What's the best English for writing?
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Creativity and enthusiasm are the two most important factors when you are writing. However, perceived poor spelling and grammar can distract your readers unless you are a great writer and your readers are totally gripped by your writing.
Unfortunately, spelling and grammar may be perceived to be wrong - even when it isn't. The following are a couple of examples:
1. I used to work for an international company which was a merger of American and British companies. There were American and British departments that both wrote technical and training manuals.
Initially, there was a debate about whether British or American English should be used for writing the manuals. It was decided that British authors should write in British English and the Americans, in American English. Later, I was criticised for spelling "practice" two different ways: "practice" and "practise" in two different ways. What I had actually done was to use, what to me, was the grammatically correct "practice" as a noun and "practise" as a verb.
2. I posted a blog in which I summarised what I had "learnt" about a topic. A comment was posted saying that there is no such word as "learnt". Like "learned", "learnt" is a past participle of the verb "to learn".
In both cases, I should have used the American form because I doubt whether either of these would have been a problem for many British readers.
In the rest of this article, I am going to cover:
Four common differences between American and British spelling are:
- The use of "s" or "z" in a words such as "organisation" and "organization".
- Using or not using "u" in a word e.g. "colour" and "color".
- The use of a single or double consonant as in "traveling" or "travelling".
- The spelling of "center" (American); "centre" (British).
Interestingly, in the "Oxford English Dictionary, the American spelling of a word is often listed as a valid alternative.
Many countries use British English spelling conventions. Some examples include:
- New Zealand
- Canada (although Canadian English has some unique spelling differences)
- South Africa
- India (although Indian English may have some spelling variations)
Other countries, use American English spelling conventions, which differ in some ways from British English. However, the differences are generally minor, and most English speakers can understand both forms of the language without difficulty.
Differences in punctuation are relatively minor.
Double quotation marks (" ") are more commonly used in American English, while single quotation marks (' ') are more common in British English. However, both styles are correct, widely used and cause no problems.
When to use quotation marks:
- To enclose speech.
- To enclose a direct quote or a passage from a book article, or other work.
- To indicate the titles of articles, essays, short stories, poems, songs, TV show episodes and other shorter works.
Whichever you use for your main quotation marks, always use the other when you are using quotation marks within quotation marks. For example:
Mary said, "I was walking home when I heard someone say 'Hi, Mary,' but I didn't know who it was."
I prefer to use double quotation marks in my writing to reduce confusion with with apostrophes.
The possessive apostrophe is used to show ownership or association. For example: "Mary's book" or "Tom's dance club". It's use is the same in American and British English.
However, the rules around its use can be somewhat complicated. I'll be writing an article covering the rules in detail.
In the meantime, here's a quick guide, which although not always grammatically correct, does provide the reader with a smooth reading experience:
- If the word ends in "s", just add an apostrophe.
- If the word doesn't end in "s", add apostrophe "s".
Here are some examples:
- The footballer's injury.
- The footballers' changing room.
- The children's playground.
- Mike Wills' article.
Of the four examples given above, only "Mike Wills' article" is incorrect, but it reads better than the correct version which is "Mike Wills's article".
There aren't many grammar differences between British and American English. The most common are past participles:
- Using "t" instead of "ed" at the end of the word as in "learnt" and "learned".
- Using "got" instead of "gotten".
Does the date 03/04/22 refer to the fourth day of March 2022 or the third day of April 2022? Depending on your country, both of these interpretations are valid. However, if you are looking at a historical event, then there's no way of telling in which century it occurred.
The MM/DD/YY date format is primarily used in the United States and in some countries that have close economic or cultural ties with the US. These include Canada, the Philippines and some parts of Latin America. However, it's important to note that there can be some variation in date formats within these countries.
The DD/MM/YY date format is commonly used in many countries around the world, including:
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- South Africa
- Hong Kong
Again, there may be variations in date formats even within these countries, and some of them may use different formats for certain purposes or in specific contexts.
My recommendation for dates is the same as that used in books which can be “4 March 2022” or “March 4 2022”. The month can also be shortened by only using its first three letters e.g. "4 Mar 2022"
Another approach would be to use the computer programming format of YYYY-MM-DD (e.g. 2022-04-03 for 3 April 2022), but I don't think it would be widely recognised or accepted.
The decimal separator used around the world varies by country and region. The two most common decimal separators are the period (full stop) " . " and the comma " , ".
In most English-speaking countries, including the United States, Canada, and Australia, the period is used as the decimal separator.
In many European countries, including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands, the comma is used as the decimal separator.
In some countries, such as India and South Africa, both the period and the comma are used as decimal separators depending on the context.
It's important to note that different conventions can cause confusion when communicating numbers between countries. To avoid ambiguity, it's often helpful to specify the decimal separator explicitly, by using "0.5" instead of ".5" or "0,5" instead of ",5".
There are several number formats used around the world, but the two most common are:
Decimal point system In this system, the decimal point separates the whole number from the decimal portion, and commas are used to separate groups of three digits in the whole number. For example, in the United States and the United Kingdom, the number "1,234.56" is written as "1,234.56", where the comma separates the thousands and the decimal point separates the whole number from the decimal portion.
Decimal comma system In this system, the comma separates the whole number from the decimal portion, and periods are used to separate groups of three digits in the whole number. For example, in Germany, the number "1,234.56" is written as "1.234,56", where the period separates the thousands and the comma separates the whole number from the decimal portion.
Some formatting suggestions As you can see, there is no international standard for number formatting, but there are some things you can do to reduce ambiguity.
With larger numbers, you can avoid using a decimal separator by rounding the number up or down.
For whole numbers from 1000 to 9999, you can leave out the thousands separator without reducing clarity. Once you get to 10000 and above, reading the numbers start to become difficult — as in 100000. One approach used in book publishing is to use spaces as separators as in "100 000".
Now I'm coming to the end of this article, my conclusions about which English to use for writing are very different to what they were when I first started. I thought that I would be able to come up with an international - or at least a transatlantic - version of English.
Instead, I have come to the conclusion that regional differences in grammar and spelling are like different accents. As long as a person has something to say which is clear and interesting, accents don't matter. So, write in the style that you feel most at home and comfortable with. Medium is a great place for getting used to, and comfortable with, different styles.
What does matter is ambiguity in numbers and dates, so please follow the advice I have given for these.
When I finished writing this article, I realised that I had made subtle changes to my own writing style.
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