Spelling, vocabulary and usage

UK vs US spelling   Specific Americanisms to avoid   Collective nouns   Academic titles   Additional references


In this section, you will find

  • a very general overview of some of the main differences between British and American spelling
  • some important differences between American and British educational terminology
  • exceptions to the general ‘UK English only at AU’ rule

UK vs US spelling 

In administrative and official AU texts, use British spelling unless you have a legitimate reason for following another spelling convention.

In academic texts, use British or US English spelling and punctuation as noted in the style guidelines of the publisher in question.

And before you do anything else, remember to adjust your spellcheck language settings!

See  Language settings for a guide to spellcheck settings in different programs.


NOTE: We deviate from standard British usage where common sense dictates. In some cases, we prefer a non-British term on the grounds that it is more comprehensible to an international audience (which, after all, AU is). This applies to ‘invigilator’ (UK English) vs ‘exam supervisor’ (international). In other cases, we use non-British terminology because it more accurately describes our institutions and practices. For example, we use the American translation for Danish ‘semester’ (‘semester’) rather than ‘term’, because even though the length of a term varies from school system to school system, there are always two semesters – and two only – in an academic year. 


Specific spellings


–ise, -ize (-isation, -ization)

 Use the –ise spellings in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

categorise

categorize

emphasise

emphasize

organise

organize

 

–yse,-yze

Use the –yse ending in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

analyse

analyze

catalyse

catalyze

paralyse

paralyze

 

-ogue, -og

Use the –ogue ending in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

analogue

analog

catalogue

catalog

dialogue

dialog

 

-our, -or

 Use the –our ending in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

colour

color

honour

honor

humour

humor

 

-amme, -am

Use the –amme ending in AU texts (but note exception below).

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

programme

program

program (data processing)

program

 

 

-re, -er

Use the –re ending in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

centre

center

theatre

theater

 

-ce, -se

Many words spelt with the –se ending in US English are spelt with the –ce ending in UK English. Follow UK practice in AU texts.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

advice (n

advise (vb)

advice (n

advise (vb)

 licence (n

license (vb)

 

license (n) (vb)

 practice (n)

practise (vb)

 

practice (n) (vb)

 defence (n)

defensive (adj)

 defense (n)

defensive (adj)

 offence (n)

offensive (adj)

 offense (n)

offensive (adj)

 pretence (n)

 pretense (n)


-ae

Words beginning with ane- are spelt anae- in UK English.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

anaemia                

anemia

anaesthesia          

anesthesia

encyclopaedia

encyclopedia

 

''l' vs 'll'

In UK English, the ‘l’ before a suffix beginning with a vowel is usually doubled (‘ll’). Doubling is used before all inflections of verbs (-ed, -ing, -est) and before the noun suffixes -er and -or. In US English, these words are normally spelt with a single ‘l’.

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

traveller

traveler

fuelled

fueled

counsellor

counselor

labelled

labeled

Conversely, there are words in which British writers prefer a single ‘l’ and Americans a double ‘ll’. (But when adding inflections or noun suffixes to these words, the above rule for British doubling still applies: fulfilled, enrolled, skilled, installed.)

Correct example UK English

Incorrect example US English

fulfil/fulfilment

fulfill/fulfillment

enrol/enrolment

enroll/enrollment

skilful

skillful

instalment

installment

  

Specific Americanisms to avoid

Major

in the sense “designating or a field of study in which a student specialises and receives a degree” (Collins online):

Correct example He read history at AU.
Correct example He studied history at AU.
Correct example He did history at AU.
Incorrect example He majored in history at AU.­


Fall

for the season between summer and winter:

Correct example The programme starts in the autumn.
Incorrect example The programme starts in the fall.


Faculty

in the sense “all the teachers of a school, college or university or of one of its departments or divisions” (Collins):

Correct example These rules apply to academic staff (members) at the Department of Bioscience.
Incorrect example These rules apply to faculty at the Department of Bioscience.


Grade

in the sense “a mark or rating on an examination, in a school course, etc” (Collins):

Correct example He received a high mark on his exam paper.
Correct example He has a high average mark.

Incorrect example He received a high grade on his exam paper.
Incorrect example He has a high grade average.

