How to Deal with UK English

How to Deal with UK English

figurines of American and British soldiers holding flags and sparringWhen I first started editing, I dreaded getting an assignment that specified UK English. (I hadn’t even known there was a different version of English until I became as editor.) I knew the basics, but was sure I would miss something.

I won’t give details here, as there are many websites that do (such as this one, or this one), but a few examples of the differences are the following:

  • Spellings (behavior/behaviour, analyze/analyse)
  • Diction (the hood of a car versus the bonnet of a car)
  • Punctuation (Americans write, “Hello,” while the British write, “Hello”.)

A recent paper that I edited in UK English had just about every “iz” word you could imagine: optimization, minimize, size, decentralize, realize, linearize. Were all of these supposed to change to “is”? I set the paper’s language to UK English, but many of the variants are correct in UK English, if not preferred.

The I made a discovery. The online Cambridge Dictionary has separate tabs for UK English (“English”) and US English (“American”)!

screen capture of dictionary for horizon

When I looked up “horizon,” I found it was the same in either language. However, when I searched “minimize” and clicked on the English tab I found that while the “iz” spelling is correct in UK English, “UK USUALLY minimise”:

screen capture of dictionary for minimize

A few options showed up:

  • Some spellings are always used in one language or the other, in which case the spelling has its own dictionary entry (see behaviour)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, but on is preferred: UK USUALLY (see optimize, minimize)
  • Sometimes either spelling is acceptable, with no preference: UK ALSO (see centralize, minimization)
  • Sometimes one spelling is only preferred at times: FORMAL UK USUALLY (see utilize)

symbol with American and British flags combinedI decided that if the “is” version was merely an alternative, not the usual spelling, I would not change it in the paper, but I changed the spellings when the “is” form was preferred.

Having the Cambridge Dictionary as a place to check spellings was reassuring. Do you have a method that you use when editing in UK English? If so, please share it in the comments.

Posts on this blog are copied from Emily’s blog at Subscribe to that blog for more practical tips for authors, editors, and self-publishers, as well as occasional news on Emily’s writing and events.

Comments are closed.