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American English vs. British English


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So I'm going to be applying exclusively to schools in America but my English is and always has been British (Canadian).

Do you think I should perform the painful task of switching all my S's to Z's and taking out all my U's, etc. in my SOP and Writing Sample?

I've come across so many Americans that think that "analyse", "colour", and "theatre" are a typo that I don't want to risk someone on the adcomm thinking that I can't spell.

Additionally, even stuff like punctuation appearing only within quotation marks is an American tradition with which I don't particularly agree.

Opinions? Suck it up and be American since I'm applying to America? Hold onto my "voice" and be fiercely "me"?

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on the one hand: standardize

on the other hand: if you run into an adcom full of people with PhD's in English literature who are inexplicably unable to recognize British spelling and grammatical conventions, you probably don't want to be there anyway.

on the third hand: even the Brits use "who" when referring to people

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I'm an American, but I did my undergrad in Canada and I'm now doing my Masters in Scotland. Through trial and error I've learned that most people don't care at all but a few people care very much about spelling variation. Consequently: stick as close as possible to the conventions of the country you're applying to, as it's their sympathies you're trying to win over anyway.

But yeah, as thestage said, above all: be consistant!

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You should also realize that the punctuation thing is not an "American tradition", but an issue of style guide convention -- plenty of journals both domestic and international utilize hybrid notions of style. My writing sample and personal statement (and this particular post) used a sort of mixed MHRA and MLA.

I don't think anybody really cares as long as it is consistent.

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You should also realize that the punctuation thing is not an "American tradition", but an issue of style guide convention -- plenty of journals both domestic and international utilize hybrid notions of style. My writing sample and personal statement (and this particular post) used a sort of mixed MHRA and MLA.

I don't think anybody really cares as long as it is consistent.

Every single source I've read has attributed style guide conventions to "American style punctuation conventions", (or is that "American style punctuation conventions,"?) not the other way around, as you state. The APA website bears this out:

As you might guess from our name, APA Style uses American style punctuation (see p. 92 of the 6th ed. Publication Manual), as do several other major style guides (such as AP, Chicago, and MLA). The table below elaborates, with examples for each punctuation mark.

Punctuation I'm not hugely concerned about but I do still write realise instead of realize, etc. and I think that can be jarring for some Americans (and even some Canadians!)

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I think Americans can write and recognise both styles. For example, the high impact journal Nature uses British style so many American researchers have to use British style, not just see it regularly. In addition, a lot of profs at American researchers are not American!

Personally, I used the style I was brought up with (mostly Canadian) but for some reason I naturally use the "ize" ending instead of the "ise" (I had to go back to "fix" recognise in my first sentence above! lol). I still write in this style for my essays and other assignments here in the US.

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I would have to disagree with some people and say stick with what you know. I learned English in Britain but went to an American high school and did my BA in the States. When I went to Scotland to do my Masters, I did not use British spelling, punctuation, vocab (actually, I refused) and it was fine. If you think you know every American convention (well), then feel free to use it. But if you're unsure, then stick to British spelling, etc. It'll be clear from your background why you write the way you do.

P.S. Punctuation outside quotation marks really irks me. "This just looks so much better."

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My experience as a Brit at school in the States is: people REALLY hate it when you use British quotation punctuation...personally, I really dislike the punctuation within quotes rule as I think it can do violence to the text occasionally - but I'm learning to use it because I frequently get comments on my papers about my disregard for the rules (from people who obviously know that I am English). I often don't catch my British punctuation when editing, as it doesn't look wrong to me - which can lead to sloppy-looking work- so if you are going to change it you need to have someone else check it for you.

The spelling differences don't seem to cause such a problem - and I have always preferred a majority of ize endings anyway, so that makes things easier - I use the slightly more traditional (older?) British spelling rules (ize for latin roots, ise/yse for French roots; colour/honour etc). Spelling almost never elicits a comment from my professors, whereas punctuation almost invariably does.

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The spelling differences don't seem to cause such a problem - and I have always preferred a majority of ize endings anyway, so that makes things easier - I use the slightly more traditional (older?) British spelling rules (ize for latin roots, ise/yse for French roots; colour/honour etc). Spelling almost never elicits a comment from my professors, whereas punctuation almost invariably does.

