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Transatlantic Differences: 3 Tips on UK vs. US Punctuation

America and the UK have been cultural cousins for some time. For better or for worse, they therefore bear some striking resemblances, such as sharing a language. But there are some important differences in how each country uses English.

The differences between UK and US spelling (e.g. organise vs. organize) and word usage (e.g. trousers vs. pants) are well known, so we won’t go into them here.

However, those aren’t the only differences when it comes to proofreading. The client’s specified language could have other implications, too, such as…

1. Date Formats

You probably already know that dates are set out differently in the US and the UK. Just in case you need a refresher, though, it’s as simple as this:

  • UK dates list the day, month, and year: e.g. 31/12/99 = 31 December 1999
  • US dates list the month, day, and year: e.g. 12/31/99 = December 31, 1999

While this is common knowledge, it can be easy to forget when working on a document that is not in your native dialect. This is why you can’t afford to go on autopilot when proofreading!

2. Titles

Titles such as Mr and Mrs do not require a full stop in UK English. This is because they end in the same letter as the full word. In US English, however, all abbreviations should be punctuated with a period. For example:

UK English: Dr Phibes was abominable.

US English: Dr. Phibes rose again.

Aptly, Dr Phibes was actually Vincent Price, the world’s most British-sounding American.

3. Quotations

 In UK English, single quotation marks (i.e. inverted commas) are standard for initial quotations, while double quote marks are used for quotes within quotes. In addition, punctuation that is not part of the quote goes outside the quotation marks:

‘Price’, notes Smith (2008, p. 24), ‘once said that “It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared” in relation to his career’, which shows that he enjoyed his work.

The opposite is true in US English, so single quote marks go within double ones, and all commas and periods go inside the closing quotation mark:

“Price,” notes Smith (2008, p. 24), “once said that ‘It’s as much fun to scare as to be scared’ in relation to his career,” which shows that he enjoyed his work.

Finally, Australian English generally follows UK conventions for quote marks, while Canadian English uses US rules. But if you are unsure which approach to use in a document, you should always ask your client or check their chosen style guide.