American English, British English, Canadian English… which to use for your book?

w&alogotomayto tomato what brand of English should you useYesterday I spoke at the Writers & Artists self-publishing conference, and one of the attendees raised this subject… which led to an interesting debate.

First of all, does it matter if your editor is American, British, Canadian, Australian, or any other flavour of English?

Not for developmental editing, because that’s about the substance of the book. The editor won’t be recommending line corrections or studying your phrasing or grammar (although they might remark on it).

But in copy editing and proofreading, your use of language will be under scrutiny. That’s where you need an editor in tune with your territory. (Here’s a post on the different editorial processes and the order to do them.)

You say tomayto…

In case you’re wondering, there is far more difference than spellings and vocab. I’m a thoroughly Brit speaker, and I couldn’t copy-edit or proof a US book. Or an Australian book. Each territory has its own grammar, usage and punctuation. When I read a blog or book by an American that I know has immaculate language, my red pen itches.

Which of the Englishes to choose for your book?

If you’re from the UK, should you make a separate edition for the US … and others?

If you’ve been traditionally published, you might know that separate editions are made for each territory, and the books are usually re-edited for local ears. (Indeed, the rights may be sold to completely different publishers.)

Sometimes this goes beyond spelling and language use. The title might be changed; English locations and environments might be changed, all to be more appealing to the market. I worked on a book that was changed significantly for America because it took place in an English school. The rewrite replaced cricket with baseball and other details to make it less foreign for US readers. (Usually I’d find that irritating. Surely kids know that pavements are sidewalks and bonnets are hoods, right? But the publisher had a good artistic reason; the book was about a demon trapped in an ordinary school, and the humour worked because everything else was absolutely familiar.)

In indie publishing, the platforms are set up so that your edition goes worldwide. On KDP you can exclude territories, but I don’t think you can on Smashwords and other platforms – which makes it difficult to produce separate editions. Indeed, I don’t know any indies who do this because they’d lose certain advantages such as cross-linking of reviews.

So indies have to choose their variety of English and stick to it. Some authors change the spellings to American but keep everything else UK. They use American brand names too – one conference attendee cited the example of paracetamol, and how Americans are confused if you don’t call it Tylenol. For me, mixing the Englishes is too weird for my pedantic editor brain, so I stick to Brit.

How much do readers mind?

There was an interesting response from other speakers.

Mel Sherratt (@WriterMels), who writes crime thrillers, said when she first published she was appalled to find reviews on Amazon US that complained her book was full of errors. Digging further, she found this was a response to her UK English. But other readers said they enjoyed the distinctive English flavour, which was appropriate to her setting, so she decided that Englishness was part of her signature.

Paul Pilkington (@PaulPilkington), who writes suspense mystery, said he’d also had remarks from American readers. so he puts a note in the front matter, explaining that his books use UK conventions.

With my own novels, I have more reviews from US than UK readers. No one’s ever complained about the pronounced Brit flavour. Nail Your Novel fared a little differently, but not significantly so. In about 150 reviews for book 1, I had one reader who mistook the UK English for errors. I actually did the unwise thing of replying to the review – don’t do this at home – and asked for examples. When I pointed out that they were all sanctioned by the Oxford English Dictionary, he removed the review. (As I said, tackling negative reviews is usually a hiding to nothing, but I think it’s justified where your competence is being questioned for a dumb reason.)
Thanks for the tomato pic epSOS on Flickr

Clearly, some categories of reader will be more forgiving than others of a non-US usage. We’ll all have our own comfort levels and solutions, and it would be interesting to discuss further. What brand of English do you use? Do you make concessions to other territories? Have you ever had negative reviews based on this and did it make you take action? Let’s discuss!


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  1. #1 by DRMarvello on November 8, 2015 - 1:49 pm

    I think it makes sense to stick to what you know. I couldn’t possibly write my books specifically for the UK or AU market. I’ve read enough British authors to have a feel for the differences in US vs UK English, but the nuances are legion. I won’t even claim that one of my characters has a British accent for fear of having the character say something a true Brit would never say.

