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

Posted By Darren Rowse 27th of August 2007 Reader Questions, Writing Content 132

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.
  1. “Fulfilling” is how it’s spelled in American English. Perhaps you’re thinking of the British “travelling” vs. the American “traveling” or something similar.

  2. James Moore says: 08/27/2007 at 9:18 am

    As long as it’s literate, I don’t care how it’s spelled, though for the record it IS spelled, not spelt :-)

  3. I write Windows tips and the like. My blog is in English(Australian),. I come across all sorts of problems when it comes to an article about syncing favourites, as whenever I refer to “IE Favorites” I need to use American spelling as that is the way Windows spells it… The articles switch between US and AU accordng to if it is general blog conversation or reference to a button labeled “Favorites”.

  4. American blogger – American English here.. but I really enjoy reading the writing of British or Australian English bloggers. The differences in spelling, and in idiom, are just enough to add charm without detracting from meaning. I lived in the UK for two years and it helped me to understand the breadth of the slang issue.

    As a note – another difference is the addition of a ‘t’ to make a past tense in British-speak – spelt vs. spelled, learnt vs. learned. I’ve also seen UK or Aussie bloggers use “whilst” rather than the “while” I would choose.

    Fascinating subject!

  5. Well, I’m Canadian and all I have to add to the conversation is… “SPELL CHECKER”? Wut dat?

  6. I use British English as much as possible, but sometimes I really don’t know which is which (from your examples, defence/defense and fulfil are ones that I’m never sure of). Theres such a cross contamination of American and British culture over here in the UK, and the fact I do most of my reading on the internet, so mainly US English, which makes it even more difficult!

  7. I am from the United States so I spell most things the “American” way… except it’s always been “theatre” instead of “theater” for me. I don’t know why. Actually, for me, the art is called “theatre” for me but the place is called “theater”. I know nobody uses that distinction but that’s the way it is in my mind. Strange.

  8. Funnily enough, this weekend I found a minor complaint about my blog in the comments of another blog that linked to me.

    I use the word “wee” quite often, which she seemed to find strange and funny as she thinks of the toilet-related word every time she sees it!

    As for SEO issues, it’s not just spelling but also phrases that are important, I think – I often write about mobile phones, or should that be cell phones? I’ve recently tried to ensure that I use both expressions in each post.

  9. I have been trying to avoid using these words for the longest time. The list is probably tremendously long and I always thought it is best to avoid using these word as they may bring up controversy when other words could be use in their place, words that are just as effective if not better. However some times whether it’s because I can’t think of any other words to use or because I am unconsciously unaware of it, I occasionally use those controversial words and naturally I use the version I was taught by default, not because of choice. It just sort of naturally comes out that way.

    Since I am raised in the US, I am American and therefore I write that way. For SEO purposes, I figure since Google, Yahoo, and MSN (the 3 largest search engines among all existing search engines are also US base), they should follow the American style more (this is pure speculation and I have no idea if this is true or not). I would hope that they would adopt all forms of spelling but we know that can’t always be the case.

  10. I just write the way I was taught in school and the way I was raised (“American”). I don’t feel that it is a major issue. If you have a personal blog, write how you would write anything. That is your style and your blog should follow it.

  11. For a list of some of the different spellings of words check out this page on wikipedia

    And for the different spellings on the variations of fulfil/fulfill checkout this post on the topic (scroll down it a bit)

  12. I’m a Brit and I naturally gravitate towards British English. In my job as a freelance writer, I use both, as I write equally for the UK and US markets. However, most of my blog readers are in the US (aren’t stats packages wonderful?), so I sometimes mix it up, especially if I’ve been doing a writing job that calls for US English.

  13. I use whatever I want to, American or British , both okay to me and to my writers, I don’t understand will it be a problem for readers if you use colour instead of color and vice versa.
    I am just trying to give meaningful ideas, I don’t get stuck on spelling. Interesting point you got here, Problogger.
    Thank you.

  14. I guess I tend to swap a bit even though I’m an American.

    I use “color” but prefer “theatre”.

  15. Hey!
    The spellings don’t bother me. It’s words like learnt, and spelt that first stood out to me in Darren’s blog. At first is sounded like an “uneducated country boy”, until I educated myself and found out it was proper English for others. Use the words and spellings that are right for your native English. Celebrate our differences! The computer has created another language. My spell checker always says the word “blog” should be “bog”.
    Oh well!

  16. Interesting topic and relevant to a degree I guess. The words, colour, analyse, recognise, etc really don’t seem to rank too high though for SEO purposes. My personal opinion is to spell the words as you spell them in the country where you live. If I am reading a blog from OZ or the UK, then when I see words like colour, I really don’t notice the spelling so much because I know the blogger is using the English form of the word, the word sounds the same so I really just ignore the spelling. If you were selling items strictly to people in OZ and you are an American company, I would definitely use the English version of the words then.

    Mark – AKA, The Million Dollar Homeboy

  17. Being an American, I use American English. However, I have no problem reading “colour” as “color”. I say type in your own English. In regards to SEO, I don’t know.

