, I was blissfully ignorant to the extent of those differences. I write this today in the hope of helping other American indie authors find their way when writing for British audiences. I am not an expert on the subject, but here are some things that I’ve noticed along the way. Please research local style guides before making your final edits.

Don’t forget the U

We’ll start off with an easy one. Most Americans realize that several words are spelled differently in British English. It’s important to know which ones. The biggies seem to have the addition of a “u”. For instance, we write favorite, flavor, honor, neighbor, rumor, and color; they write favourite, flavour, honour, neighbour, rumour, and colour. Another common spelling difference is  the er/re switch-a-roo as in theater/theatre and luster/lustre. In paranormal writing, we sometimes also come across sulfur (Amer.) verses sulphur (Brit).

Wards to the Wise

While backward is most commonly used in America, Brits lean toward adding the “s”. This also holds true for towards, upwards, and forwards. Both are correct grammar; it is just a geographical preference. Therefore, the next sentence, while it may sound a little off to most American ears, would sound correct to the majority of British readers.

British prefer: Looking upwards, Bryna tried to ignore her strange neighbours as they drove forwards, then backwards, in her driveway.

Americans prefer: Looking upward, Bryna tried to ignore her strange neighbors as they drove forward, then backward, in her driveway.

Quotable Quotes

From what I’ve seen, the use of quotation marks seems to be the biggest difference. In America, we have a fairly simple rule when it comes to quotation marks. In most cases, the ending quotation mark comes after the ending punctuation. There are some exceptions for question marks and exclamation points.

For example: “Bryna’s blog is so helpful,” he said. “I think I will recommend it to all my friends.”

It is my understanding that the British English rule is much more complex. I’ll attempt an explanation here, but if I get it wrong, please feel free to leave a comment. It’s the only way I’ll learn.

For Brits, the ending quotation mark placement depends on if the ending punctuation is for the whole sentence or just the quote. If it’s for the whole sentence, then the ending quotation mark is before the punctuation. If it’s for the quote, the quotation mark is after the punctuation.

For example: Bryna explained quotation mark placement by saying it “depends on the ending punctuation”.

For example: “I am going to attempt to explain quotation marks,” said Bryna. “Afterwards, we can go get ice cream.”

If you are still not sure about British use of quotation marks, just swing by the BBC‘s website to see it in action. News articles are a great resource for quotation examples.

For any grammar or usage question, I highly recommend visiting Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty. I keep the Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing on my desk at all times.