    Lynda Wilcox (cozy mystery writer) is one of the British indie authors I like to read. Her work has such a UK flavor to it that I frequently have to look up words and idioms to figure out what she’s talking about (rocket salad?!?). I find it interesting and charming, but I’m sure many US readers would not.

    I like the idea of notating at the beginning of the book that it uses US/UK/AU spelling and grammar conventions, but in the end, the book is what it is. As you pointed out, creating different editions for different markets isn’t practical through KDP (or on an indie budget). The reader must accept the book or not. In my experience, non-US readers are far more cosmopolitan than US readers and therefore more forgiving of US conventions. Between that and the fact that the US ebook market is larger, I feel fortunate to be writing US English (as best I can manage).

    • #2 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 6:58 pm

      Hi Daniel!
      Your remark about rocket made me smile. We don’t call it rocket salad, just rocket! So, an excellent example. 🙂
      And ‘cozy … ‘cosy’. I discovered a couple of weeks ago that UK people don’t tend to use the term ‘cosy mystery’, even though it’s a branch of whodunit, even though there are equivalent books. So your comment here illustrates how adopting the non-native variety of English is fraught with pitfalls. Carry on as you are, sir.

      While we’re on the subject of publishing terms, it’s taken a while for UK publishing people to adopt the term ‘middle grade’, which in the US is an established part of publishing vocab.

      And good point about the budget considerations, which I didn’t think to mention.

  2. #3 by tomburkhalter on November 8, 2015 - 1:54 pm

    I understand George Bernard Shaw once said that the English and the Americans are two peoples separated by a common language, and idea I’ve always found interesting. My grandfather had a collection of Shaw’s plays in his library; I read through it when I was in my early teens. Funny thing is, if Robert Heinlein hadn’t quoted Shaw in the front of Glory Road, Shaw might never have entered my universe. Shaw did, and so did Wm. Shakes., and all about the same time, my early teens.

    I’ve always been particularly fond of the Brit version of English. Nevil Shute Norway, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling (perhaps more in A Casual Vacancy than the Harry Potter series), etc., have honored places on my bookshelf.

    Here’s an historical tidbit for you: the pilot’s information manuals for airplanes manufactured in the US and used by the Commonwealth Air Forces and the USAAF in World War II have an appendix of equivalent terms. What the USAAF called a battery would be an accumulator in the RAF, and so on. When USAAF characters meet RAF or RAAF bods in a story, little things like that come in quite handy!

    • #4 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:05 pm

      Hi Tom! I was wondering whether to use that remark of Shaw’s.

      Oh, how interesting about the aircraft manuals (what else would I expect of a Shute fan!). I didn’t know about the battery/accumulator. Such details make all the difference to authenticity.

  3. #5 by Lesley Rice on November 8, 2015 - 2:59 pm

    After my first technical book was published (by Prentice Hall in the UK) I was asked by an American publisher to write another. During the editing process I saw some of the editors comments, hand written in the margin. He (or she) thought my writing was terrible and said so, quite plainly. I later discovered he never expected me to see the note, and apologised for any offence, but like you, I care about my writing and I wanted examples. It turned out they were all differences between the US and the UK. My view was that since the publisher had invited me to write the book, they had to accept the UK approach. Their editor did not agree.
    Now, I am stuck between two worlds, as I now live in the US. I have become accustomed to US spelling, but as time passes I become aware of far more differences in the nuances of the language. For example, I recently corrected my daughter when she said she had ‘graduated high school’. I felt she should say ‘graduated from high school’ but that is not the norm here in the US. My US friends say I should make an effort not to lose my Britishness, and I continue to write about places and settings in the UK, as that is where my experience lies, but as I struggle to find a publisher, I can’t help wondering if part of the reason is that these days, I am neither one thing or the other, neither UK nor US, but some sort of homeless hybrid of the two.

