British English or American English??
What kind of soda flavor do you like? I mean, what flavour of pop do you like? I’m sorry, what flavour of fizzy drink is your favourite?
This may be a surprise for some people, but English has a decent amount of variety to it in terms of spelling. This is a challenge for an author for a couple reasons. First, the author needs to learn how to spell words properly and it makes it difficult when there are competing spellings. Second, an author who writes in English needs to make a decision as to what English he or she will actually write in.
There are, more or less, two primary forms of written English: American English and British English.
If you have paid attention to this kind of thing throughout my blog, you’ll notice that I aim to write using American English. That pleases some of you and irritates others. I may not stick to American English all that well as it is not my native tongue… or my native typing… but I try.
I live in Canada and as a Canadian, we typically use British English. We are, however, very close to the US and because of this (and because of the influential nature of American culture) we are heavily influenced by American thinking and writing.
So, when I write, how do I choose the form of English I will use? When an author publishes a book, should they use American or British English?
Before we touch on that question, let me list some of the common spelling differences (I’m sure I’m missing a lot) between British and American English (the British will be on the left, American on the right).
I’m sure I missed a number and there are definitely a lot more when you work through common vocabulary (such as elevator vs. lift), but covering every last spelling difference is beyond the scope of this blog (let alone all the vocabulary).
The challenge before a writer is the question, which form of English should I use? If I’m writing a book primarily or initially for British English readers, the choice is obvious. If I’m writing for American English readers, the choice is obvious.
It was a little more difficult for me as a Canadian. As mentioned above, we use British English, but we are so close to the US.
As an author, you should consider carefully your intended market. We will, of course, hope to sell books all across the world. However, if you think the US will be a major portion of your sales, go with American English. If the UK, Canada, Australia or any other English speaking nation will be the major portion of your sales, go for British English.
Keep in mind the context of your book as well. I think if you are writing a book with British characters based in London, England, but you are writing to an American audience… that’s tricky. Personally, I would go with British English, but you have a tough call to make.
As you can see from my comments above, I decided to go with American English. Perhaps my American brothers and sisters will appreciate that and my British English speaking brothers and sisters from around the world will come, in time, to forgive me.
In order to do this, I had to learn a lot! The easy ones listed above are the “ou” vs. “o” words like armour vs. armor. The other ones, like towards/toward were a little more difficult to figure out.
There is also this gem:
In British English, practise is a verb while practice is a noun. In American English, practice is both a verb and a noun.
Or this one:
Eyeing tends to be British, while Eying tends to be more American. Both are accepted (I believe in either form of English), but you kind of need to pick one and stick with it. I didn’t use that word often, but I did use it. In the end, I went with the British spelling as I find “eying” looks weird to me. So does “eyeing,” but it looks less weird to me.
Let me mention one more that I struggled with. I ended up choosing the British form for this one as well. The words are: Leapt or Leaped. What’s strange about this one is, similar to eyeing/eying above, both are somewhat acceptable, but they are pronounced differently (unlike a lot of the words listed above). So not only is there a different spelling, but also a different sound.
“Leapt” tends to be British while “leaped” tends to be American. Again, I went with the British version on this one, even though I was going with American English on most of the rest. The reason for this was because in three out of the four times I used it in my first novel, I preferred the pronunciation of “leapt” in the sentence.
If you’re an American and really struggle with that, I don’t know what to say to you. If you really can’t get over that (pun intended), that’s strange. You shouldn’t get that upset over “leapt.”
So, as an author, you need to choose whether you use British or American English in your writing. The decision should be made based on a combination of location (yours) and intended market. If it is important to your readers, you can always produce a British edition and an American edition, but whatever you do, pick your direction and run with it!
Comment below to let me know how you have worked through this matter.