Learning to Write American English

One of the really interesting parts of being an Australian author publishing through an American publisher has been learning to write American English. Having read books by American writers my entire life, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the differences. I mean, I knew not to use Aussie slang like ankle biters, footy, lollies, rellies, chooks or eskies*, and to use American spelling, but every time I got back edits, there would be a few words I needed to translate or even change altogether because they didn’t quite cross the cultural barriers. Some of them really surprised me. I thought it would be fun to share some of them with you today.

  • Kitchen bench v kitchen counter
    The kitchen counter is pretty commonly called a bench in Australia. Or kitchen benchtop. Apparently, that’s (only) a long chair in the US. I think I caused my editor no end of confusion when I kept having people prepare food on ‘chairs’. Oops.
  • Wardrobe v closet v cupboard
    A walk-in-wardrobe in my mind is a small extra room attached to a bedroom which is full of shelves and drawers to hang/hold clothes. Picture the one Princess Mia has in Princess Diaries 2. Apparently, that’s a closet in the US, and walk-in-wardrobes only turn up as a doorway to Narnia.
  • A ‘sleep-in’ (as a noun)
    This one really surprised me because there is no equivalent in the US! In Australia, if you sleep in past when you would usually get up, it’s called a ‘sleep in’ (noun form). Sunday morning sleep ins are pretty common. I ended up having to rewrite a couple of sentences to get around this one.
  • ‘The snow’
    Another thing that I had to rewrite because there’s no equivalent is the idea of ‘the snow’ as a place. I guess this is because we don’t have quite as much snow in Australia but it’s totally normal to say you’re going on holidays (vacation) to the snow. Or spending a day at the snow. I think we ended up changing this one to ‘the slopes’.
  • Biscuits v cookies
    This one’s pretty basic (Australian biscuits = US cookies) but I thought I’d put it in here because those of you eagle-eyed readers might have noticed I actually missed one in the edits of Heart of the Princess and a mention of ‘choc chip biscuits’ made it through to the final print. Nooooo! Just proves that, as much as I do my absolute best to ‘think American’ when I’m writing/editing/proofing, I’m still Australian through and through.

Did any of these surprise you? What words have you noticed which are specific to your culture? (Did you notice the biscuit? Ha!)

* young children, rugby league/Australian football, candy, relatives, chickens, insulated container to keep things (usually drinks) cold

187 thoughts on “Learning to Write American English”

  1. I chuckled out loud as I was reading about the differences between the two countries. It’s so interesting to read about them. Thank you for being a part of the contest , I am looking forward to reading your books.

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    1. Thanks Barb! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun writing this post 🙂 Thanks for being part of the hunt! Hope you’ve had fun.

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  2. Since I have been reading books for years and years, I guess I have just gotten used to the way different authors write! I usually know exactly what they are saying! Thank you for participating in this fun hop!

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    1. Always nice to meet another bookworm 🙂 I love the way authors all have their own writing voice, even if they are writing similar things. Thanks for taking part in the hunt!

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  3. Hi Hannah! Following you on Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub and Goodreads! Thanks for the chance! Love your Royal Books! Blessings!

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    1. It makes life fun 🙂 It’s getting a lot more natural. Although I do have times where I am so lost for what to call something that I change the sentence or paragraph altogether :p Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I’m from Canada but have been living in the US for most of my adult life, so my spelling and vocabulary are quite an eclectic mix! One of the things I had to learn when I moved to the US was that I no longer carried a “purse” but a “pocketbook” even though to me, a pocketbook would be more of a “wallet” or “billfold”. My friends tell me they can still hear my Canadian accent when I say “about” or any word that rhymes with it. Very fun post – nice to meet you!

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    1. My neighbor is Canadian, and I love talking to her. 😎
      Quite interesting to note that you don’t hear purse here. Where I’ve lived (Texas and in the Midwest) we say purse. Wallet is for ladies, and billfold for gentlemen. We don’t use pocketbook at all!
      I do love to hear how other places say things.

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      1. From what I gather, Australia is a lot closer in language and such to Canada than it is the USA. Probably because we’re both Commonwealth countries. (I love having a queen! Even if we still have our own form of government and everything here, I still love being able to claim the royal family as ours) It totally fascinates me all the different ways people say things. So cool. Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt, Misty!

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      2. I think my mother called it a billfold so it may have been the opposite for her. I call it a wallet.

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    2. Thanks Kym! Nice to meet you too 🙂 As to the whole purse, pocketbook, billfold, wallet situation… That completely confuses me. I keep my wallet (which has money/coins/cards inside it) inside my handbag (which is like a carry all bag (to keep keys, wallet, phone, tissues, etc) that goes over my arm/shoulder and I take pretty much everywhere. I have no idea what that translates to in American. Hence that one not getting on the list! Ha! It’s all so fascinating to me. Thanks for stopping by!

