It’s Not Wrong, It’s Just Written in British English

The constant struggle with variations of the English language

Jun 2, 2020 · 4 min read
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Photo: Ivan Shilov / Unsplash / Fair Use

“There are multiple grammatical mistakes in your piece. Please review and correct them before resubmitting to our publication.” I have heard this on several occasions when submitting an article somewhere (not exclusively on Medium).

Most of the time, this will include words written in British English, rather than American English such as:

  • Favourite to favorite
  • Learnt to learned
  • Realise to realize

This is the style that I am used to writing in. Even now, my writing extension is having a field day with these spellings.

I think that most of the time, these are marked as “wrong” because Grammarly is a highly favoured writing aid by many editors (some to the point of almost solely relying on this; don’t let that be you) and because their Grammarly is set to a different English than mine, editors see the red line and shudder.

Previously, I wrote about how important it is to learn the basics, and this applies whether you’re a writer or an editor. This time, I’m going to tackle the difficulties between variations of the same language; the English language to be exact.

English is tricky because it’s diverse

You know why? Because there are so — many — rules.

Even as a native speaker — and as both a writer and an editor — I still struggle with the rules sometimes. When I’m editing a piece, there are multiple moments when I have to stop myself and think about it for a second; check it in one of my books or the Internet.

Things can get tricky with so many rules because, at some point, people don’t know which one to listen to.

Some people will heavily argue to never start a sentence with the word ‘but’, whereas there are multiple rules that will say it’s perfectly okay to do so. Even my own editors at work can’t seem to agree on this and repeatedly change how I do it.

The English language wouldn't be complicated to understand, it just has a lot of rules and that’s what ends up making it complicated.

Even style guides acknowledge the struggle

If you look up style guides, you will instantly find just how many types there are out there. The key difference between these style guides? They all have their own rules.

Let’s take, for example, the oxford comma (or serial comma).

The Oxford Manual of Style and the Chicago Manual of Style will explain the oxford comma to you, with its usage and how it can make a difference in your writing.

“The serial comma is the one before and, or, or nor at the end of a series of three or more items. It’s the comma after b in “a, b, and c” — and, incidentally, the comma after the first or in the previous sentence.”

-Chicago Manual of Style

The oxford comma helps maintain clarity when listing items; it helps keep each word as a separate entity.

On the other hand, the Economist’s style guide makes it very clear to never use the oxford comma;

“Lists: do not put a comma before and or or at the end of a sequence of items unless one of the items includes another and.”

-The Economist Style Guide 12th edition, p. 121

Many mainstream journalists deem the oxford comma completely unnecessary.

So, who on Earth do you listen to? Sometimes, it’s not even a case of “this is the American way, this is the British way”. In this instance, both the Chicago Manual of Style and the Economist Style Guide are American style guides, yet they say polar opposites to this rule.

Sometimes, we can’t rely on rules instead, we need to use our best judgement.

It’s not the only variation of English

This article only highlights a portion of the differences that there can be. To top it all off, American and British English aren’t even the only two variations out there. There’s also Australian, Canadian, Indian and so many more. A person from Ireland may say something different to a person from the UK.

Even within British English, there is the “typical” spelling and there is the Oxford spelling, which is almost like a mixture of American English and British English. Honestly, do the variations never end?

So, you can see that it’s hard to follow a standard set of rules when there’s barely a standard way of doing things. In fact, the very idea of a “standard English” is in constant dispute.

Differences should be celebrated instead of adapted

Here’s the thing, when it comes to punctuation, things can get really tricky. You believe the comma should be here, not there, but your writer believes it should be there and not here. It’s a headache.

But, when it comes to style guides, everyone has their variations and we should respect them.

At the same time, I think it’s important to keep the integrity of someone’s writing. If they write in British English, why change that? Why make them write a word — a word that is equally recognizable with or without the extra letter — in your style rather than theirs? Is that not, in some way, taking away their unique voice?

Medium is a platform of people from many backgrounds, and we should celebrate this. Although it supposedly has a predominantly American audience, who is to say? If there is a diverse background of writers, then one could assume that there is an equally diverse background of readers.

We shouldn’t just assume that, just because it’s written a little differently, then it won’t be understood. We are writers; we are readers but above all; we are constantly learning. So, why not learn from each other?

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Written by


Brand specialist. Bookworm. Writer. Editor. Always listening to lo-fi and drinking tea☕️ Email:

The Faculty

A community of academics and storytellers writing and sharing thoughts about teaching, learning, research, and life at the faculty.


Written by


Brand specialist. Bookworm. Writer. Editor. Always listening to lo-fi and drinking tea☕️ Email:

The Faculty

A community of academics and storytellers writing and sharing thoughts about teaching, learning, research, and life at the faculty.

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