I'm just wondering -- do your profs/TAs care about these minor differences as long as you are consistent? That is, would they really think your paper would be improved by using US (or UK) convention (e.g. would you have points deducted because you used one style over another?). I've had a few "Canadian" spellings (e.g. centimetre vs. centimeter) circled but mostly because the marker wanted to make fun of my Canadian ways. Even in my undergrad English courses, the profs told us that both styles are acceptable as long as we were consistent. So I always thought that these differences were really really minor (like saying "poe-tay-toe" vs. "poe-tah-toe") and no one really cares. But maybe this is because I ended up in the sciences -- does it become important in higher level English programs?

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Remember if you're not used to the American rules that the rules are different for periods and commas than for exclamation points and question marks. This seems to trip up a lot of folks. Also, you'll notice if you teach composition that a ton of American college students like to put their periods outside of quotation marks, and they haven't a clue when there is a citation. We should probably just change it, but as waparys says, "this just looks so much better."

I think it's probably best if you switch to American rules, but only if you're sure you can do so flawlessly. I'd imagine consistency and accuracy are by far most important.

Edited by asleepawake
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In addition, a lot of profs at American researchers are not American!

Personally, I used the style I was brought up with (mostly Canadian) but for some reason I naturally use the "ize" ending instead of the "ise" (I had to go back to "fix" recognise in my first sentence above! lol). I still write in this style for my essays and other assignments here in the US.

Doi! So true... why did I not realise that?

From what I can tell, some words like realize are much rarer as realise, even in the UK. Who knows.

P.S. Punctuation outside quotation marks really irks me. "This just looks so much better."

In my mind, it just defies logic. The "end" of the sentence is after the quotation mark since the quotation mark is part of the sentence, no? And I still think it looks better outside!

My experience as a Brit at school in the States is: people REALLY hate it when you use British quotation punctuation...personally, I really dislike the punctuation within quotes rule as I think it can do violence to the text occasionally - but I'm learning to use it because I frequently get comments on my papers about my disregard for the rules (from people who obviously know that I am English). I often don't catch my British punctuation when editing, as it doesn't look wrong to me - which can lead to sloppy-looking work- so if you are going to change it you need to have someone else check it for you.

The spelling differences don't seem to cause such a problem - and I have always preferred a majority of ize endings anyway, so that makes things easier - I use the slightly more traditional (older?) British spelling rules (ize for latin roots, ise/yse for French roots; colour/honour etc). Spelling almost never elicits a comment from my professors, whereas punctuation almost invariably does.

Ohhh that's interesting to hear. I'll get some pushback about the punctuation then, eh? That's really bothersome as puncutation within quotation marks just looks soooo wrongggg in my eyes.

And good to know about the different between ize and ise! I didn't know that even though I majored in Latin...

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I'm just wondering -- do your profs/TAs care about these minor differences as long as you are consistent? That is, would they really think your paper would be improved by using US (or UK) convention (e.g. would you have points deducted because you used one style over another?). I've had a few "Canadian" spellings (e.g. centimetre vs. centimeter) circled but mostly because the marker wanted to make fun of my Canadian ways. Even in my undergrad English courses, the profs told us that both styles are acceptable as long as we were consistent. So I always thought that these differences were really really minor (like saying "poe-tay-toe" vs. "poe-tah-toe") and no one really cares. But maybe this is because I ended up in the sciences -- does it become important in higher level English programs?

I had hoped not to have to change the conventions I was already using when I arrived here, but I received comments on my papers repeatedly about using British quotation punctuation (when using a consistently 'British' style). So I've tried to switch; unfortunately, that has just meant that I've ended up a bit mixed up and my papers take extra editing (and yet I still miss some inconsistencies). I wonder if my using the majority ize endings made professors think I was using American spelling conventions when I wasn't - hence them possibly thinking that I was being inconsistent?

Ohhh that's interesting to hear. I'll get some pushback about the punctuation then, eh? That's really bothersome as puncutation within quotation marks just looks soooo wrongggg in my eyes.

And good to know about the different between ize and ise! I didn't know that even though I majored in Latin...

hmmn, maybe I was wrong there.. maybe it's Greek? Anyway, I just know there are some words that should NEVER have a z - and it's hard for me to write them that way (analyse is my particular bugbear, since it comes up a lot in a grad school setting :lol: ).

I am trying to switch to fully American conventions, though. I'll be teaching writing next year so I feel like a need to have a solid grasp of American style before then. I think it might be easier to stick to British conventions if you are in a science program(me ;) ), but being expected to teach writing means that you probably need to make an effort to re-wire your brain a bit, which wasn't something I'd really considered before I got here.

Edited by wreckofthehope
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