  18. As a Canadian citizen, I’m definitely a swinger with my blog, and any other projects that require writing.

    Great post on an interesting topic – eh.

  19. I think that you should go with the majority, and that’s spanish, how about a PROblogueador blog ?? ja ja, only joking around, I say US-english . . .

  20. I was raised with the British spelling but since I have been in the US for the last seven years I use the American spelling on my blog. I know that the majority of my readers are American…so when in Rome and all that.

    I switched my spell checker over to American so that it picks up the words that I am just itching to use the British spelling for like ‘cheque’ (for the Americans it is that thing you write to take money out of your bank account. :-)

  21. I’m Australian and use Australian English mostly. Sometimes, though when I’m writing about an American theme, different constructs will creep in. My spelling is British 99% of the time, but my vocabulary is purely Aussie. Not Strine, though, except when I feel mischievous. I tend to use the international version of Australian English.

    For the record, my readers are more curious to know what specific words and phrases mean than to change my English into theirs.

  22. I’m American, and I just write as I’m used to.

  23. The Queen’s English for me, thank you :D

  24. Hello,

    English is not my mother tongue and I grew up learning (American) English as a second language. Now I live in the UK so I use British spelling most of the time, including the first few months after I started my blog.

    Then I noticed that the majority of my readers are in the US, so I have since used America spelling for blogging. It is what I grew up with so it’s not a conscious effort. (But it is a very conscious decision, since I do write a lot about colors/colours in my blog.)

    Like what Andy Merrett said above, I guess most people are used to reading both kinds of spellings.

  25. I’m in Australia, and I have troubles with the same thing. I just let it flow, sometimes ize, sometimes ise, and no one’s complained yet, so I guess it doesn’t really matter.

    In my last post, I used both ise and ize haha!

  26. I use Canadian English which is the most adaptable!

    An interesting aside is that there are two spellings of the topic of my blog: homoeopathy (original spelling still used in England, India, etc.) and homeopathy (modern spelling used in North America and increasingly being adopted elsewhere).

    So in order to attract searchers of both spellings (the British spelling is used about 20% of the time so it cannot be ignored), I opt for the British spelling in some of my articles.

  27. Hey Darren,

    Base on your link provided above…
    wikipedia, I don’t understand why they even bother putting dialogue down seeing as how they’re all the same for every country listed… I would understand if they at least list dialog in there somewhere but it’s not even on that list.

  28. yep – weird that one Steven.

  29. We use British English in Malaysia but sometimes I wonder if I should use American English because my blog attracts a sizable audience from the US

  30. Here in Singapore we flip-flop like Canadians too. Our education is in British English, but business English is mostly American.

    For me it’s American English on my primary blog and while I fly the British English flag on my football blog which is about Liverpool Football Club and the Barclays Premier League.

    So I guess I write primarily in the English that most of my audience is comfortable with.

  31. It seems to me you should be yourself. Write the way you write. For me, that’s British English. I follow a guideline of putting my own personality across in my posts, so whyever would I go against everything I learned at school?

    Just two caveats, though: if I am aware that a word (like biro, felt-tip or rubber, all words I have been picked up on on my drawing blog) may be misconstrued or simply not understood by readers outside the UK, I will add an explanation. And I have to admit that, spending so much time reading the blogs of a global nature, with many in the US, I do find myself subconsciously picking up Americanisms. I use them like you use seasoning – for a bit of flavour… well, I hope so, anyway.

  32. Here in Singapore, we’re taught British English in school so that’s what I write and spell in. There’s quite a bit of Americanisms thrown in though as a lot of us grow up watching American TV shows on the local channels.

  33. I’m Canadian and I live in Canada, so I spell things the Canadian way. With a few exceptions, I spell it “center”, not “centre”.

    With the “less known” ones, I don’t really care.

    Either way, the reader will most likely understand you, as long as they can read English.

  34. Darren hello,
    My name is Nir, and I’m a graphic designer. The fire typography photo that illustrates this blog entry, is mine. The photo, witch you have taken from my flickr page, is NOT a free/CC photo. it is clearly marked as “All rights reserved”, witch means that you can’t do anything with it. I don’t like the fact that you are “making a living from this new and dynamic medium” by ripping my own creative (hard) work, and i thought that as a problogger you would know better then infringing copyright laws.

    however, since it is already on your blog, please add a credit line beneath it, with my full name linked back to photo page on flickr. if your not interested in that, please remove it immediately.

    In the future, please contact me before, and will be glad to give my approval.


  35. During an English Language class on Varieties of English Language, we discussed the possibility of cultural imperialism by the Americans through Microsoft spell check in terms of language, and that was more than 8 years ago.

    For the record, British examiners for GCE papers accept both British and American spelling, so long the candidates are consistent. I think for many people, consistency is an issue because they do not know which is the correct version of each variety.

    I come from Singapore, and I prefer to use British English since that is what I’ve been taught since young. I like later versions of Microsoft for offering Singapore English as one of the options, though I’ve yet to see the difference between British spelling and Singapore spelling.

