Australian/British versus American English Spelling

For Australians, American English is everywhere. It is in the books we read for pleasure and the material we read for university. It is in our magazines, advertisements and TV shows. And it is all over the internet. It is thus no wonder that many students writing in Australian universities are confused about the differences between Australian/British and American English spelling.

Z versus S

While American English uses ‘ize’, ‘izi’ and ‘iza’ in words like ‘organize’, ‘organizing’ and ‘organization’, Australian/British English uses ‘ise’, ‘isi’ and ‘isa’, as in ‘organise’, ‘organising’ and ‘organisation’. Likewise, while American English uses ‘yze’ in ‘analyze’, British/Australian English uses ‘yse’ analyse’.

Microsoft Word is not good at correctly identifying this issue, so it is a good idea to do a Find and Replace search of your essay before you submit it, to make sure there are no ‘iza’, ‘ize’, ‘izi’ or ‘yze’ accidentally left in (except in quotations, references and the official names of organisations such as the World Health Organization).

To perform a Find and Replace search on a PC, type Ctrl + F to bring up the navigation panel. Then, where it says ‘Search Document’, type in ‘ize’ (for example). If there are just a few, you can correct these one by one. If there are many, you might like to click on the drop-down menu next to where you typed in ‘ize’ (for example) and choose ‘Replace’. This brings up the Find and Replace box. In ‘Find what’ you should already see ‘ize’. In the ‘Replace with’ box, type ‘ise’. Then, using the Find Next button, check each instance of ize, clicking ‘Replace’ to swap the spellings. For more details on Find and Replace, stay tuned for our upcoming blog article on the topic.

OR versus OUR

American English uses ‘or’ in words like ‘color’, ‘favor’ and ‘labor’. Australian English uses ‘our’, as in ‘colour’, ‘favour’ and ‘labour’. So why is the Australian Labor Party spelled without the ‘u’? You can thank the influence of the American Labor movement on the ALP at the turn of last century for that!

Word is excellent at picking up this error, so long as your document’s language is set as English (Australia) or (United Kingdom).

To check this, look at the bottom left-hand corner of your Word screen. You should be able to see English (Australia), English (US) or some other language. If you need to change the language, just click on the incorrect language name to open the Language window. You can now choose the correct language from the list. While you are here, you can also check that ‘Do not check spelling or grammar’ is unticked. If this is ticked, you can have problems later when running spellcheck. See our upcoming blog article for more detail on the power of MS Word for proofreading.

L versus LL

American English uses a single ‘l’ in words such as ‘traveling’, ‘traveled’ and ‘traveler’. British/Australian English uses a double ‘ll’, as in ‘travelling’, ‘travelled’ and ‘traveller’.

Word is excellent at picking up this error, so long as your document’s language is set as English (Australia) or (United Kingdom) (see above for instructions).

In addition to knowing the differences between American and British/Australian spelling, you will now know how to use Word to help you avoid accidentally using American spellings. Considering our high exposure to American language in Australia, such mistakes are almost inevitable. However, by being careful to use only Australian/British English in your writing for Australian schools or universities, you will demonstrate to your reader (i.e. your tutor or teacher) improved literacy in Australian English as reflected in your understanding of the differences between the two variants of English.

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