    • #6 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:15 pm

      Lesley, eek what an experience. I think I’d have wanted revenge by scrawling over a text written by that editor.

      As these comments gather, we seem to be building up a lexicon of US/UK differences. Lesley, as soon as I read ‘graduated high school’, my brain added the ‘from’.

      I don’t think I’d be able to unlearn the rules I’ve known for my entire life. I never learned the English rules formally anyway; I absorbed them from usage. Deprogramming must be hard. But as for your dilemma, I’m sure your between-state won’t be much of a problem. An editor could easily sort it out – and hopefully with more courtesy than your previous encounter.

      We have an American friend who amuses us because he describes the London Tube stations using only half their names. Warren St, Goodge St and Tottenham Court Rd are Warren, Goodge and Tottenham Court.

  4. #7 by Mina Chara on November 8, 2015 - 3:12 pm

    I’ve lived in the US since I was eleven years old, but I was born in London and my family is British. I try always to use US spelling, but I don’t always succeed as the UK spelling still looks correct to me. I was mostly home schooled, by US based teachers and tutors. They suggested I use a US spell checker for essays, but otherwise my UK way of saying things did not seem to create problems, and often gave me an interesting perspective to use in essays.

    In my attempts to write fiction, I have both US and UK experience to draw on, whether it will cause problems when I try to publish, I don’t know. I had assumed readers would know that ‘colour’ for example, is a valid way to spell the word, now Iv’e read your blog post, I’m not so sure!

    • #8 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:20 pm

      Hi Mina! It must be confusing if you’ve had opposing influences. Your editor should be able to iron out inconsistencies. Good luck!

  5. #9 by Michael W. Perry on November 8, 2015 - 3:52 pm

    Roz, you’re probably raised an issue complicated enough that the answer itself must be complicated. Here’s my take:

    1. Independent writers shouldn’t sweat these issues unless they want to be particularly picky. They often lack the time or specialized skills to do a conversion properly. Besides, as you noted, there’s not easy way for those publishing through POD (IngramSpark and CreateSpace) or digital (Kindle, iBookstore et al.) to create separate national editions. What you can’t do, you need not do.

    2. Adding spelling conversion to various writing apps wouldn’t be a bad idea. Creating version with British spelling would be easier if there was a search-and-maybe-replace function that automated the changes and did them in one pass. Some could simply be changed wholesale, but there’s enough gotchas that many would need to be reviewed before the change. Proper names, for instance, often need to retain their proper (i.e. national) spelling. The Social Research Centre in Australia should remain a centre and the same is true of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

    3. Whatever is done about mere spelling, genuine differences between societies should remain unchanged. A story set in London should have people traveling on an “underground” not a “subway” and seeing signs that say “Way Out” not “Exit.” And that should apply to children’s stories as well as adult ones. Rule One in writing for kids is to not talk down to them. They know people from different places are different. Keep those differences in stories. And for that book Roz mentions, if the school remains in England, then cricket should stay cricket. I shouldn’t become baseball.

    4. For books that are likely to sell well enough to justify the expense of changes and that have UK and US editions, spelling changes make sense if their primary impact is simply to jar many readers. I’d get ticked off to read a novel set in London that had subways rather than an underground. But changing irrelevancies like “programme” to “program” are fine. They simply prevent that split second in which a word looks misspelled.

    5. On the other hand in a novel, maybe, just maybe, British characters should talk with British spellings and American characters with American spellings. We tweak what characters say to fit regional accents. Why not do the same with spelling? And a historical speech should retain the spelling of the speaker. Churchill spoke with British spelling not American. That’ll also avoid creating a mess where the Churchill of written memos (that must be quoted verbatim) uses British spelling, but as soon as he opens his mouth, his spelling becomes regionalized, with “programme” becoming “program” for U.S. readers.

    6. Different titles for different markets should be avoided. The first of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, became Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. I assume that’s because of differing meanings attached to philosopher in the UK and US. The answer to that isn’t two titles with the resulting confusion. It’s to take the time to come up with one title that works everywhere.

