In this week’s blog, we will review some important differences between Australian and American English writing conventions. The aim is to alert you to some of the more common mistakes.
Note: Download our handy Cheat Sheet to help you remember the most common differences. You can keep it with your study materials for quick reference: Download Cheat Sheet
The first big difference between these two systems lies in spelling. For instance, American English uses -iza, -ize, -izi and -yze, while Australian English uses ‑isa, ‑ise, -isi and -yse. Thus, ‘realize’ is American and ‘realise’ is Australian. Similarly, ‘analyze’ is American and ‘analyse’ is Australian.
When writing academically for an Australian university or publication, American spellings must not remain in your text. Therefore, we recommend doing a search for ‘iza’, ‘ize’, ‘izi’ and ‘yze’ to find and correct these errors.
Some other common spelling differences are:
Judgment Judgement (but Judgment in legal texts)
Percent Per cent
There are two big differences between these two systems in terms of punctuation. The first relates to the use of the serial comma (the comma before ‘and’ or ‘or’ in a list, e.g. ‘three affected areas are health, education, and transport’), and the second relates to the punctuation used with quotations.
The serial comma
In Australian English, the serial comma is not used. This means that usually in a list no comma is placed before ‘and’ or ‘or’; for example:
This essay will investigate the roles of the Parliament, the Ministers and the Judiciary.
In American English, this would be:
This essay will investigate the roles of the Parliament, the Ministers, and the Judiciary.
Note that if the list looks like it could be confusing without the serial comma (e.g. the items in the list are long, or there are multiple ‘ands’ in the list), you can use a comma to remove that confusion.
American English uses double quotation marks, and only uses single quotations marks when quoting inside a quotation; for example:
According to Genette (1997), “the author ‘knows best’ what we should think about his work.”
In Australian English, single quotation marks are used, and double quotation marks are only included to quote within quotations:
According to Genette (1997), ‘the author “knows best” what we should think about his work’.
You will also notice in the example quotations above that the punctuation at the ends of the sentences are different.
In American English, the punctuation mark (i.e. the full stop or comma) always comes before the closing quotation mark. Conversely, in Australian English, the punctuation mark will usually come after the closing quotation mark, unless the quotation is also a complete sentence.
Compare the following two examples (both use Australian English):
The salsola is a salt marsh plant. ‘It stores the salt in its leaves, so is a naturally seasoned plant.’
The salsola is a salt marsh plant. As salt is stored in its leaves, it is ‘naturally seasoned’.
Note that in the first example, the quotation and the complete sentence (from capital letter to full stop) are one and the same. Therefore, in Australian English, the punctuation mark is placed inside the quotation marks. In all other instances using Australian English, the punctuation mark is placed outside the quotation marks.
By keeping just these few differences in mind while writing, you will dramatically reduce the number of stylistic errors in your text caused by confusion between the conventions of American and Australian English. Your writing will also be more consistent, with less likelihood of oscillating between spelling styles.
However, we additionally recommend having your document edited by a professional editing service such as Elite Editing. A comprehensive edit to remove stylistic errors and ensure consistency in language use is just part of the service we provide.
Updated 16 June 2023
Emily Finlay, PhD, AE (IPeD)