Elance Blog

Navigating the Englishes For Writers and Editors

During the three years I’ve been writing and editing on Elance, I have found myself continually bouncing between US, UK and Canadian English. Many clients are from these three countries, of course, but there are also many other countries whose first language is English or where English is one of the official languages, including the 54 countries that are members of what used to be called the British Commonwealth (now just called the Commonwealth). There are also students from countries all over the world who are flocking to universities in the United States, Britain and Canada, and who need editing help because English is not their first language.

Fortunately, there are tools to help writers and editors work in the various “Englishes” and particularly to navigate between US and UK English.

The Set Language Tool
If you’re using Microsoft Word, the first helpful tool for making sure your English is the intended English is the “Set Language” option. If you’re about to write something, go to Review > Set Language on the top menu bar and you will see there are many “Englishes” to choose from.

At the very top of the list, you can choose US or UK or Canadian English. Then, if you go down the alphabetical list of languages to “English,” you have many additional choices, namely Australia, Belize, Cameroon, Canada, Caribbean, Hong Kong S.A.R., India, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Malaysia, New Zealand, Republic of the Philippines, South Africa, Singapore, Trinidad & Tobago, and Zimbabwe. Basically, these “Englishes” are derived from UK English, but of course they have differences, so it doesn’t hurt to use the right setting. I have used Australia, New Zealand, Cameroon, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.

So if you’re set at US English and you write “I realised my neighbour was a traveller,” you’ll get those squiggly red lines that say you’ve spelled three words wrong. They’re correct if you’re using UK English, but if you’re using US English, you need to write: “I realized my neighbor was a traveler.”

If, on the other hand, you’re about to edit something, you have to highlight the entire article or manuscript (use “Control + A”) and then go to Review > Set Language and choose the type of English. An example of this could be when a student in China has written their application essay for an American business school in UK English, so in the editing process it has to be converted to US English. Or when a Canadian author has written their travel memoir in Canadian English, but then realized that it is typically advisable to convert the book to US English because, for books, the largest market by far is in the United States. In both cases, when you set the language to “US,” you will see where the spelling or words are not US English.

References: Online and Print
Of course there are many resources online, but here are a few I have found particularly useful:

  • Wikipedia seems to be reorganizing their comprehensive entry on this topic, but right now the best way to access this section is to go to Wikipedia and search “American and British English differences.”
  • A good site for printing out a cheat sheet of basic spelling differences can be found here
  • Also, here’s a long list of words that show the basic differences in American, British and Canadian spelling.
  • The official dictionaries (online and in print) include: the Oxford English Dictionary from Oxford University Press; the Oxford Canadian Dictionary; and, for US English, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language from Houghton Mifflin and Webster’s Dictionary from Merriam-Webster.
  • Personally, I use Wiktionary all the time, as it consistently provides US, UK and Canadian spellings.

Basic Differences Between US and UK English
If you’re going to be using more than one type of English in your work, it’s useful to get to know some of the basic differences. The differences between US and UK English are easy enough to track, but figuring out what Canada and some of the other Commonwealth countries use can be more difficult. For those countries, the best strategy is to use the “Set Language” feature. Following are some of the categories with just a few examples.

Examples of Spelling Differences

  • Americans write flavor, neighbor, humor, labor, etc. while the British spelling is flavour, neighbour, humour, labour. The Commonwealth countries (e.g., Canada, Australia, New Zealand) generally follow British usage in these cases.
  • Americans write caliber, meter, fiber, theater. The UK and Commonwealth countries generally write calibre, metre, fibre, theatre.
  • Americans (and Canadians) write organize, realize, recognize. The British write organize, realise, recognise. However, many words have “s” in both forms: e.g., advertise, comprise, merchandise, supervise, etc.
  • Americans write canceled, labeled, traveled. The British use cancelled, labelled, travelled.
  • Americans write aging, likable, sizable. The British write ageing, likeable, sizeable.
  • The British often use a hyphen, as in counter-attack, pre-trial; whereas American English discourages the use of hyphens if there’s no compelling reason to have one.

Examples of Vocabulary Differences
Many words are different, for example (American word first): Mustache/moustache; pajamas/pyjamas; persnickety/pernickety; sled/sledge; licorice/liquorice; mold/mould; tidbit/titbit; counter-clockwise/anti-clockwise; vacation/holiday; trunk/boot.

Examples of Punctuation
Quotation marks, in US English, would be written out: He said, “Yes, I do.” (double quotation marks, period before quotation marks). In UK English: He said, ‘Yes, I do’. (single quotation marks, period after quotation marks)

Serial commas are used in US English, e.g., red apples, green grapes, and ripe oranges, but not in UK English.

US English uses i.e., and e.g., whereas UK English uses i.e. and e.g. (no comma).

Examples of Date and Time
In UK English, the standard way of writing dates in a document is 20 October 1995 or 20.10.1995. In US English, the standard is October 20, 1995 or 10/20/1995. The 24-hour clock (18:00 or 1800) is considered normal in the UK and Europe in many applications including air, rail and bus timetables.

Best Advice for Navigating the “Englishes”
I have a binder where I have printed out various useful “cheat sheets,” and I have a document in my files where I can click on various references, including the ones listed above.

A Word About Elance Skill Tests
If you check the Elance Skill Tests, you’ll see that you can test yourself for “British vs. American English.” Also, when you take the tests for “Business Writing,” “Creative Writing,” etc., you can choose either the “US Version” or the “UK Version” or both.

About the Author
Cathy Reed
has been writing and editing on Elance for 2 ½ years and to date has worked for clients in 35 countries. She loves the variety of the work and the opportunity to be immersed in the global economy that we now live and work in. She lives on the British Columbia coast and when she’s not working she loves to hike, cycle, kayak and ski.




First of all, thank you for your great article, Cathy! It'll be very useful to me. Second, for those like myself who are using Word 2008 for Mac, the option to change languages is in a different place; it's under 'Tools ----> Language.' It doesn't offer as many "Englishes" as you mention, but it does give you the choice of Australian, UK, and US.

Great article. However, I do have to question the 'Examples of Punctuation'. In Canada, we would write the example the same way as UK English. So the example: He said, "Yes, I do." would apply to all three. Personally, I have never seen it written the other way : He said, 'Yes, I do'.

Thanks cathy i am a beginner in elance world and your article is really helpfull.

The article is awesome. I am looking for more exposure through elance. Would like to team up with someone...