Is it OK to mix American and British English?

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6

I normally write using the American English forms, but for some particular words, I tend to naturally write it in the British manner (like with the word favourite rather than favorite).

Is it wrong to mix both styles? If not *wrong*, does it looks weird?

talles

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 1 141

1Not any more weird than British English sounds to Americans or American English sounds to the British. – Ajedi32 – 2014-08-07T20:24:22.160

14It's not wrong unless the audience cares. And when they care, they'll be rather vocal about it. Just start talking about football vs. soccer. – SrJoven – 2014-08-07T20:30:58.450

3@SrJoven - Football vs. soccer isn't really about language. And the word soccer was invented by the British anyway. – Davor – 2014-08-08T06:39:01.623

4Btw I think all versions capitalise "English". Or rather, Americans "capitalize" it, but the result is the same ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2014-08-08T09:19:57.730

3I call this Internet English. From reading all sorts of short articles and comments without being conscious of the nationality of the author, you get used to seeing both kinds of spelling all the time... – RemcoGerlich – 2014-08-08T12:50:10.580

Internet English? That's sth diff all2gether! – Mr Lister – 2014-08-08T18:06:09.050

4Probably many non-natives do it. Usually in European schools pupils learn British English but also some American Englisch vocabularies. And of course, if you read English books or sth in the internet, you pick up words and learn them without knowing whether they are AE or BE. So it might be easier to stick with "colour" or "color" and "capitalise" or "capitalize" than to stick with the AE or BE vocabulary. I wouldn't care if someone use German words that are not common where I live, as long as I know what they mean. – Verena Haunschmid – 2014-08-08T18:25:37.947

Is it OK where? – Jim Balter – 2014-08-11T07:02:01.683

Answers

35

Sure. For example, Canadian English has standard spellings that are derived from both British and American influences.

Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American conventions.

  • French-derived words retain British spellings (colour or centre). While the United States uses the Anglo-French spelling defense or offense (noun), Canadians use the British spellings defence and offence (defensive and offensive are universal).
  • Use of curb and tire in contrast to British English kerb and tyre.
  • Words ending in -ise use "-ize" after the US English convention.
  • Some nouns take -ice while matching verbs take -ise, as with practice and practise, licence and license.
  • Canadian spelling can retain the British practice of doubling consonants when adding suffixes to words even when the final syllable (before the suffix) is not stressed, as with travelled, counselling, and controllable.)

The preferred Canadian spelling is favourite. That is the form that would be chosen in formal publications. However, in practice, Canadians tolerate both British and American spellings with little fuss, and favorite would also be commonly seen.

Note, however, that there are a few words for which Canadians do have a definite spelling preference. Kerb and tyre would look markedly out of place in Canada. I speculate that it's because they are more modern concepts, and therefore subjected more to American influence. Also, there is a popular chain of hardware stores called Canadian Tire, which would make tyre un-Canadian.

Caution: "Official" usage doesn't always paint an accurate picture of common Canadian English usage. For example, Transport Canada (government) regulations all use aeroplane, while the CBC (media) and everyone else in Canada use airplane.

200_success

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 7 829

2I see that you have accepted. Congratulations, honorary Canadian! – 200_success – 2014-08-08T04:09:49.887

7I thought the question was about the questioner's idiosyncratic mix of British and American spelling. The fact that there are several million people using a more-or-less common mix doesn't really bear on the question of whether or not each individual person can invent their own. I'm not sure whether the questioner accepting this answer means that they'll use Canadian English, or that they're taking the existence of Canadian English as implicit endorsement of the use of Talles's Special Blend English ;-) – Steve Jessop – 2014-08-08T08:32:35.173

2@SteveJessop Canadians don't really have much of a problem with mixing and matching. It's just not a big deal. – 200_success – 2014-08-08T08:35:03.930

1Fair enough. For an extreme example of the opposite, a British publisher of course would reject/correct it immediately, so I guess it just depends on your audience. – Steve Jessop – 2014-08-08T08:36:55.290

Huh, turns out I've been using Canadian English all these years. :) – Sergio Tulentsev – 2014-08-08T09:50:07.580

