Since the 2012 Summer Olympics are now winding down in London town, perhaps it’s time for a little lesson on comparative grammatical conventions. Not everyone knows this, but there are number of things that America and Great Britain do NOT have in common, even in the language they purportedly share.

For one example, the convention for quotation marks used with punctuation is quite different: in American stylebooks, the quote-mark at the end of a sentence comes after the period, as well as after a comma. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Big Ditch, Englanders and others will hold the punctuation until the end of the quote, including its closing quotation-mark.  So we get this structure:

“I asked him politely to please shut up,” said the businessman. (American)

“I asked him politely to please shut up”, said the businessman. (British)

Nobody has ever been able to explain to me why the more awkward-looking American construction ever got that way; however, every stylebook or grammarian will tell you the same thing: the comma or period goes before the end- quote mark.

Another thing that varies from America to England is the endings of some prepositions. For example, if you’ve ever seen something written by a British author, you may have noticed words like “towards” and “afterwards” in the text. If you’ve seen it that way from an American, it’s actually incorrect; the proper words are “toward” and “afterward,” at least in American writing.

And finally (at least for this lesson) there is that annoying (to me at least) habit of adding a “u” to words that were perfectly fine already, so that we get abominations like “favourite” and “flavour” and . . .  well, you can name more, I’m sure.

There’s no real purpose to this I can see, since it does nothing to change the pronunciation of the word (I’ll refrain for now from addressing the many situations in which British pronunciation DOES jumble up the presentation of words, even when they’re spelled exactly the same as their American versions.). However, try to work with someone from the UK (or for that matter anyone who’s studied English there, or in any of the former British Empire colonies now liberated from everything but their former masters’ bad habits), and see how often you have to readjust your inner spell-checker, to either accept or reject these constructions.

This has been an attempt to cover just a few of these idiosyncracies; more will likely follow, and as always, comments are most welcome.

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