    7. Don’t treat readers as if they’re always lazy. Some will fly past cultural differences without caring. But by leaving them in, you give readers who take the time to investigate a bonus. Recently, I listened to an older British mystery (audiobook) in which some characters met (I forget the exact term) in a tea cafe. Suspecting the name reflected a uniquely British place, I did some research. The result was fascinating. Knowing that quite a few English women felt uncomfortable sitting alone in British pubs, a long-ago bread company created a chain of tea shops with pastries in which a respectable woman could sit alone to read and sip her tea without being hassled by drunk men. That mattered because in the tale a man and woman agree to meet in just that place. Knowing that adds a flavor to the story that’s lost if that specialized meaning were stripped out. Don’t make changes that dumb down books. Leave in meaning that are not only national, but have a special meaning at different times in history.


    Me? I write in American English most of the time even though I publish worldwide. I wouldn’t trust myself to always get the British spelling right. But for the editions of G. K. Chesterton’s writings that I’ve edited and published, I retained his British spelling.

    If I recall correctly, when I collected the best of his 1905-1922 Illustrated London News articles for Chesterton on War and Peace, I used InDesign’s powerful styling feature to advantage. The commentary I wrote to give the background to each article had their paragraph styles set to American spelling, while the paragraph styles for Chesterton’s own writing was set to maintain British spelling. That made it easy to be consistent.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

    • #10 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:27 pm

      Interesting examples here, Michael, though I disagree about a style that mixes US and UK spellings in dialogue according to the nationality of the speaker, In my experience, what seems like a flexible rule usually results in a situation where you argue round in circles for ever about which version to use. If the US speaker is quoting the UK speaker, which spelling do you use?

      I agree about the titles. The title is the title – or you’d hope it was. Changing it confuses readers, especially in these global times where we might shop in foreign Amazones. However, trad publishing does this kind of thing. The title is a sales tool, like the cover.

      Thanks for such a detailed addition to the discussion!

  6. #11 by Garry Rodgers (@GarryRodgers1) on November 8, 2015 - 4:15 pm

    Hi Roz. Great article about an important subject. I’m Canadian, so I’m stuck half-way between the US and UK forms. My editor is American and her advice is for me to abandon the Canadian spelling/grammar and use the US style – reason being is that the US has ten times the population of Canada and it only makes sense to commercially appeal to the larger market. Recently, I’ve joined the Huffington Post blogging team and their guidelines make it mandatory to write in the US style. Just thought you’d like my two-cents from Canada, eh?

    • #12 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:29 pm

      Garry – thank you for being the first voice from Canada! I was hoping for greater diversity.

      Congrats on the Huffpost gig – how are easy are you finding it to stick to US style? What do they mean by it – spelling only?

  7. #13 by mrdisvan on November 8, 2015 - 6:26 pm

    There was that famous case of the American reviewer who praised Ms Rowling’s powers of invention in coming up with the mint humbug!

    I find the effect of writing outside your culture can be quite interesting. James Hadley Chase created some memorable thrillers set – where? Not in the real USA, which he had never visited, but in his own imaginary version of it.

    Likewise Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, supposedly set in 1950s England but really taking place in a kind of upstate New York wonderland, an American theme park of ’50s England.

    Or Neuromancer, which William Gibson set in a teeming Japanese city full of uncollected rubbish and abandoned buildings that let the rain in. When he got to Japan, Gibson reportedly was surprised to find the cities there are typically very clean, ultra-modern and orderly. “More than yours, round-eye,” his hosts might have said if they weren’t so polite. Instead they said, “Maybe you were thinking of Blade Runner…?”

    • #14 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:31 pm

      Hello Disvan! I love that story about the humbug. The funny thing is, it’s the kind of word Rowling would invent – like ‘muggle’.

      Those are great examples of the imagined Englands and Americas. I’m sure there’s plenty of fertile ground still unexplored there.

