English Dialects: What Is British English?
You may have heard some people mention ‘British English’. But what is this exactly? In this post, we’ll take you through how it differs from Australian English, as well as how to use British English in your writing.
What Is British English?
British English is the English spoken and written in the UK. This includes a range of regional and local dialects, such as Scottish English. It sometimes even includes the English spoken in Commonwealth countries.
And while these dialects differ in some ways, the term ‘British English’ (sometimes shortened to BrE, BrEng, or en-GB) refers to the areas where they overlap (e.g. where they share a standard spelling or grammatical form).
British English is generally very close to Australian English. The main differences are related to vocabulary (e.g. a ‘doona’ is a ‘duvet’ in the UK). But there some other differences, too:
- Australian English favours US spellings for some words. For instance, ‘program’ is standard in Australian English rather than ‘programme’. And ‘encyclopedia’ is more common than ‘encyclopaedia’ over here. Both of these are standard in US English.
- British English is more likely to use plural verbs with collective nouns (e.g. saying ‘The team are playing’ rather than ‘The team is playing’).
Most of the time, though, formal British and Australian English are similar.
Tips for Using British English
We won’t attempt a definitive rundown of everything that makes UK English unique here. But we will offer a few helpful guidelines that you can follow when using British English:
- Remember that some British dialect terms are informal. For example, the term ‘cracking’ can mean ‘excellent’ in UK English. But this word is informal, so you would not use it in formal writing such as an essay. Dictionaries should tell you when a word is informal.
- If you have a style guide from a university or publisher, check whether it specifies dialect-specific spelling or punctuation rules.
- British English often accepts multiple spellings (e.g. organise and organize). Make sure not to mix different spellings of the same word in a document.
- When writing in Microsoft Word, set it to use British English by going to Review > Language > Set Proofing Language on the ribbon and selecting ‘English (United Kingdom)’.
Finally, you can have your work proofread by someone who knows British English. This is especially useful if you are less familiar with UK English, as a native speaker may spot things you have missed.