Actually -ize is the British spelling too. -ise is also acceptable here, but the OED uses -ize. There are a few exceptions where words must end -ise (advertise) or -yse (analyse) but otherwise -ize is correct. – None – 2014-08-08T10:05:06.540

1I'm from the UK and kerb and tyre looks really strange to me. – Ally – 2014-08-08T11:13:34.730

@SteveJessop; no not really. ref: Guide to Canadian English Usage et The Canadian Writer's Handbook, Essential Edition Or I could cite Fowler's Modern English Usage about English's usage and evolution throughout history, there has never been a singular language which is perhaps in part due to the lack of single authoritative body, unlike Académie française.

– mctylr – 2014-08-08T19:40:25.687

5No. This is entirely wrong. Canadian English, Australian English, American English and British English are four entirely different things. The first two are not just labels for an awkward mixture of the last two - they are dialects (or rather groups of dialects) that have developed in entirely different places. The question is not about whether the OP should use Canadian or Australian dialects - it's about his/her own mixture of British and American usages. This answer does not address that. – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2014-08-08T19:44:00.930

@DavidWallace You're right, that Canadian English is more than just a random personal interpolation of American and British English. I've edited the answer to clarify that choice of orthography in Canadian English is neither strongly prescriptivist nor a complete free-for-all. – 200_success – 2014-08-08T20:20:46.150

1I see Canadians have their own English now eh? :)) – OutFall – 2014-08-08T21:38:35.547

@N0ir Actually, Canadian usage of "eh" is declining.

– 200_success – 2014-08-08T21:41:33.950

"Eh" isn't exclusively Canadian, either. Like many aspects of dialectal variation in North America, it cuts across borders. – snailplane – 2014-08-08T21:52:19.000

@MoJo Despite that, I've never seen a native Englishman use -ize. – Pharap – 2014-08-09T03:45:14.887

1@Pharap It is the house style of the Oxford University Press, to use -ize spellings. Since they publish the best known dictionaries of British English, and include these spellings therein, the -ize spellings are frequently understood as being "standard" for British English. As far as I know, all other British publishing houses use -ise. – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2014-08-09T05:30:28.383

2@DavidWallace -ize spellings are definitely not standard as far as British usage goes, regardless of what OUP policy says and no matter how etymologically well founded their rationale may be. British students are actively taught to use -ise and to never use -ize. – Pharap – 2014-08-09T06:06:27.177

@SteveJessop "it just depends on your audience" -- Indeed. For all we know, the OP is Canadian and is asking whether it's ok in Canada, since they didn't bother to say. – Jim Balter – 2014-08-11T07:02:41.307

@JimBalter OP is in Brazil.

– 200_success – 2014-08-11T07:13:37.687

Sigh. Just because it says that in their profile doesn't mean that's where they are, and where they are isn't an element of my statement, which referred to nationality (talles could be Canadian, perhaps with a Brazilian parent and now living in Brazil, among many other possibilities) or that they are addressing a Brazilian audience ... rather unlikely, I'd say. In any case, your answer is wrong or at least is bad advice ... they should not mix and match. – Jim Balter – 2014-08-11T07:21:45.863

Indian English accepts both. The textbook follows BrE but in routine, you see AmE in boards, hoardings, newsletters and whatever you can think of. – Maulik V – 2014-11-27T06:50:11.260

44

I think most people would recommend you stick to one style or the other. Why? Well, it doesn't matter too much, but if you mix styles the reader might notice! And that's bad—if they're noticing stuff like that, then they're paying attention to how you're writing rather than what you're writing.

