Exchanging English Over the Pond: U.S. and U.K. Part IV



During the last several weeks we’ve covered some meaningful ground about the language we share with our friends across the water. For us, it’s been fun to reflect on what we have in common as well as how each dialect varies its voice.

So far, we’ve examined spelling, word choice, and points of grammar. We’ll conclude our review with more grammatical differences between U.S. and Commonwealth English.

Punctuation

British and American English draw from the same well of words, and the dialects continue converging with time. However, some variations in punctuation remain.

The following are a few of the most prevalent differences.

Quotation marks. American English places periods and commas inside double quotation marks. U.K. English places them outside single quotation marks.

Examples:
(U.S.) “We have no time for an extended debate or a decision by committee,” Rory said.
(U.K.) ‘We have no time for an extended debate or a decision by committee’, Rory said.

For questions and exclamations, both U.S. and U.K. punctuation follow logic.
Examples:
(U.S.) “Do we have time for an extended debate or a decision by committee?” Rory asked.
(U.K.) ‘Do we have time for an extended debate or a decision by committee?’ Rory asked.

(U.S.) Do you agree with the statement, “All’s fair in love and war”?
(U.K.) Do you agree with the statement, ‘All’s fair in love and war’?

Quotations within quotations. American English applies double marks (“…”) for an initial quotation and single marks (‘…’) for a quotation within it. U.K. English applies single marks for an initial quotation and double marks for a quotation within it.

Examples:
(U.S.) “We have no time for an extended debate or, as the department head railed against, ‘decision by committee,’ ” Rory said. (GrammarBook.com style supports clarity and identification by including a space between single and double quotation marks.)
(U.K.) ‘We have no time for an extended debate or, as the department head railed against, “decision by committee”‘, Rory said.

Titles. In U.S. English, all abbreviated personal or professional titles have a period (or a full stop in U.K. English). Commonwealth usage does not include a period when a title ends with the same letter as the full version (e.g., Mister, Missus, Doctor). It does add the period when the ending letter is different from the full version (e.g., Prof. for Professor).

Examples:
(U.S.) Mr. and Mrs. Malik are going to see Dr. Rabin this afternoon and then Prof. Winningham tomorrow morning.
(U.K.) Mr and Mrs Malik are going to see Dr Rabin this afternoon and then Prof. Winningham tomorrow morning.

Time. U.S. English includes a colon (:) for time. U.K. English applies a full stop (.)

Examples
(U.S.) The Armstrongs will arrive at 3:00 p.m.
(U.K.) The Armstrongs will arrive at 3.00 p.m.

More Verb Variety

In Part III, we touched on how U.S. and U.K. English use a singular or a plural verb for collective nouns. The dialects can also differ in other ways concerning verbs.

Simple Past vs. Present Perfect. When describing a recent action, American English often uses the simple past tense. U.K. English will more likely use the present perfect.

Example
(U.S.) I just swam the English Channel.
(U.K.) I’ve just swum the English Channel.

Get. In the U.S., we still use gotten as the past participle of get. In Commonwealth English, gotten is mostly obsolete, and the preferred usage is got.

Example
(U.S.) Has Ernesto gotten his homework back from the dog yet?
(U.K.) Has Ernesto got his homework back from the dog yet?

This concludes our current discussion of U.S. and U.K. English. It’s one that can extend much further, and we may revisit it later. In the meantime, you can always further explore this inspiring subject or simply enjoy a heightened awareness of the wonderful words and expressions that unite and enlighten us from over the pond.

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, at 11:00 pm

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4 Comments on Exchanging English Over the Pond: U.S. and U.K. Part IV

4 responses to “Exchanging English Over the Pond: U.S. and U.K. Part IV”

  1. Lynn says:

    Great job of presenting & explaining the differences!
    I’ll be using it in my esl classes.
    Thank you very much!

  2. Brian Thompson says:

    Reference your comparison between the different US & UK usage of ‘got’ and ‘gotten’. My English master at my UK High School told us that he hated the word got, I shudder to think what he’d say about ‘gotten’! He impressed on us that there was almost always a better way. Thus ‘I’ve got a new car is better as ‘I have a new car’. Like most people, I find I occasionally use the ‘got’ option but I hate myself for doing it. Reference your comparison between the different US & UK usage of ‘got’ and ‘gotten’. My English master at my UK High School told us that he hated the word got. I shudder to think what he’d say about gotten’! He impressed on us that there was almost always a better way. Thus ‘I’ve got a new car’ is better as ‘I have a new car’. Like most people, I find I occasionally use the ‘got’ option but I hate myself for doing it.

  3. Janice H. says:

    I loved your example with Ernesto getting his homework back from the dog! Who says grammarians have to be stodgy?

  4. Tom J. says:

    On this one- I much prefer the English way. It’s just simple logic: The only thing that should be inside the quotation marks is that which is being quoted.

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