Some say that the first rule of learning English is that there are no rules. Bill Bryson explained the complexity of the English language in this way:
English grammar is so complex and confusing for the one very simple reason that its rules and terminology are based on Latin—a language with which it has precious little in common.
But there’s good news for all of the 1,500 million people who speak English around the world: We have more in common than we have differences. And if you want to write for an Australian audience, you can pick up those subtle differences quickly and easily by looking at the general categories of differences.
Here are some of our favorite tips for transitioning from American English to Australian English:
How To Write Australian English
Spelling differences are generally systematic. For example: the American “-or” suffix becomes the Australian “-our” (e.g., color = colour). Here are a few of the other changes you’ll see:
- –er —–> –re (theater = theatre)
- –ize —–> –ise (actualize = actualise)
- –yze —–> –yse (analyze = analyse)
- –e– —–> –oe– or –ae– (pediatrician = paediatrician)
An additional spelling difference is that when verbs which end in “e” become a noun, American English drops the “e” in the verbal form, but Australian English retains it (e.g., in American English, “judge” becomes “judgment”, but in Australian English, “judge” becomes “judgement”).
But at other times, it’s not systematic. Take for instance the Australian aluminium vs. the American aluminum.
Americans formerly used the serial comma before “and”, as in the sentence, “She scrubbed, rinsed, dried, and polished the silver”. Australians do not. However, current American usage may or may opt not to use that comma.
The other significant difference is in the use of quotation marks. Americans use single quotes for a quote inside a quote. Australians use the double quote for a quote inside a quote. Following are examples:
- American: She said, “Joe said, ‘Come over here now'”.
- Australian: She said, ‘Joe said, “Come over here now”‘.
Looking at that sample, you’ll see one more difference in how Americans and Australians handle quotations. In American written English, the period (or comma) goes inside the quotes. In Australian written English, the period or comma goes outside the quotes.
Australians and Americans handle verb agreement with collective nouns differently. In American usage, the verb is always singular. In Australian usage, either singular or plural is fine, depending on the context or emphasis. Here’s an example:
- American: The team is winning.
- Australian: The team is/are winning.
Australians and Americans use the verbs “have” and “take” differently:
- American: I’d like to take a bath.
- Australian: I’d like to have a bath.
Past participles sometimes differ between American and Australian English. While we would use “burned” in American English, “burnt” is correct Down Under:
- American: No sense crying over spilled milk.
- Australian: No sense crying over spilt milk.
Times, Dates & Measurements
While the date order in American English is day/month/year, in Australian English, it’s month/day/year. We use a 12-hour clock in American time and the 24-hour clock (sometimes called “military time”) is used in Australia:
- American: 6:00 PM
- Australian: 18:00
Australia uses the metric system, so be sure to convert from American pounds and ounces, inches, feet and miles to metrics!
So you have the basics, and now it’s time to have some fun and show off a little.
Other Australian Terms
- Butt = bum
- Mosquito = mozzy
- A line = a queue
- Trash can = rubbish bin
- Trailer truck = roadtrain
- Shopping cart = shopping trolley
- The movies = the pictures
- A flashlight = a torch
- A closet = wardrobe
- Cookies = biscuits
- A parking lot = a car park
- Math = maths
- A coat of paint = a lick of paint
- Fast food = take-aways
You can find plenty more word equivalents arranged topically here. Or, for fun slang words to pick up, check here.
And now, before you start to whinge (complain), we’ll leave you to absorb these pointers. For more information and additional resources, check this guide for English-language teachers, or if you need blog posts in Australian or American English, get in touch—we’d be happy to help.