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The style of British English is more formal than North American English. The differences in style are of little concern to the readers of this book as they are rarely apparent in a well-written science paper. However, differences in style may affect the wording you choose for narrative writing in cover letters, introductory letters, and correspondence between colleagues. [See Chapter 5 for examples of letters.]

American English makes less use of polite, ambiguous verb forms, such as: 'could', 'would', 'should', 'might', 'can', 'may'. These auxiliary verbs can be extremely slippery: Sometimes some are interchangeable; other times they are not. At any rate, they are apt to convey meanings different from what the writer intends; their meanings are subtle and dependent on context. One use of such words has been to add grace to personal correspondence or cover letters, but this kind of use requires a high sensitivity to the English language as well as to what is appropriate. When in doubt, resolve your debate by replacing the verbs accompanied by auxiliaries with their simpler verb forms.

Table 4.1 Some Spelling Differences between British and North American English

British North American

Table 4.1 Some Spelling Differences between British and North American English

British North American

advertize, advertizement

• advertise, advertisement


• aluminum

analogue, catalogue, dialogue

• analog, catalog, dialog

cancelled, cancelling

• canceled, canceling


• center


• check

colour, honour, labour,

• color, honor, labor, valor,

valour, humour


favour, favourable

• favor, favorable

focussed, focussing

• focused, focusing


• jail


• inquiry


• inflection


• jewelry


• license


• liter


• practice


• maneuver


• neighbor


• organize


• skeptical


• specialize


• sulfur


• theater

travelled, travelling

• traveled, traveling


• tire


• vigor

Personal correspondence in American English tends to be more informal than British English. For example, especially in American English, the words 'whom' and 'shall' are often replaced with 'who' and 'will', the difference between 'among' and 'between' is often ignored, and the subjunctive can be found without its traditional reversal of verb-subject agreement. How far this trend will go is unknown but it does serve to simplify grammar.

The current style of North American English in personal letters often seems breezy or even impolite. Create spreadsheets from the letters you receive, which can guide you in the style you choose to use. Notice that North American English tends to contain new idioms. These sometimes seem appealing, but they go out-of-date or change meaning so rapidly that they are not helpful: Avoid them. Writers are safest who resist the temptation to write as informally as some Americans do.

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