As anyone who spends much time reading American documents or literature will tell you, our crazy cousins across the Atlantic have certain quirks when it comes to writing the mother-tongue.

If you’re writing reports for US audiences, or penning emails to clients across the pond, it pays to have an inner-radar for what these linguistic differences are. After all, a crafty copy of Word might not be handy for an international spell-check.

Luckily, the classic differences between English and American English generally fall into four categories. If you can learn these off by heart then you’re well on your way to being sort-of multi-lingual.

In a rare break from business copywriting, the team here at Wordsworks Towers have compiled this handy print-out-and-keep guide to help you recognise Americanisms from a mile (or should that be a kilometre?) away.

ise/ize

As word endings go, ‘ise’ is as English as bangers ‘n’ mash and queuing. There’s any number of examples, but realise, organise and standardise spring immediately to mind, with Americans preferring realize, organize and standardize. Like, whatever.

re/er

Many words which end ‘er’ in English, such as centre, fibre or theatre, are foolishly flippered round in American English, creating center, fiber and theater, among other crimes.

our/or

Some words in English ending ‘our’ (think of things like harbour, colour and neighbour) have their bonus u’s rudely clipped by the Americans, to form harbour, color and neighbor. Inconsiderate…

ll/l

Normally our fast-food friends like more of everything, but in the case of the letter ‘l’, less is more. When modifying verbs ending in an ‘l’ into the past or present tense, we Brits tend to double-up our vowels, creating words such as travelling, modelling and labelling. Our brothers across the water, however, prefer the single-‘l’ variants traveling, modeling and labeling.

Once you’ve mastered these four rules, you’ll find 90 per cent of English/American conversions present no trouble at all.

Then all you have to do is start committing to memory those ‘freak’ words (every language has ‘em) where the normal rules go out of the window and downright quirkiness comes into play.

Here’s five such head-scratchers to get you started:

English/US English

  • Cheque/check (monetary)
  • Doughnut/donut
  • Grey/gray
  • Jewellery/jewelry
  • Practise/practice (as a verb)

As it turns out, for these one-off cases, practise/practice is the only answer…