George Bernard Shaw said famously that the American and the British were "two nations separated by a common language".

Beneath are some instances of different usage in American and British language. You may already be aware of some of these differences, others may surprise you.

Two weeks / Fortnight
Legal holiday / Bank holiday
Regular/special shareholders' meeting / Ordinary/extraordinary general meeting (of the shareholders)
(Articles of incorporation and) bylaws / (Memorandum and) articles of association
Income statement / Profit and loss account
Currency exchange / Bureau de change
President/Chairman / Chairman
Chief Executive Officer / Managing director
Realtor / Estate agent
Real estate / Property
Zip code / Post code
Run (for office) / Stand (for office)
Checking account / Current account
Check / Cheque
Mutual fund / Unit trust
Penitentiary / Prison

These are just a few examples. It is often worthwhile establishing whether your audience/the receivers of your document would prefer American or British nomenclature, as though many US terms may be comprehended by a British person and contrariwise others may generate confusion and a need for time to be spent on further explanations or clearings.

As well as the differences in vocabulary we just considered, it is also possible to spot divergences in grammar and country-specific structures in 'British' and 'American' documents. There are often no strict rules, it is merely a question of usage and the outcome of how the language has evolved in each country.

Dates are one long-familiar example:

September 29, 2003 / 29 September 2003
9/29/2003 / 29/9/2003

Helpful Hint: It may be a good idea to write a date out in full, to avoid confusion:
Is 3/9/2003 the 3rd of September 2003 or March 9, 2003 ?

The use of commas in lists is also different. Note the missing comma in the UK version of the following sentence:

The company has not issued any bonds, shares, stock options, or securities this year.

The company has not issued any bonds, shares, stock options or securities this year.

Some grammatical differences are shown in the next table:

I will write them next month / I will write to them next month
It was nice to talk with her / It was nice to talk to her
I am meeting with the union representatives today / I am meeting the union representatives today
I live on First Avenue / I live in First Avenue
Let's go see a movie / Let's go and see a film
Different than/different from / Different from/different to
I already ate / I have already eaten
Look out the window / Look out of the window
Hudson River / River Thames

Another interesting instance is the third person singular form 'one':
"one does what one is told to do".

This is still in use in the UK in formal language, but is very seldom heard in the US .

Familiar speech forms can also differ greatly. Whereas the British would say "I really need a drink" or even "I'm dying for a drink", Americans might say "I sure could use a drink",

You are much more likely to hear a British person say "yes, of course" or "leave it with me", when an American might say "sure can" or "will do" when asked to do something,

Though such usage may be particular to one country, in most cases it is readily understood in the other. Indeed, with today's increasingly 'global' culture, many British people are now using 'Americanisms', although the reverse is seldom true!

Finally, words are often spelled differently between British and American English. For example:

-z organize / -s organise
-or favor, behavior / -our favour, behaviour

Mistakes can easily be averted by choosing the appropriate language (American or British English) in your word processing software and executing a spell-check, seems obvious, but is easy to forget!

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