    • #15 by acflory on November 8, 2015 - 10:16 pm

      ““Maybe you were thinking of Blade Runner…?”” Oh that’s funny! Luckily sci-fi novels set in the future have a lot more leaway when it comes to reality. I loved Necromancer, but my own future worlds tend to evolve along more realistic lines. 🙂

      • #16 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 10:54 pm

        Hello, Andrea! You remind me, I haven’t watched Blade Runner for a few months…

        • #17 by acflory on November 9, 2015 - 6:16 am

          lol – definitely a classic.

  8. #18 by fredricaparlett on November 8, 2015 - 7:11 pm

    I am an American would-be novelist married for 55 years to a British-born, Oxford undergraduate, mathematician. When we go back to the U.K., I have to remind him that it’s “lift” not “elevator,” and “lorry” not “truck.” His old friends divide between those who think he’s gone completely American — they listen to his vocabulary, and those who think he hasn’t changed one bit — they listen to his accent. A more thorny issue and not politically correct: I feel the Brits of his generation and class, are, in general, much more articulate and lucid than most Americans. They are more careful how they use language. But I may be suffering from the lack of same in our dreadful politicians.

    • #19 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 7:44 pm

      Frederica, that’s such an interesting distinction – the people who listen to your husband’s accent and the people who notice his vocab. An insight, perhaps, into two different modes of listening.

  9. #20 by Hans Maerker on November 8, 2015 - 8:34 pm

    Roz, I second Garry Rodgers’ statement. The argument of a much larger readership in America should be considered when a writer makes the decision. Another fact is that a large variety of distributed movies and TV series are made in the States, and use American lingo too.

    My point is, that the majority of readers [outside the States] is used to American style and language anyway, because of movies shown on TV. They really don’t mind reading about a flashlight, elevator, or apartment anymore. Regardless of where they live.

    That’s the very same reason, why I keep all my writing in American English. Yet, I have a different history too. Living in Europe [again], I spent a large portion of my life in the States, working and writing for ‘Corporate America’. My mind is immersed in American style, spelling, and grammar anyway. It’s second nature to me and I consider it my ‘other’ mother tongue, despite of my German nationality.

    It certainly helps to have an American wife too. 🙂 The former said brings me in a situation, where I take full advantage of the media and U.S. movie distribution. I edit and write in American English only, despite of being familiar with British English as well.

    • #21 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 11:03 pm

      Hello, Hans! And now we have the translator’s perspective!

      I’d like to pick up on your point about American movies and TV, and how we get used to their language. I think UK folks get accustomed to it, but it seems to be mostly the nouns and verbs. American grammar and prepositions still seem jarring, and no doubt the same applies the other way round. I wonder why this is? As a linguist, do you have any thoughts? Are different cognitive mechanisms involved, perhaps?

  10. #22 by amariesilver on November 8, 2015 - 9:34 pm

    Excellent advice. Thanks for taking the time to put this together!

    • #23 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 11:03 pm

      Thanks, Amarie! (I hope I’ve got your name right.)

      • #24 by amariesilver on November 8, 2015 - 11:18 pm

        “A” is short for Allison – which I actually go by. There are a lot of Allison Silvers dominating the internet so I abbreviated my name for the sake of my future books. Marie is my middle name. It’s a pleasure meeting you!

  11. #26 by acflory on November 8, 2015 - 10:12 pm

    I decided a long time ago that my brand of English [probably a cross between Aussie and Brit] was part of who I am as a writer – i.e. part of my brand. If readers can’t handle words spelled with ‘ou’ instead of ‘o’ then so be it, they probably wouldn’t enjoy my writing anyway. And I’m not being arrogant there. How we write is a reflection of how our minds work, and that, in turn, is reflected in our language. I push boundaries so my work is not going to appeal to someone who wants nothing but the familiar.

