Re: American English to British English

Subject: Re: American English to British English
From: NewellMarian -at- cs -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 5 May 2001 11:48:33 EDT

Rather a late response to this thread from a UK resident.

It may sometimes be difficult to separate what is common practice in a
country from what is considered correct. When distinguishing what people say
(and write informally) from what they would advocate in formal writing, you
also need to consider regional variations, which can be quite marked here and
which I assume you have in the US too. My reactions to some of the comments
posted were as follows.

Dick Margulis wrote:

More subtle:

1. Americans prefer active voice, simple direct sentence structure, second
person imperative in instructions. "The Enter key should be depressed"
becomes "Press Enter."

2. US and British usage differ for collective nouns. In the UK, the company
are. In the US, the company is. This extends to most, but not all, collective
nouns. When in doubt, check with an American colleague.

The active voice is generally preferred (where appropriate) in the UK too,
especially in recent years. Similarly, "the company is" is also correct here
- unfortunately the incorrect version is often used.

Sandy Harris wrote:

Some subjunctives are lost in British English. I nearly fell over when I
first encountered this. "You had a call from Fred. He suggested that you rang
him back", from a university graduate working as an English teacher. I would
have to use "ring" in place of "rang" there. British colleagues assured me
"rang" is perfectly acceptable to them.

Another example: North America" "I recommend that he be fired", but British
"I recommend that he is fired".

In the first case, I too would prefer "ring". In the second, I would probably
say "he is fired" but write "he should be fired".

Maggie Secara wrote:

I agree with whoever suggesting getting a "native speaker" to go over the
doc, just as if it were a completely foreign language :) I'm pretty familiar
with British idiom, but that's not the same as being able to reproduce it.

I agree with this. It is usually quite evident to me when I am reading
something written by an American and I assume the reverse must true. (One
case where I have found this less obvious is in academic textbooks, which
seem to use a more universal style of language.) While we can address the
obvious differences already raised, general tone is more difficult. My
personal experience has been that even American authors working in the UK
still produce text that sounds a bit odd to us. Whether this is important is
of course another matter.

On a related note, a project is currently being set up to try to establish
guidelines for an international version of English. It seems that while
people from the English-speaking countries can cope reasonably well with
national variations, these unsurprisingly cause far more problems to writers
who have other first languages. For anyone interested, there's an article
about the project on the TC Forum website at (go into the
archive and select the March 2001 issue, then RU30: Response on "Establishing
Guidelines for English-Language" - the Next Step).

Marian Newell

MarianNewell -at- newellporter -dot- co -dot- uk
01344 626895
<A HREF="";></A>

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