 Note: The ministry’s translation of the Karakterskalabekendtgørelse  (the Grading Scale Order) uses ‘grade’, which makes it difficult to insist on ‘mark’ in many contexts.


Exceptions

Semester

Correct example semester (US
Incorrect example term (UK)

Proctor (eksamensvagt)

Incorrect example Do not use invigilator (UK)
Correct example use exam supervisor (universally comprehensible).

Collective nouns

What are collective nouns?

A collective noun is a noun that describes a group – a number or collection of people or things taken together and spoken of as one whole.

Examples: board of studies, group (of people), committee, jury, family, team, orchestra, couple, audience, school, cast, company, press, class, firm, government, the public.


UK vs US usage

In British English, most collective nouns may be followed by either a singular or plural verb, depending on whether you perceive the group as one unit, in which case it will be singular, or as a number of individuals, in which case it will be plural.

American English, however, normally takes collective nouns to be singular units. A sentence that starts ‘The government have…’ would be corrected to ‘the government has…’ by an American English teacher or proofreader.

Correct example My family consists of my two brothers, my mum and me. (singular)
Correct example My wife’s family are major table tennis fans. (plural)
Correct example Before the recession, my wife's family were quite well off, but now they are hard up. (plural)
Correct example The government have said they will give more money to hospitals and schools. (plural)
Correct example The government is going to invest in sustainable energy. (singular)
  

What to do at AU

In AU texts, we encourage you to follow British conventions: use plural verb forms after collective nouns. However, sticking with singular forms (especially if you normally speak/write American English) is also acceptable. You should be aware that the rules for subject-verb agreement are not set in stone when it comes to collective nouns – and proceed with appropriate caution. Understand your own practice, and most importantly of all, be consistent.

 Correct example  Preferred:
      The senior management team have decided that… (UK)

(Correct example) Acceptable:
      The senior management team has decided that… (US)

 Correct example  Preferred:
      The board of studies are meeting tomorrow. (UK)

(Correct example) Acceptable:
      The board of studies is meeting tomorrow. (US)

Additional points

Countries and institutions

Use singular verbs for names of countries and institutions.

Correct example  Aarhus University is
Correct example  Scotland is having a referendum this autumn.

Consistency

Be careful not to mix up singular and plural subjects and verbs in the same sentence, paragraph or piece of writing. If you write ‘the senior management team have’ (plural verb) in the beginning of a paragraph, don’t write ‘the senior management team is’ (singular verb) later on.

Incorrect example The government have said it will give more money to hospitals and schools.
Incorrect example The government has said they will give more money to hospitals and schools.

Academic titles

Use the titles prescribed in the memorandum Job Structure for Academic Staff at Universities (Notat om stillingsstruktur 2013 for videnskabeligt personale ved universiteter). See AU Dictionary for titles not listed here.

Danish English
Ph.d.-stipendiat PhD fellow
videnskabelig assistent  research assistant
undervisningsassistent  assistant lecturer)
ekstern lektor assistant lecturer)
adjunkt assistant professor
forsker researcher
lektor associate professor
seniorforsker  senior researcher
professor professor
professor med særlige opgaver professor with special responsibilities
seniorrådgiver senior adviser
studieadjunkt/-lektor teaching assistant professor/teaching associate professor
klinisk lektor clinical associate professor
honorarlønnet klinisk professor part-time clinical professor
klinisk assistent clinical assistant
klinisk lærer  clinical instructor
afdelingstandlæge specialist of postgraduate education in odontology or senior clinical instructor in dentistry
specialtandlæge (videreuddannelsesstilling) postgraduate fellow in odontology
psykologisk kandidat (videreuddannelsesstilling) postgraduate fellow in psychology

Note: The 2013 version of the memo has ‘professor with specific responsibilities’, while both the Danish and the English versions of the 2007 memorandum have ‘professor with special responsibilities’, which is the translation in use at AU. We have chosen to retain ‘professor with special responsibilities’.

At Aarhus University Hospital, the official translation for specialtandlæge is ‘dental specialist’, not ‘postgraduate fellow in odontology’.

We have corrected various spelling and usage errors in the memo.

Additional references

For a more detailed discussion of differences between British and American English, see:


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