    • #27 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 8, 2015 - 11:05 pm

      Hi Andrea! Certainly we have to do what’s natural. And now you’ve admitted you represent the Aussie department, would you share some examples of different vocab and usage? We’ve got a nice list from the US side.

      • #28 by acflory on November 9, 2015 - 6:22 am

        Mmm…that’s actually harder to do than you would think. Mostly we tend to write using Brit English, but there are exceptions and they’re rather subtle. For example, none of us would dream of calling a truck anything but a truck. We understand the word ‘lorry’ but would feel as if we were ‘putting it on’ if we used it instead of truck.
        Same with your word ‘vest’. To us, a vest is part of a three piece suit. The undergarment that keeps you warm in winter is a ‘singlet’.

        I suspect our spelling leans toward the Brit but our vocab is largely influenced by American TV.

  12. #29 by Nicola on November 9, 2015 - 1:03 pm

    I once tried to write a novel in Canadian AND British (Scottish) English, using the appropriate flavour for each POV character’s nationality. It’s a good thing that book evolved into high fantasy, because the distinctions would probably just irritate readers.

    • #30 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 9, 2015 - 11:06 pm

      Heavens, that sounds like a work of mental ventriloquism! Thanks for commenting, Nicola.

  13. #31 by bamauthor on November 9, 2015 - 2:33 pm

    Sometimes becomes a problem when you write about different time periods. I write in American English and that is my primary market. However, Americans have sometimes retained English spelling on old objects. In that case, I write the story in modern American English but incorporate the older spellings in images or historical text.

    • #32 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 9, 2015 - 11:07 pm

      Hi Barbara! That’s interesting, but without examples it’s a little hard to envisage. Could you elaborate?

  14. #33 by Candy Korman on November 9, 2015 - 9:36 pm

    As the world gets smaller and we read from a wide range of writers, I think it’s up to the reader to get used to the different spellings, usage, punctuation, etc. I certainly read books written in OTHER English languages with great pleasure. Trust the readers to understand that you are not wrong, but simply different when you write about the color of the floor in the elevator instead of the colour of the floor in the lift.

    • #34 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 9, 2015 - 11:10 pm

      Hi Candy – I tend to agree with you. It’s usually clear if a book is written in a ‘foreign’ variety of English, and we can adapt our eye to accommodate. I only have difficulty if I’m asked to edit a manuscript that’s out of my region – but approaching it as a reader isn’t a problem. Again, I think it depends on the reader and the market. Mel and Paul in the article obviously found it to be a major problem. For my kind of book, it seems far less of a barrier.

    • #35 by DRMarvello on November 10, 2015 - 1:30 pm

      In general, “trust the reader” is my philosophy as well. It’s easier to accept that some readers won’t like your work because of its foreign flavor (or for any other reason) if you can also accept that many readers simply aren’t part of your audience.

      Still, it has been hard on my British and Australian writer friends when their work receives an unflattering review and low star rating from a US reader who believes the work is full of errors when it isn’t. It frustrates them and damages their ability to do promotions, and there’s little they can do about it. Amazon ignores 99.99% of author complaints about reviews, even when the review violates Amazon’s TOS.

      • #36 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on November 10, 2015 - 6:33 pm

        ‘Amazon ignores 99.99% of author complaints about reviews…’ yep, I’ve had that. One review of my plot book claims I plagiarised it. I complained, but the review is still there.

  15. #37 by Alexander M Zoltai on November 21, 2015 - 3:05 pm

    Reblogged this on Notes from An Alien and commented:
    I think my Friend in Australia will really like today’s Re-blog 🙂

  16. #38 by The Story Reading Ape on February 15, 2016 - 5:12 pm

    Reblogged this on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog and commented:
    Sound advice from Roz 👍🐵

  17. #39 by franklparker on February 15, 2016 - 5:44 pm

    Are there any examples of US literature – Steinbeck, Faulkner, say – that have been translated into British English? If the answer is ‘no’, why do it the other way round?
    And no-one as mentioned Irish English. There are any number of books by Irish authors that use Irish English expressions (eg. ‘bold’ = ‘naughty’). Or is it that I’m reading the Irish editions and there are British editions for UK readers?