    I do some editing offline, and usually I prefer to use ‘organise’ rather than ‘organize’ even though both are correct, just for consistency.

    My blog is more local in nature, so I don’t need to worry about switching between American and British spelling.

  36. It is an interesting question, one that I pondered in a blog post a while back (

    One question that remains unanswered for me is how exactly search engines like Google deal with alternative spellings of the same word – they seem to recognise, or recognize, that “color” and “colour” are the same word, but still seem to rank the results differently.

    I wonder if in time this SEO force will influence our spelling to the extent that we end up with a unifying “internet” English…

  37. Here’s what I know … almost ALL non-English speaking countries learn British English at school, in some form or another. The main reason is that the British were all over the place back in the 1500 – 1800. So those countries (also known as Commonwealth countries) adopt British English.

    Now, I mean no offense … You only get corrected when you use British English by people who were brought up with American English. Those who were brought up with British English are aware of the differences between American English and British English. So they don’t mind reading either one.

    But those who are only familiar with American English, they think that’s the only English there is.

    Poor David Beckham in the States, getting corrected so many times for saying football instead of soccer.

  38. I do not have special language policy. I swing. Except if i use spell-checker – then i use American spelling.

  39. Well, as for the ppl from non-English countries: from my own experience – we usually just try not to make basic mistakes, leave alone dialect intricacies;)

  40. The correct version of the language is, of course, the stiff-upper-lipped British version of the language. Take a large pinch of salt here because most of us Brits have got used to different spellings when reading. What really gets to most of us is the difference in punctuation — and those bloggers who don’t understand that punctuating correctly is far more important than whether the color is a favorite or not.
    I must admit that in my written work I use exclusively British spelling even to the point of changing “ize” to “ise” in abstracts.

  41. I’m an American blogging in New Zealand for a technology company with a primarily US audience. So I write in American English. But I also write for a Kiwi automotive magazine, and boy howdy you should see me wield a ‘colour’ or a ‘centre’ when I know that’s what my audience expects!

    Just tonight we were watching a TV show called ‘Spooks’. British show. MI5 had hacked into the American ambassador’s computer and was pretending to transmit on behalf of the White House. ‘Which weapons should we prioritise?’ was the message. I thought that would be the clue that tipped off the ambassador to the fact that he was being spied on by the Brits. Instead, he responded, ‘Prioritise the chemicals.’ Bogus!

  42. Hi Darren, first of all thanks for answering my question. I’m amazed at the response it’s received.

    I think the comments above confirm my initial thoughts – that I should write in the language that comes naturally to me, and I’m sure my audience are intelligent enough to figure out the difference in certain spellings.

    As Markowe says above, the SEO question seems a little harder to answer, but my best guess is that Google, Yahoo and MSN probably have some pretty smart algorithms that know that the words ‘color’ and ‘colour’ are the same. Whether they rank them the same is another matter, but I suspect it’s one we can only speculate on!

    Pete Williams –

  43. I’m an Aussie, and a swinger. I try to stick to British English (or Aussie English) where I can. I use the Macquarie Dictionariy as my spell checker and definitely ‘ise’ instead ‘ize’, but I do swing. Working on the web you have to use words like ‘center’ and ‘color’ in CSS, and if you’re describing the ‘favourites’ menu that’s how you spell it because that’s what people see it written as.

  44. Well, I stick with British English since I’m an Indian.. but sometimes without my own knowledge, american spellings come and pollute my writings :D

  45. I swing but being an Aussie I tend towards the British way.

    center, color and “ise/ize” are what get me (frustrate me) the most.

    But as of last week I’ve decided I’m going to write in my natural tongue, the way I was taught growing up.

    Writing’s hard enough without having to continually correct the American bastardisation of the English language. ;-)

  46. I’m German and learned British English in school, so that’s what I tend to write in. But my American English Firefox spellchecker then corrects me and I tend to agree to its suggestions just to make the red lines go away ;-)

  47. Well I am dutch, writing a medblog in English. Recently discovered the difference between a movie and a film in English. Not so fluent yet to bother with US or UK English, would like feed back on my English. Writing a blog is also practicing English writing as well as fun. Love the spelling correction in blogger.
    I gues I am writing as a Canadian.

  48. Most of my staff is American so we use US English but two of my writers are Australian so they use AUS English. Readers don’t say anything. I think they are smart enough to know that English words are spelled differently in different countries.

    I don’t mind reading different version of English, in fact, I think it’s kind of charming, kind of like accents.

  49. I have a real hard time with spelling – I’m talking need some help hard time for reasons that are hard to spell. So while I try to use British English (being British) I sometimes just go with whatever the spell checker comes up with. Sometimes the en-us library is default or the only option. In open office, for example, the en-gb dictionary was miles behind and simply not ready the last time I downloaded it.

  50. >>Here’s what I know … almost ALL non-English speaking countries learn British English at school, in some form or another.

    This is no longer true, as former Commonwealth countries are no longer the major source of English language learners. East Asia, in particular, is increasingly favoring American English. (Not that this is a good or bad trend, in particular. Just pointing it out.)

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