When to Write Using American, British, & Canadian English

Sitting at a desk to write

Immortalize or immortalise? Signaled or signalled? Meter or metre? Labor or labour?

When writing their book, amongst the many decisions an author must make is which version of English to use. It’s time to consider the ABC’s; do you go with American, British, or Canadian English?

Do you discard the extra u's, or retain them? Employ ‘s’s or ‘z’s?

Spelling constitutes a large portion of the differences between each of the English language conventions, but each one also has its own corresponding slang and/or region-specific dialects.

While this decision can be implemented at any time during the writing or editing of your book, it’s best to decide which convention you will use before you begin writing. There are a number of reasons for this which should be taken into consideration.

Target Audience

Possibly the most important thing to consider is who you want to market your book to. If you're hoping to write a bestselling horror book, then you might want to consider writing in an American dialogue (or dialog, rather), positioning yourself to appeal to the genre’s largest and most receptive audience. If you’re writing a young adult fiction novel set in a Canadian high school, however, references to “sophomores” and “juniors” will likely confuse its readers as terms not commonly used in Canadian culture.

Author’s Geography

Maybe you're unsure what your target audience is. Maybe your book’s characters don't have an identifiable region. Perhaps your book lacks characters altogether. If this is the case, convention remains relevant to your book’s construction. Regardless of the fact that you will likely be looking to sell your book locally, you are a product of your surroundings and your language. Writing within your comfort zone allows you to have a deeper and more intricate command of the language within your book, and also allows you to communicate more efficiently with your audience.

Context and Setting

Your characters’ geographic and cultural origins are other important components when deciding upon the English convention you will write in. If you're writing from the perspective of a character whose region is different from your own, you will likely need to research the particular accent or dialect of that region, and apply the appropriate form of English in order to effectively achieve continuity and depth in your story and characters. Consider the following premises:

  • A young man living in Toronto visits an estranged and distant relative in Felix Cove, Newfoundland.
  • An elderly Englishwoman recounts her life as a parlour maid in a grand British household.
  • A Texan gentleman recovers from a serious illness, and rediscovers his faith in religion.     

Each of these characters speaks English, however the nature of their English—each individual’s nationality, social status, pronunciation and idiosyncrasies of speech—is very different. In addition, the English of the narration—the voice that tells the story—will likely differ also. In each of these cases, the English convention applied should reflect the situation, character, and/or author’s origins if it is to properly represent them. Failing to do so may create confusion or challenge your reader’s ability to believe in your story.

The English language is a big and complicated creature, made even more perplexing by the different intricacies of each of its conventions. Considering each of the above factors could help determine the best fit for where you and your book belong linguistically.

After choosing the best form of English for your book, it's only up from there; whether it's via the lift or the elevator is up to you.

Written by Molly Dlugaj, FriesenPress Author Account Manager
Edited by Kate Juniper, FriesenPress Editoral & Illustrations Coordinator