SPaG: Spelling The English Language ~ Variations across the Atlantic

Hello and welcome to the blog. It’s undeniable that the English language is tricky to master. I’ve already talked about the pitfalls when it comes to spelling. Today, I’m talking about the English language: variations found on both sides of the Atlantic.

The majority of my clients are British, however, I’ve worked with Canadians and Americans too. One of the first questions I ask a client before starting work on their manuscript is where they’ll be marketing their book? In other words, who is their target audience?

wood art dirty broken
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This decision will impact which version of English the novel should be written in. Today, I’m just going to look at the difference between English spellings in Britain and America.


Please note that I use British English throughout this website. But what are the differences? Try these.


How did you do? A couple of these have me reaching for my trusty Oxford English dictionary embarrassingly frequently.

You may be wondering why we live next door to neighbours, while our friends across the pond have neighbors. Or why our sky is grey, while theirs is gray.

The simple answer is:

Here are a few other differences to take notice of:

  • Words that end in a vowel and an “l”: in American English, “travel” becomes “traveled” or “traveling”, but, in British English, it becomes “travelled” or “travelling”.
  • The vowel combinations of “ae” or “oe”: in American English, they’d write “maneuver”, but on this side of the pond it’s “manoeuvre”.
  • Words that end in “-ize” or “ization”: using a “z” rather than an “s” is sometimes acceptable in British English.
  • Universally Americanised words: in British English, you program your computer but you still watch a TV programme.

How do these variations affect me?

I’m a self-confessed bookworm. While I’m reading, the differences between American spelling and English spelling jump out of the page. However, if the story is written by an American author my brain takes those variations in its stride as being part of the world-building and setting.

Therefore, when writing your own novel, consider your target audience. Are you looking to break into the American marketplace or here in the UK?

Once you’ve decided where your target audience live, you can make sure the spelling in your novel is consistent. We all use spell check programs. But remember to check what English variation your computer’s program is set to. Is it UK English or American English? While you shouldn’t rely solely on an automated program to find errors if whatever you use isn’t set to the English you are working with, the suggestions and corrections you see won’t be appropriate.

miniature toy robot on top of laptop s keyboard
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I hope this post has helped. Which variations catch you out the most? (It’s okay — we’re all guilty of at least one.) Make a mental note to avoid those slips in the future, or just bookmark this page to remind yourself of them over and over (and over) again.

English, like many other languages, has its own set of tricky rules and intricacies. But with a little bit of practice and help from guides like this one, you can become a grammar master. I found a couple of fun (tongue-in-cheek) quizzes to try. They certainly put a smile on my face!

Buzz Feeds – American Vs British Words Quiz

Macmillan – British and American English Quiz

Thank you for visiting and taking the time to read The English Language: Variations across the Atlantic. If you have any tips or tricks to help you remember which spelling variant to use, drop me a comment below.

Until next time,


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