While the US has the world’s largest economy, it doesn’t mean the rest of world follows our same standards and practices for English usage.
Isn’t all English the same? Not entirely. While Americans have always been aware of certain differences in the language between what’s spoken in “the colonies” and “the Queen’s English,”
there are substantial and confusing grammar and punctuation differences that companies should be aware of. Here are five faux pas (pardon my French) to avoid in using the written word:
- Verb-noun agreement. In American English, a company is general singular: IBM is having a great third quarter. Elsewhere, a company is considered plural: BP are challenging claims related to the 2010 gulf oil spill.
- Dates. Americans place the month first, then the day, then the year. For example: December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy. The rest of the English-speaking world tends to list dates more logically, going from the smallest increment of time (day) to the largest (year). When dates are spelled, this isn’t confusing, but when dates are written numerically (7/10/2013), it’s impossible to tell if the writer means July 10 or October 7.
- Units. While the international scientific community uses the metric system, Americans still use a variation of the English system of weights and measures in day-to-day life. To confuse matters more, the English use the metric system as well as their own version of traditional weights and measures. It’s best to stick to metric units.
- Punctuation. In the US, the period and the comma nearly always go inside the quotation marks, with very few obscure exceptions (such as citations in a publication). In the UK, the period goes outside of the quotation marks. This can look unprofessional if the reader does not realize who the author’s target audience is.
- Monetary units. The Irish use the euro; the British use the pound, and Americans, Canadians and Australians all use dollars. The Associated Press recommends converting foreign currencies into dollars for US audiences, or following them with a dollar equivalency. In an international marketplace with fluctuating currency values, it might be better to simply list amounts in their original national units. For example, The new hydro project in Quebec is expected to cost CA$750 million.
It’s a big English-speaking world, and while the US has the world’s largest economy, it doesn’t mean the rest of world follows our same standards and practices for English usage. Follow these tips to look your best in print.