By Iola Goulton

US vs UK English: Regional Differences


In my last few posts, I have looked at some of the differences between US and British English. These have included vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation.

Today we’re going to look at two questions around taking regional differences into account in a global publishing market.

Should authors publish separate editions of their work in US and British English?

(Yes, this is a real question I saw in a Facebook group).

Traditional publishers often produce different UK and US versions. For example,  Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was published in the UK as Cross Stitch and is set in 1946 rather than 1945.

But in general, I don’t think there is any need for different editions, titles, or covers. Adult readers are more than capable of reading US and British English, and publishing separate editions of a novel or nonfiction book is a lot of extra work for little benefit.

The exception would be textbooks or books for children. A mathematics textbook would need to use the correct currency and measurement systems. An English textbook would need to use the appropriate version of English to ensure the students are learning the right spelling and punctuation. Early Reader novels would also need separate editions: correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation is important, because small children subconsciously absorb the rules of grammar as they read.

Should a book set in England use British English?

Every book needs to have consistent style. For example, most US fiction uses Merriam-Webster’s dictionary for spelling, and The Chicago Manual of Style for grammar and punctuation. If the book’s primary audience is US readers, authors and editors should use an American dictionary and style guide. If the primary audience is England, use an English dictionary and style guide (e.g., Oxford).

What about vocabulary?

This is the bigger question, particularly with fiction. If a novel is set outside the USA but the primary audience is North America, should the novel use North American vocabulary?

My view is that a novel should use whatever vocabulary the point of view character would use, but spelled using the chosen dictionary. Don’t change fizzy to soda: trust the reader to work out the British character is drinking a soft drink (but make sure there are enough contextual clues for the reader to make the connection).

If you’re writing or editing a book set in an area you’re not familiar with, then it might be worthwhile to work with a beta reader or sensitivity reader from that area. After all, not all Americans speak the same, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that non-American’s don’t either. Using the right vocabulary—especially around slang—will add authenticity.


About Iola Goulton

Iola Goulton is a New Zealand-based book reviewer and editor specializing in adult and young adult Christian fiction. She won the 2016 ACFW Genesis Award (Novella), and copyedited Then There Was You by Kara Isaac, which won a RITA Award from Romance Writers of America.

Iola holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in marketing and has a background in human resource consulting. When she’s not editing, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, son, and cat.