US to UK English – a quick reference


I was asked advice on converting from US to UK English the other day, a task which at first seems simple enough but there are pitfalls to avoid. Here are the main three:

  • ‘ize’ to ‘ise’. You could be forgiven for thinking you can just do a straight search/replace for this, but if you do and then read the results you’ll start wondering what that peculiar word ‘sise’ means. Yes, the word ‘size’ will also become part of that search/replace so be very careful.
  • ‘color’ to ‘colour’. Usually, this does work, but in some fields you can have tradenames that must use the American spelling. For example, HP has ColorSphere toner and they will get annoyed if you start calling it ColourSphere.
  • ‘program’ to ‘programme’. Even in UK English a computer program is still called a program, but everything else – a TV programme, a radio programme, a development programme – is different. Even ‘gram’ and ‘kilogram’ should change to ‘gramme’ endings. If you’re doing this for people on the European continent and they insist you’re wrong on this, insist that you’re right.

If you’re going to use search/replace then the best advice is to confirm every change rather than do it all in one go, and check it all again afterwards. Either that or try and get the entire US nation to refer back to its Latin roots.

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