How we spell: British English or American English?

Meredith Thatcher | September 13, 2017

Visitors to our website always ask interesting questions. One student from the United Kingdom recently asked, ‘Can you mix British and American English?’ The student was writing a thesis, using mostly British English. They asked, for example, do you use ‘licence’ or ‘license’?

Image, tossing the dice: British or American English.

Tossing the dice: British or American English? Image by Pixabay / CC0

Consider the following when deciding which spelling to follow when submitting a work for publication.

What do the submission guidelines say?

Find out whether the submission guidelines specify British English or American English. Follow that guidance.

What if the guidelines don’t prefer one form of English spelling?

Find out which spelling the publisher or institution prefers. And find out if the work will be published in multiple locations. This may mean more than one form of English spelling is necessary.

What if the publisher or institution doesn’t prefer one form of English spelling?

Consider who will read your work. If the publisher or institution is based where the language is founded on British English (such as the United Kingdom or New Zealand), use British English. If the publisher or institution is based in a country that uses American English (such as the United States), then use that form.

What about quotations, names, and references?

Keep the original spelling, even if you think it looks out of place. Remember to edit and proofread carefully.

Check all:

Why is consistency important?

Consistency makes it easier to check every instance of spelling. You’re more likely to find any errors.

Consistency of spelling makes some tasks easier, such as creating and searching an index.

Take care when using any electronic search function. Avoid using a general ‘find and replace’. Some instances of British English and American English (such as in a quotation) may need to stay as written.

So, is it ‘licence’ or ‘license’?

In British English, use the following spellings.

Want to find out more?

Read more on this topic at:

What language do you type in?
How Americanisms are killing the English language
That’s the way it crumbles: The American conquest of English

Our Editing and Proofreading workshop answers many more tricky questions like this one.

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