Trousers or Pants? Can you Tell the Difference?

17 Mar




English is English! – No! Not at all!  “England and America are two countries separated by a common language” — said George Bernard Shaw.

Many readers and writers are surprised to learn that there are huge differences in spelling between English-speaking countries. A book, written and published in the UK, needs almost to be “translated” into American English and vice versa.  And I am not even talking about Canada, South Africa, India or Australia… were there are many more differences.

Generally, it is agreed that no one version is “correct” however, there are certainly preferences in use. The most important rule of thumb is to try to be consistent in your usage. The major differences between American and British English are:

  • Vocabulary – differences in nouns and verbs, especially phrasal verb usage
  • Spelling – differences are generally found in certain prefix and suffix forms

Have a look at the many verbs that are differently written in this comparison at

  • … our endings change to or, such as humour (British) into humor (American)
  • … our endings change to er, such as theatre into theater, or centre into center
  • … ogue endings change to og, such as catalogue into catalog
  • L endings do not double in US spellings, such as travelled into traveled……. and the list goes on and on.

Other major differences are:

  • Present Perfect
  • Past Simple/Past Participles
  • Prepositions
  • Possession
  • The Verb “get”
  • Vocabulary

there are also some more subtle differences that might stymie visitors to Britain, especially those who have learnt American English. Linguistics lecturer Dr Lynne Murphy rounds up ten of the subtler US/UK mis-communications.

Add to this the local usage of words, e.g. Trousers or pants? Juggernaut or 18-wheeler? Lift or elevator?  Tube, underground or subway? Find more eye-opening differences in British / American vocabulary, for example:

autumn – fall
barrister – attorney
bill (restaurant) – check
biscuit – cookie
caravan – trailer
chemist’s shop – drugstore, pharmacy
chips  – fries, French fries
cinema – movies
coffin – casket
pavement – sidewalk
petrol – gas, gasoline
postbox – mailbox
rubbish – garbage, trash
sweets – candy

So, before you upbraid someone. or point out spelling “errors” have a look if it is not a British, Canadian or other English speaking individual or user of keyboards from these country. A person, for example, writing for newspapers in several countries has to adjust the writing for every article/country. And then there are these not native English speakers…




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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Writing


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2 responses to “Trousers or Pants? Can you Tell the Difference?

  1. Susan Uttendorfsky

    March 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    This is really good information; thanks for sharing. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as, say, Britsh English (BrE) versus American English (AmE). There was a conversation in a LinkedIn group recently about variations in spelling among editing professionals and we discovered amongst ourselves that many AmE speaking people who grew up near the Canadian border (like myself) had unknowingly absorbed many BrE styles when growing up! For instance, to me, catalogue, dialogue, and licence are correct, but they’re not “correct” AmE spellings/style. An author I recently edited who lives near Canada on the West Coast consistently used “leapt” in her manuscript – not incorrect, but typically BrE.

    So, does an editor correct all the “incorrect” spellings or styles? Especially in today’s worldwide self-publishing arena, where a book may be read anywhere, I leave these kinds of things alone and view them as stylistic choices for individual authors. I note their particular style on my style sheet, and just make sure they’re consistent within their manuscript.

    • ebooksinternational

      March 17, 2013 at 9:57 pm

      Hello Susan, thanks,
      in Canada seems to be even more mixed up, with some Quebecois thrown in ..
      If you take new editing clients in the future, please drop me a line, I am compiling a list of cover artists, editors, people who do book formatting and lay-out. My email is 111Publishing a t Gmail
      thanks Doris


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