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Do You Use American English, British English or do you Swing like the Canadians?

Spelling-AmericanHere’s a question that I get asked a lot – particularly by non US bloggers who find themselves writing primarily for US audiences:

“I am English so of course spell words such as ‘colour’ the English way. However, I also know that my largest audience is likely to come from America.

My question is this – would I be better off using English or American spelling on my site? My first instinct is to ‘be myself’ and use English spelling, but I was wondering if I would be better off from an SEO and audience point of view using American spelling.” Submitted by Pete

This is a problem that I face constantly in my own blogging. I find that no matter which I go with I tend to get ‘corrected’ by readers. If I use the Australian spelling I find US readers tell me that I’m wrong, but if I use the US spelling I get picked up by Aussies, the English and readers from other countries.

Colour is just one example:

In Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK it’s spelt ‘colour’. In the US it’s color and in Canada it’s both (they tend to swing quite a bit over there).

Another common one that I get picked up on are any words with ‘ise’ or ‘ize’ at the end. Recognise or Recognize? Analyse or Analyze?

Center or Centre, Gray or Grey, Catalogue or Catalog, Defence or Defense, Aluminum or Aluminium? The list goes on….

And of course the most confusing one:

  • it’s fulfil in ‘English’ and fulfill in ‘American’
  • but – fulfilling in ‘English’ and fulfiling in ‘American’
  • and to further confuse it – it’s fulfilment in ‘English’ and fulfillment in ‘American’

My spell checker doesn’t know what to do with this post!

What spelling do I use?

To be perfectly honest I don’t have a policy on it. If anything I probably take the Canadian route and swing back and forth (after-all I’m a cofounder of a Canadian company and pay income tax over there – so I figure I’m entitled to).

What spelling do you use?

I’d be interested to hear how different bloggers approach this and want to open it up as a reader question. Which spelling do you use? The spelling of your own country, your readers or some combination of both?

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. Sephyroth says:

    Although I’m an American, I tend to swing more towards the Commonwealth spellings and uses (for example using learnt instead of learned). However, I’m not terribly consistent and do tend to do the Canadian Swing from time to time.

    As far as the SEO question, I would have thought that they’d weigh American/Commonwealth spelling differences equally, but if you look at results for neighbor – “neighbour” doesn’t even appear in the first 100 results as an alternate to the American spelling.

    Sephyroth
    http://www.sephyroth.net

  2. Zach Everson says:

    As an American, I use American English on my blog. I’m a full-time freelance writer and editor, however, and have had to use British English on jobs. It’s a tough transition between the two, but I did enjoy that project more because of the extra challenge.

  3. Ajey says:

    This is interesting conversation. I tend to use the default dictionary that comes bundled with word processors. Never bothered to change it. Again, until now- I’ve never given so much thought to “what kind of written English” I use. Now I can barely type ;P

  4. Sonia Simone says:

    Interesting conversation. From a marketing standpoint, as _Call to Action_ says, you should talk “to the heart of the dog, about what matters to the dog, in the language of the dog.” So if you’re trying to sell something and your customers are American, it makes sense to use American spellings–they create a little less distance between you and your customer.

    But a blog isn’t (purely, anyway) a marketing vehicle, it’s a vehicle for expression. Transparency and authenticity are essential.

    For SEO, I’d at least consider including both spellings in tags.

    So I guess I vote for your own spelling on a blog, and your customers’ spelling on a squeeze or commercial page.

  5. Kelly Rusk says:

    I’m a Canadian writing a blog for a mostly American audience and this debate goes through my head every time I post!

    Generally I follow American rules, since that’s our audience, and I do know the rules. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a “neighbour” or “cheque” gets by me occasionally, as that is my instinct.

  6. Grey says:

    As an American blogging in London, I use American English, but the longer I’m here, the harder it is not to slip into British.

  7. Jason says:

    Since when is the American version fulfiling? That’s an error in spelling from any source that I’m aware of. The American version is consistent:
    fulfill
    fulfilling
    fulfillment

    Firefox spell-checker has your version underlined right now (meaning it’s detected it as an error).

    Hope you don’t take this as nitpicking… but your main example (as far as visual emphasis goes) is faulty.

  8. christopher says:

    I use American English spelling unless I’m specifically teaching the British English version of some topic.

