• 3-minute read
  • 3rd March 2019

English Dialects: What Is American English?

You may have heard people describe certain words or spellings as “American English.” But what exactly is American English? And how do you avoid errors in your writing when using it? Let us explain.

What Is American English?

American English is the English dialect (or set of dialects) used in the United States. It is also known as US English, AmE, AmEng, or en-US, and is specific to the US, not North America in general. Canadian English, for instance, is nearer to British English in some ways.

Having said that, American English is also used internationally due to the country’s influence overseas. As such, many “Americanisms” are now common in other English dialects.

But what makes American English unique? As we’re all about writing at Proofed, we’ll ignore pronunciation for now. But it does differ from other major English dialects in various ways:

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  • British English – American and British English differ quite a bit in some respects, especially in vocabulary and spelling (e.g., center vs. centre). There are also minor grammar and punctuation differences, such as use of “double” (US) and ‘single’ (UK) quote marks.
  • Australian English – Australian English is close to British English in many ways, so it is similarly different from American English. However, Australian English also has its own vocabulary (e.g., a comforter is a doona in Australia and a duvet in the UK). And Australian English does favor the US spelling program over the UK spelling programme.
  • Canadian English Canadian English combines influences from US English (e.g., preferring -ize spellings of words like realize and organize) with some elements of British English (e.g., using the UK spelling colour rather than color).

The key is to be aware of these differences when writing for a US audience.

Tips for Using American English

We won’t attempt a definitive rundown of everything that makes American English unique here. But we will offer a few helpful guidelines that you can follow when using US English:

  • Some American English dialect terms are informal, so make sure to avoid them in formal documents such as college papers. Dictionaries should tell you if a word is informal.
  • If you have a style guide from your school or publisher, check whether it specifies dialect-specific spelling or punctuation conventions.
  • Be consistent in the dialect you use throughout a document.
  • When writing a document, set Microsoft Word to use American English by going to Review > Language > Set Proofing Language on the ribbon and selecting “English (United States).”

Finally, you can have your work proofread by someone who knows American English, especially if you are less familiar with this dialect, as a native speaker may spot things you have missed.

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