Grammar Rules: British English Versus American English Top Six Spelling Tips

english grammar rules

Most essays and exams will include points for spelling and grammar. And, in the UK, if there’s one thing that will give you away and have examiner’s (who you want to keep happy right?) pulling their hair out its confusion over British English and American English spelling.

Thanks to auto-correct on American software like MS Word, UK students are more likely to have issues. I’m as guilty as the next person so this blog is also a timely reminder for me. : )

History Time: Why are British English and American English spellings different?

The English language has stayed within its long heritage, roots and influences such as the French language.

In the 17th Century, English settlers introduced the English language to America but it began to evolve. And, after American Independence from Britain the popular versions of English words being used by American people were standardised into their own dictionary.

If you’re interested in the origins of the English language The Mother Tongue: English and How it Got that Way by Bill Bryson is fab. (paid link)

Quick Test – So, how many do you get right?

‘ence’ and ‘ense’

Some words that end with ‘ence’ in British English are spelt ‘ense in American English:’

British American
Defence Defense

British English Example: In 1066, Harold took up arms against William in defence of his crown.

British English Example: Henry VIII could not keep up the pretence with Catherine of Aragon any longer.

Double vowels

British English words that are spelt with the double vowels ae or oe are just spelt with an e in American English.

British American

British English Example: Margaret Thatcher manoeuvred herself into Leader of the Conservative Party.

‘re’ and ‘re’

British American

British English example: Queen Elizabeth I popularized visits to the theatre under her reign.

Words ending in a vowel plus l

In American English, the ‘l’ is not doubled.

British American

British English example: Allied forces travelled nearly 100 miles to reach the coast of Normandy in 1944.

‘our’ and ‘or’

British American

British example: The colour drained from Anne Boleyn’s face as she approached the scaffold.

British example: The UK Labour Party won a landslide majority in 1997 putting Tony Blair in No.10.

‘yse’ and ‘yze’

These verbs in British English with ‘yse’ at the end are always ‘yze’ in American English

British American

British English example: If you analyse poll results from before the 2015 General Election, no-one expected a Conservative majority.

Bonus tip

Under Tools > Language in MS Word, you can set your language to English (UK) but you will still need to know the principles for any written answers in an exam or test.

If you’re looking for more on English Grammar Rules you can’t go wrong with English Grammar for Dummies. (paid link)

As always, I’d love to know your feedback on this blog or any other I’ve written for you in the comments below or you can find me on Instagram @elizabeth_britpolitics or on Twitter @_Britpolitcs.

Catch-up soon.


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Learn Basic English Grammar | Examples of Active and Passive Voice

Desk scene

You’ve written the perfect witty sentence for your blog. But, ever had a blank moment when the checker says ‘Passive Voice (consider revising)? Eh? What?

Well, this is flagging up a basic English grammar rule about the active and passive voice. When you write, the grammar you choose gives a certain voice. Depending on the construction of your sentence, the voice is either passive or active.

What’s the difference?

  • An active voice tells what a person thinks or does.
  • A passive voice tells what is done to something or someone.

Seriously, why does active and passive voice matter?

I’m guessing you want your writing to be impactful, clear and persuasive?

If you use active voice your sentences, and writing, will be more efficient and powerful.

In active voice everything revolves around the subject of the sentence. In passive voice the subject is kind of tagged on at the end with usually more words than you really need in the middle.

Other benefits to using Active Voice are:

  • Your hard-hitting points will be easier to understand
  • Clearer sentences appeal to a global audience with varying levels of English
  • Shorter sentences means more space in your word count
  • It sounds more confident and trustworthy
  • It adds to your professionalism. If you need more general help with English grammar, I always use my English Grammar for Dummies, UK Edition
  • It helps with Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • If you choose descriptive vivid verbs you can help the reader visualize your point and make more impact. Why have a politician ‘speak’ when they can ‘address’ or ‘lecture.’

Hints you may be using passive voice in your grammar

Do the words ‘be’ and it’s variations of ‘have been’ or ‘being’ feature heavily in your writing? Are they usually followed by a verb in the past tense like ‘spoken’ or ‘finished’? Chances are you’re using passive voice.

Examples are: ‘The speech will be finished soon’ or ‘they have been invited to the manifesto launch.’

Active versus Passive Voice Examples

Did you notice the pattern? Subject then Verb and then Object. If you want to be confident your sentence is active make sure the subject is doing the acting.

So, can you ever use passive voice?

‘Never use the passive where you can use the active’

George Orwell, ‘Politics and the English Language (Penguin Modern Classics)’, 1946

As a principle using the passive voice to create lofty long sentences may make you feel better but it doesn’t help your reader.

Read it out loud. Where’s the subject of that sentence. Does it even have one? If it sounds clunky then it will not ready well and you probably need to change it to the active voice.

But, on occasion, you may feel the need to break up those short sharp sentences or perhaps soften the edges of a sentence. You can also use the passive voice if the subject is unknown. Both of these will be rare.

How politicians use the passive voice (just for fun…)

Politicians use the passive voice to divert blame and to soften hard messages.

The classic is ‘Mistakes were made’ – this does not tell you anything. Who made them? What mistakes? Henry Kissinger, President Clinton, and President George W Bush have used it. In the UK, David Cameron used it in response to alleged UK involvement in torture at Guantanamo Bay.

In 2008, President Obama warned with little clarity, “there will be setbacks.”

Indeed, entire political speeches, usually about President Trump, have been made attacking opponents without even mentioning their name (i.e. the subject of the sentence)

Catch-up soon


In full disclosure, some of the links are Amazon affiliate links, which means at no cost to you I receive a small commission to put back into the site. I only ever recommend products I believe will be helpful to you. 

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