    American English spelling is simplified in several ways….although I’d say it hasn’t been simplified enough. English is a difficult language for second language speakers to write.

    I agree with most who say that you should write in whichever is best for you personally.

    I don’t see why you’d want to use -ise endings since British English accepts -ize. -ize is more international.

  9. As a French-Canadian taught English as a second language UK-style, and now living in the UK, I tend to opt for British spelling.

    Where the confusion comes is where the French version, UK-English and American English versions start mixing together in my head – That’s the point where blog posts might swing a little.

    But generally, UK English it is for me where I make a conscious choice. In perspective, as long as the content is of high quality, I’m sure readers can deal with either, as it doesn’t (generally) change the meaning of the copy!

  10. Darren Rowse says:

    Jason – I got that spelling from a number of sources – but perhaps they are wrong, out of date?

    Nir – thanks for letting me know about the pic – have removed it at your request.

  11. James says:

    Being terrible at spelling in the first place, it really doesn’t matter much. I just hope I have it spelled right in any form of English.
    What really matters is that the message is fully understood. After that, worry about professionalism.

  12. I am down here in Australia, and I do write with “Australian”-English. However, i dont actually find it to be a turn-off for others, it is just another “Spelling Mistake” to them. It is the same when i am reading some American sites.

  13. plonkee says:

    I use British English spellings, because otherwise it looks wrong. Some of my choices of expressions and so on are a bit Americanised because I read a lot of US based blogs and I tend to absorb them and lose my natural voice.

    I’ve found that most of my readers that comment on it are aware that British English spells things differently to American English. I’ve even had people deliberately comment using British spellings.

  14. Brad V. says:

    Hi Darren! You bring up an interesting point in this post. Personally, I use American English, but only because I was born and raised in the US.

    With that said, I studied English Literature in college, write a good amount of fiction and a little poetry, and maintain a blog about literature/writing. I don’t think what type of English you use really matters. Each “version” is unique and colorful in its own way. The only problems arise when one uses “local jargon” that is usually only understood within his/her own locality.

    A good example is the British word “fag”. For Britons, this simply means a cigarette. But here in the US, someone who doesn’t know any better might interpret it totally different.

    Other than that, whether you spell “color” as “colour” matters very little.

  15. Just another Canadian swinger here…

    I used to try to spell the American way, to avoid getting nagged by ScribeFire’s spellchecker – and I had been told (incorrectly, I now believe) that search engines would slap my wrists for non-American spelling. But it all just felt so contrived…

    Now I just color / colour it up whichever way my fingers feel like typing, and let the chips fall where they may.

  16. Erica says:

    As a Canadian I was taught primarily the English spellings and I’ll use them no matter how much a spell checker may yell at me. Colour, honour, valour, personally I find the -or ending quite unattractive, -our seems more “grown-up”.

    It’s also always centre, grey, cheque (banking).

    I find as far as -ze vs. -se if the ending starts with an “i” it’s -ize otherwise -se. So with the examples it would be recognize but analyse.

  17. Pete says:

    I’m an Australian living in Canada. The Australians have developed their own mix of spellings. The Canadians swing between the British and US spellings. I tend to vary my spelling according to the intended audience, and pretty much anything goes, it seems. In 7 years in Canada, not a single person has even commented on my choices of -ize versus -ise or aluminium versus aluminum. In truth, the general level of spelling in most written documents I see (whether e-mail, newspapers, technical documents or, sadly, even some books) is so poor that minor differences between fulfill and fullfil or gray and grey are insignificant. As for punctuation….

  18. j7labs says:

    I’m an Australian living in Melbourne, Australia. In normal writing I unconsciously switch between U.S and Australian spelling – I don’t know why. I think I used Microsoft Word with U.S spellcheck on since primary school.

    However, when I’m blogging or writing for a website, I always use U.S spelling for international sites, and Australian spelling for local sites. E.g. instead of bonnet, I’d write hood and vice versa. (as in the hood of the car)

    It makes sense.

  19. CatherineL says:

    I’m from the Uk. Most of the time I’ll use UK English, but often I just use whatever comes out.

    Since I started using the Internet a lot my spelling has got pretty bad anyway. And I’m always making typos.