    • #40 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 15, 2016 - 8:50 pm

      These are excellent points, Frank. Nobody would ‘translate’ Joyce or Dylan Thomas. Let’s celebrate our differences and the glorious rhythms of our individual tongues.

  18. #41 by Les Bush Poet on February 15, 2016 - 7:17 pm

    Reblogged this on ldbush21.

  19. #42 by Don Massenzio on February 15, 2016 - 7:37 pm

    Great article. Thank you for the information.

  20. #44 by Diane Tibert on February 15, 2016 - 11:28 pm

    I live in Nova Scotia, Canada. The original settlers were British, Scottish, Irish, German and French; I have all of their genes (except French) in my blood. Depending on the community you visit, you’ll find they are very British, or very Scottish or very (pick one). They all have one thing in common: they all very stubborn about retaining their heritage and their dialects. Apparently the Scots in Nova Scotia (New Scotland) are more Scottish than those in Scotland (if you can imagine). I can often tell which part of the province someone is from by the way they speak and the distinct words they use. And it’s wonderful. It’s diverse and interesting.

    Because of these deep European roots, I grew up with British spelling. At the time, I didn’t know this (except for the obvious ‘U’ words: colour/color; harbour/harbor).

    I wrote as I was taught in school. I thought I had a good grasp on spelling until I got my first computer. All those red lines were disturbing. How did I become such a horrible speller? The computer didn’t accept sceptical, spelt, dreamt or leant. After a year of struggling with spelling, I learnt it was the computer’s fault, not mine. It was programmed for American spelling–something I had little exposure to.

    I reevaluated my spelling and decided there and then I was not American and would not bend to the computer’s might. It felt as though it was a quiet take over of the language I grew up with, identified with and loved. I will never sacrifice ‘U’ and create the ugly words harbor and color. (By the way, I think maps are the only place you’ll find a mixture of spelling: Halifax Harbour and Boston Harbor.)

    To inform readers that I am a competent speller, at the front of my books I have the following note: This book was written with Canadian spelling.

    I have never had anyone call me out to say I’ve spelt something incorrectly. Either the note works or readers are quietly thinking I can’t spell.

    When I look for an editor, it matters to me that they have a sound knowledge of British spelling. I am fortunate to have had wonderful editors from Nova Scotia. All my novels except my fantasy stories take place in Atlantic Canada, so it’s important to have an editor familiar with the area and the way we do things.

    I recall a conversation with an author who removed bacon bits from the Caesar Salad in her story. I asked her why she did that. I have worked at several restaurants and we always added bacon bits. It was a standard ingredient. She was told by her editor that bacon bits was a regional thing; she lived in Ontario. I have to wonder how regional was it. We love our Canadian bacon. Anyone from Atlantic Canada reading that story would wonder what happened to the bacon bits.

    As someone above said, the world is getting smaller, and readers will be exposed to stories written by writers from around the globe. They will have to adapt instead of the other way around. Although I know some writers will ‘go American’ because that’s where the biggest market is, I won’t. I’ll stick to my unique writing style; it’s my voice and no one else’s.

    • #45 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 16, 2016 - 8:33 am

      Diane, there’s so much in this comment. First of all, I’d never have thought that spelling in the US could be so regional – to the extent of using conventions we UK people would regard as ‘English English’. Second, your point about the alien appearance of the alternative words – the shape of the word on the page and in the reader’s mind is important to sensitive writers. I can’t do ‘color’ either. For me it has no depth. I love that example of the bacon bits and will remember when I’m editing manuscripts to consider regional culinary variations!
      And your note about Canadian spelling in the book is sensible. You’re right’ – it all adds up to part of our voice.