In other words, you're distracting the reader. You probably don't want that. You want them to focus on what you have to say, right? So unless you have a specific reason to mix styles, just stick to whichever style seems appropriate.

snailplane

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 30 097

1One would violate the rules of the other anyway, defeating both. – Panzercrisis – 2015-07-09T16:26:54.140

@Pharap, snailcar: I don't understand how readers could be distracted by encountering both varieties in a single piece of writing? If you're an AmE speaker, are you similarly distracted by a piece of writing that uses BrE spellings for words? Or vice versa? – HeWhoMustBeNamed – 2020-03-17T17:56:54.520

1@MrReality I don't speak for all Britons, but as a Briton, American spellings really do stand out like a sore thumb because beyond the internet, American media (of which I see less than most people) and the odd bit of packaging from US products, I simply don't encounter them in my day to day life. But using both in a single piece of writing is just plain inconsistency and that's distracting regardless of one's origins. It would be like writing a document about the Quran and half way through and then inexplicably using 'Koran' in several places. – Pharap – 2020-03-18T00:22:05.353

5+1 I'm one of those people who would be distracted by it. – Pharap – 2014-08-09T03:42:33.850

17

  • It looks weird to someone who is used to checking spelling, for example anyone who produces or checks professional copy. They're used to noticing single errors like typos, and common mis-uses like "flout" vs "flaunt" in everything they read, but they might well perceive what you're doing as a consistent mis-spelling.
  • Individual words might look weird (but whatever spelling you use, someone who's used to the other will find it weird, so this may not be a problem).
  • It's "wrong" in the sense that it's not correct British English and it's also not correct American English. But from what 200_success says, almost any mixture is correct Canadian English, so you can plead that. Furthermore, only people very familiar with multiple versions of international English will be absolutely certain that what you're writing isn't conventional anywhere. So you can get away with being slightly "wrong".

I would say that in your own informal writing you can do as you please. Few readers will both notice and care, so even if it looks a little odd it won't seem definitively incorrect.

If you're writing formal English then you should pick a spelling convention and stick to it. It's part of a style guide. This goes beyond even choosing British vs. American: for example there are plenty of words which in Britain can correctly be spelled either -ize or -ise, but generally you should spell all of them the same in a given text, and certainly you should spell each one consistently. This is something that spelling/grammar checkers in my experience don't pick up on: "you've used 'spelled' in this paragraph and 'spelt' in that one, would you like to be consistent?".

So in practice, many native speakers make mistakes along the same lines, especially a Brit trying to write American English for an international audience. Therefore, although it's better to stick to a common set of spellings, it won't stand out all that badly if you don't.

Steve Jessop

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 1 537

1This is the best answer here. It deserves more upvotes. – Dawood ibn Kareem – 2014-08-08T19:47:01.387

It had never occurred to me before that a spell-checker should work with context that way - like how some programmer's editors will detect inconsistent capitalisation even when the language makes no distinction. – IMSoP – 2014-08-09T22:09:18.107

7

It must be noted, to add to the other answers, that some official exams will penalise you for mixing. For example, Cambridge (British English) will probably tolerate American English if you are consistent, but certainly penalise you if you mix them. I have also known of professors in the UK that consider American-spelled words an orthographic mistake, and therefore lower your grade for it (and being harsh!).

Davidmh

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 171

7

I know a German girl here in Florida, who obviously learned British English in school. But after living in Florida for over 10 years, she has an immaculate American accent. The problem is that she still uses "bloke" where Americans would use "guy," she says "you know 't I mean?" with a British intonation but American accent, she says "zed" instead of "zee" and says "shedule" instead of "skedule." You would think these innocuous little details that nobody really notices, but the fact is that a lot of people find her amusing and even laugh at her (even some of her friends.) I personally find the inconsistencies jarring - especially "bloke." Every time she says it, I feel like saying "don't say that!" hahaha

CocoPop

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 6 719

2

I would suggest that there shouldn't be any differences in the patterns you use as patterns are an important part of understanding what people are saying. For example, don't say "my favourite color", or "my favourite colour is red and my favorite shape is a circle".

As a person who is very international, I have nothing against using words used in different areas(garbage/rubbish, etc.), and can accept that it may seem weird to use say Australian and American words mixed within British English, but only see it as an adaption and a sign of the diversity of the person's language and experience, and not something that is wrong.

Language is about 2 things, expressing yourself and communicating. If something that sounds awkward does one of the above better than the standard, then I can not see what is wrong with it. Language adapts, you just have to look at English 50, 100 and 150 years ago.

Damien Golding

Posted 2014-08-07T20:21:42.463

Reputation: 241