Microsoft Style Guide: Differences Between the British and American English Styles

With the global rise and domination of the United Kingdom and the United States of America, English has situated itself as the lingua franca of the world. Though not spoken throughout the world, English remains the closest thing to a de facto universal language of communication between nations and people. For this reason, English is a necessary tool in today’s international business and is taught all over the world in grade schools as part of mandatory school curriculums. 

However, English is not the same around the world. There are the two major strains of English—British and American—which are considered the most “standard.” However, there are a plethora of other equally valid English dialects spoken in all parts of the world—South African, Singaporean, Irish, Kenyan, Canadian, etc. For the purpose of today’s blog post, we will limit ourselves to the comparison between the two major modes of English: British and American. 

A table listing examples of the differences between English dialects spoken in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Image credits: Wikipedia

There is a good reason why the two Englishes are different. American English diverged from its British roots when American settlers broke off from the empire in 1776, when the original thirteen colonies announced their independence from their motherland. This was before there existed standardized spelling, and as such, the differences between the two languages are present not only in speech and usage, but also in written text. The two Englishes have each evolved in their separates ways on either side of the pond, complete with their own nuances, conjugations, and vocabulary.

Thankfully, the two Englishes are still very much mutually intelligible (save for particularly difficult dialects). In fact, with the ever-influential scope of American media, American English has slowly seeped into British English and other dialects to the point that the American dialect is often very easily understood more than other dialects. On the flip side, this also means that speakers of American English are less familiar with how other dialects sound and seem, leading to difficulty in communication.

Today’s blog post hopes to ameliorate some of those communication issues by pointing out the differences in British and American English, using the Microsoft Style Guide as a reference.



Abbreviations commonly used in the United States take on different forms in other dialects and must be localized as such. For example, the US Department of Education is commonly abbreviated as ED; the UK’s version of the institution is the UK Department for Education, abbreviated as DfE. Other US English abbreviations are not well-recognized outside the country, and must be spelled out to avoid confusion, such as the EPA, which would be written out as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

One thing to note here is the difference between acronyms and initialisms; the previous examples are instances of initialisms, which is a form of abbreviation in which individual letters are pronounced separately (EPA, GPS, etc.) Acronyms, on the other hand, are abbreviations that are pronounced as if it were its own word (LASER, RADAR, etc.)



Given the separate standardization processes the Englishes have undergone, there are various differences in spelling. The chart below offers some examples of how certain words are spelled differently and the grammatical components that cause such differences:

Type of change US English UK English
hyphenation antialiasing anti-aliasing
e-mail email
cohosting co-hosting
word separation anymore any more
-l / -ll labeled labelled
-ize / -ise localize localise
-yze / -yse analyze analyse
-or / -our watercolor watercolour
-er / -re center centre
milliliter millilitre
air- / aer- airfoil aerofoil (but not airport)
-e- / -ae- anesthesiologist anaesthesiologist
-ey / -y flakey flaky
-a- / -au- balk baulk
-i- / -y- cipher cypher
-e / -é coupe Coupé

One of the most prominent differences is the doubling of some consonants preceding grammatical endings (such as labeled vs. labelled) as well as the usage of z and s in -ize/ise and -yze/ise (localize/localise, analyze, analyse). Other differences include the British English’s addition of the vowel “u” in words such as colour and flavour, as well as the tendency to spell some -er endings as -re, such as centre and mililitre.

The list below offers more differences that you might find to be useful. Learning such differences is crucial, especially for people who work across different Englishes. Despite the similarities of the two dialects, speakers of a certain dialect might find their own to be more familiar and comfortable.



Word substitution

In some cases, the two dialects use completely different words to refer to the same thing, not just a different spelling. Such words are much more important to recognize and remember, as these words can create confusion.

US English UK English
parenthesized bracketed
buddy mate
ZIP code postcode
soccer football


Tricky issues

In British English, two forms of a word are used depending on the context.

US English UK English Comment
program program
computer program
TV programme
fall autumn
to fall
meter meter
draft draught
of wind, or beer
of a document



In American English, the preposition “through” is used to denote the duration between days, as in the phrase “Monday through Wednesday.” In UK English, however, “through” is never used in this exact sense; speakers of UK English say instead “Monday to Wednesday.” Other differences in prepositions include: finish up (AmE) vs. finish (BrE) and waiting on (AmE) vs. waiting for (BrE).



Commas are ever the fickle punctuation, and its usage varies from case to case, dialect to dialect. One of the major differences—and the root of quite a heated debate—is the usage of the Oxford comma, or the comma before the final “and” in a list-type construction. In American English, the Oxford comma is often opted in, whereas British English leaves it out.

US English UK English

Check for available updates to the Software, such as bug fixes, patches, and enhanced functions.

Check for available updates to the Software, such as bug fixes, patches and enhanced functions.

The same applies for the final “or” in a list-type construction.

US English UK English

Check for available updates to the Software, such as bugfixes, patches, or enhanced functions.

Check for available updates to the Software, such as bug fixes, patches or enhanced functions.

Another case in which comma usage differs is before the conjunction “but.” In US English, a comma is often place before a “but” when it acts as a conjunction, but in UK English, the comma is omitted. This only pertains, however, when the sentence features a dependent clause. When the clauses form independent sentences, a comma is used for both varieties of English.

US English UK English

This user will be able to see your photos and documents on SkyDrive, but can’t make changes to them.

This user will be able to see your photos and documents on SkyDrive but won’t be able to make changes to them.

Finally, there are differences in comma usage before the abbreviations “etc.” and “i.e.” In US English, a comma is used after “i.e.” (id est, meaning “in other words”) and before “etc.” (et cetera).

US English UK English

Select the “Date Range” for your report by clicking the pull-down menu and choosing the time span (i.e., “Last seven days,” “Last thirty days,” etc.).

Select the “Date Range” for your report by clicking the pull-down menu and choosing the time span (i.e. “Last seven days”, “Last thirty days” etc.).



For both varieties of English, dashes are also difficult and fickle. There are three types of dashes in the English language: the hyphen (-), the en dash (–), and the em dash (—). One major difference in hyphen usage between the US and UK dialects are word breaks, which are situations in which a word is broken into two to straddle over different lines when the line is too long. In US English, the break occurs at syllable breaks; in UK English, the break occurs at morphological breaks.

US English UK English

In regard to en dashes and em breaks, US English favors the em dash over the en dash, whereas UK English favors en dashes. In some cases, US English might use two en dashes in place of an em dash; UK English tends to use a single en dash.

US English UK English

This is an example — and must be taken into account — when localizing into UK English.

This is an example – and must be taken into account – when localising into UK English.


These are all the differences listed in the Microsoft Style Guides for UK and US English dialects. However, there are much more present—differences that must be actively recognized and remembered if you work across dialects. There are numerous differences—some of them very nuanced—in terms of tenses, verbs, verbal auxiliaries, subject-verb agreement, transitivity, and other miscellaneous grammatical elements. It is always useful to keep in mind that, despite being the same language, the two dialects vary somewhat in their usage.


English (UK) Style Guide – Download Center › download › eng-…