  20. Eric Giguere says:

    I’m a little late with this thread, but as I point out in How to write like a Canadian, eh?, there’s a great resource that lists the primary differences between Canadian English and other varieties of English: Cornerstone’s Canadian English Page.

  21. I spell in British English. It’s a bigger issue for me as I have named my organisation Centre for Emotional Well-Being, which probably looks like a typo to the US-based audience

  22. britgirl says:

    I’m British and I live in Canada. I’m glad I don’t have to spell “colour” as “color” as that would make it very uncomfortable for me to blog. My audience though mostly American has always had a sizeable amount of British readers. Since I introduce myself as a Brit who lives in Canada I think people know what to expect. I blog in UK English, which is my mother tongue and I blog conversationally. I will though often provide American eqivalents alongside English words, such as films/movies, lift/elevator, pavement/sidewalk, trousers/pants, cinema/theatre… etc. Most Americans are quite savvy about what I’m talking about so I don’t feel it’s a “must”

    I also use British expressions from time to time, which my American readers also seem to enjoy… like naff.. or gobsmacked :)

  23. I’m a Brit living in the USA. I blog in American English, simply because the blog stands behind a book I published which is also written in AE, and because I live in the USA. Therefore, AE spellings and idiom, after ten years, now seem more familiar.

    I still apparently throw in an Anglicism from time to time. ;)

  24. biofuelsimon says:

    English is the new Latin

  25. Eric Collinson says:

    I am sure American English is right for our American cousins but a British English spellchecker option would be welcome as I am trying to improve my spelling and American spelling adds to my confusion.

  26. Schmendrick says:

    I am an American living in the United States, but I spell like an Englishman. I have always thought British orthography to be more proper (more aesthetically pleasing as well) and taught myself to use it as an adolescent. It became natural after a while.

  27. Paul says:

    As an Australian I’ve always used standard British spelling forms and usage for the most part, both at home and overseas. However Australians, like Canadians, do use some American terms in preference to British terms, some examples are: ‘station wagon’ instead of ‘estate car’, ‘sedan’ instead of .’saloon’, ‘billboard’ for ‘hoarding’, ‘hardware store’ for ‘ironmongers’, ‘kerosene’ for ‘paraffin’. In many instances, too, both the British and American term are used interchangeably in Australia, for example: ‘CV’ or ‘curriculum vitae’ and ‘resume’, ‘lift’ and ‘elevator’, ‘flat’ and ‘apartment’. Personally, given a choice between British and American terms, I would mostly opt for the British term as being the more familiar as I am older; many American terms that are now used in Australia have only been current here over the last 20 to 25 years and are usually used by Australians that are considerably younger than me.

  28. Carl says:

    I’m from Buffalo, NY which is literally right next to Canada.. It’s like Canada 2 over here because half the people that are in the area everyday are Canadian. We also get all the major Toronto based radio, TV stations, and newspapers too. I also visit Canada a lot, so I tend to find myself using both. I will normally use American spelling but tend to slip every now and then and use the British way. I’m a flip flopper. ;)

  29. Steve says:

    The British spelling of words don’t really trip up Americans who are reading one’s work. I really don’t think it matters much :P What catches one’s eye are the grammatical differences between American English and British English such as the ones on the following webpage http://www.perfectyourenglish.com/writing/american-and-british.htm

  30. stopitknow says:

    I’m afraid to say American English does not exist; it’s either English or English spelt incorrectly, I can’t suddenly go to France and then spell the word Bonjour a different way, i.e. Bonjor and then say that’s the right way because it’s English French.

    Americans speak English, there is no such thing as the American language.

  31. I disagree with many of the comments. The most logical approach to this problem is to master one of the styles – American English or British English, and to use it consistently in your writing (and of course speech).

    Stylistically, it is not correct or logical to mix these two styles.

    If you know well enough the differences, you have to consider your audience and subject.

  32. Just to make it clear. There’s only one language called English language, and two main written styles of this language: British (not English) English and American English.

    The two writing styles differ mainly in

    idiomatic expressions (ticked off Br E; hacked off Am E),

    words used (lorry Br E; truck Am E),

    usage (holiday means vacation in Br E and )

    grammar (group is used with plural verb in Br E, singular in Am E)

    spelling (travelling Br E; traveling Am E)

    Don’t mix those two styles – pick one and make the web more comprehensible.