  21. #46 by patriciaruthsusan on February 16, 2016 - 2:17 am

    Thanks, Roz, for this interesting information. I’m American but have no problem reading other versions of English. 🙂 — Suzanne Joshi

    • #47 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 16, 2016 - 8:34 am

      Hooray, Suzanne – with the kinds of books we write, I think variations of English aren’t as much of a problem.

  22. #48 by dernhelm6 on February 16, 2016 - 11:51 am

    I suit the language to the locale. If the story is set in the US, I use Amerian English; if it’s set in Canada, I use Canadian. I’ve had one complaint so far. A review for my short horror story complained of the “British” spelling, expressions, and the use of “kilometres.” In Canada, we use the metric system. Using miles would have been a glaring error.

    • #49 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on February 16, 2016 - 12:03 pm

      Interesting approach! And I like your point about kilometres. How did you become proficient in several varieties of English – the spelling, the vocab, the usage? And how far do you take it?

  23. #50 by aurorajeanalexander on March 2, 2016 - 12:08 am

    Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Roz Morris has shared an amazing blog post she wrote about the differences between American, British, Canadian and Australian English. I thought it was informative and useful! Thank you, Roz!

  24. #51 by Aspholessaria on March 3, 2016 - 9:08 pm

    You’ve opened quite a discussion here, Roz. I’m a Brit and write in British English. I could not attempt to do anything else. I have heard of American readers who said they couldn’t read books written in British English. How pathetic is that? I’ve never heard of a Brit saying they couldn’t read an American book.

    I like the idea of a previous commentaror to state that the book is written in British (or Australian English). I might do that myself. It will save some confusion, I hope.

    An earlier, Australian, commentator mentioned “vests” and “singlets”. In the UK, a vest is an undergarment to add extra warmth and the part of a three piece suit is called a waistcoat. “Singlet” is a rather old-fashioned word for the undergarment that is no longer used.

    • #52 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 4, 2016 - 8:38 pm

      Vests, waistcoats, pants, trousers. Dressing in other strains of English is full of pitfalls. My audiobook narrator is American and she had problems when I wrote about a character wearing a ‘jumper’. I try to imagine what that word, so ordinary to me, conveyed to her. Thanks for stopping by. I’m enjoying everyone’s contributions to this perennial subject.

  25. #53 by jamoroki on March 4, 2017 - 9:58 am

    I’m an Englishman living in Thailand having spent 20 years in South Africa. I am in the process of writing a novel which is set primarily in England. Some of the scenes are in English prisons, some in the City of London and some in the West Country City of Bristol. Then there are scenes in Spain and South Africa. Characters range from poor English to upper middle class English, rural English, Scottish Glaswegians to Italians, Afrikaners and a few others.
    If I give the Glaswegian prisoner’s dialogue a Texan drawl and turn the West Country copper’s dialogue into a NYPD lieutenant’s Jewish slang the book would probably make a good comedy series but hardly a psychological thriller.
    I have enjoyed reading many of John Grisham’s books and don’t need him to change anything just because I’m English.
    Have Dickens or Shakespeare been read in any other Country than England?
    I hope I’ve made my point.

    • #54 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 4, 2017 - 8:14 pm

      Hello! I’m not quite sure what your point is….

      • #55 by jamoroki on March 5, 2017 - 9:59 am

        I’m not quite sure how else to say it. Maybe the lady in Comment 51 has done it better. But I’ll try.

        “I have heard of American readers who said they couldn’t read books written in British English. How pathetic is that? I’ve never heard of a Brit saying they couldn’t read an American book.”

        Let’s try this. If a novel is set in, say, England and the protagonist was a broad Glaswegian and then you were told to change everything because Americans won’t understand it there would be no point in writing it in the first place. I might as well write a novel about cowboys and Indians. That’s my point.

        By the way the posts in your blog I’ve read so far are excellent, short and concise.

        • #56 by Roz Morris @Roz_Morris on March 7, 2017 - 7:33 am

          And thanks for the lovely comment about my other posts. I saw you’d hopped around a few of them. Do come again.

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