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    1. Isn’t it! I love finding all these new words and phrases. Glad I’m not the only one. Thanks for being part of the hunt! Hope you’ve enjoyed yourself 🙂

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  5. I’m a South African living in the USA and would personally love to have books written in Australian English and set there too. Just my two cents. 😁😁
    I think it’s great to have good fiction, captivating story and you learn culture too.
    Hint hint. 😉

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    1. Hi Lize 🙂 My books might not be set in Australia but there are lots which are. My favorites are Kara Isaac’s ‘Then There Was You’ and Jessica Kate’s ‘A Girl’s Guide to the Outback’. They’re both a lot of fun! I’m with you with loving books set in other cultures though. I love learning about other places and people. Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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  6. I enjoy reading books set in different countries. It is fun to see the different words used. Thank you for being part of the Scavenger Hunt.

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    1. It’s fascinating, isn’t it! I’ve learnt so much about both the USA and England (among other countries) through reading books. I love it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. I have come across many different words over the years of reading and they are: Blasphemy, Gerrymandering, Dastardly, and Ubiquitous.

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    1. They’re great words! Dastardly makes me think of villains in masks :p I’ve never heard of gerrymandering. Will have to look that one up. Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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    1. Oh yay!! This makes me smile 🙂 Hope you like them! Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt!

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  8. I’m so amused by this entire post! My BFF lives in Victoria and I got a crash course in all things Aussie! Capsicum is one of my favorite words (my favorite phrase is “a sparrow’s fart”, for obvious reasons!) and I’ve picked up torch, bench, chook, and several others along the way. Thanks for the giggle, and the giveaway!

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    1. You’re very welcome 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the post. I had a lot of fun writing it. Hope your friend is doing okay with all the lockdowns in Victoria. They’ve had a tough year 😦

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  9. Sometimes I get confused by words that are written by authors from other regions in the United States. I just grab my dictionary or head over to a search engine to figure out what was meant if I can’t pick it up from the reading itself. Dialect can be especially confusing (as Suzanne Woods Fisher mentioned in her post on stop 2).

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    1. Yep, I’m pretty good at looking up different words I come across as I read too. Most authors make it fairly clear from the rest of the phrase what it is but every now and then I’m left totally baffled! It’s always fun learning new words though. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt!

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  10. Subscribed to newsletter , following on Bookbub liked on FB. Looking forward to treading your stories as you are a new to me author.

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    1. Awww! Thankyou! I love my readers! ❤ Glad you enjoyed the post. It was a lot of fun to put together. Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. I really enjoy reading books with different ways of saying this such as biscuit to cookies. I really enjoy southern twangs and English accents in writing! Over personally never read anything with and Australia accent attached but it sounds like fun!

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    1. It’s fun reading books set in other places 🙂 My books aren’t set in Australia so you won’t learn too much about Australia from them but there are some other books set here that I love. My two favorites would be Then There Was You (by Kara Isaac) and A GIrl’s Guide to the Outback (by Jessica Kate). You’ll be immersed in Australia if you read those two 🙂

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  12. Your books are beautiful!!!
    You are new to me . So glad I found you and your books! Thank you for the chance to win your great giveaway!!

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    1. Thanks Sherry ❤ I'm very fortunate to have had Roseanna White design them for me. She's amazing! Also, nice to meet you! I love meeting new readers and this is such a great opportunity to meet them THanks for stopping by!

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  13. Following on all. I loved reading the different words. I knew some of them but others, like hot chips, are new to me!

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    1. Thankyou! I really appreciate it. It’s always fun learning new words 🙂 Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt! Thanks for stopping by.

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  14. One of my favorite words is “scuttlebutt” which I’m not sure is a culturally different word…but it is a great word meaning basically “word on the street” or “gossip”. Doesn’t scuttlebutt sound better than either of these?

    As far as words that are different: biscuit vs cookie I love sugar! So saying that you are eating biscuits vs cookies just gives me a little giggle on top of which it just sounds more sophisticated!

    And I’ve been getting your newsletter for a while now.

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    1. Thanks Kim ❤ And scuttlebutt is an awesome word! Don't know when I'd ever use it in a sentence but it sure is fun 🙂 Hope you've enjoyed the hunt!

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    1. Thank you Debra ❤ I love writing and sharing God with others. Thanks for being part of the hunt. Hope you've enjoyed it!

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  15. I already knew some of the language differences, but it was interesting to learn some that I didn’t know. I particularly love fairy floss for cotton candy. Thank you for taking part in the scavenger hunt!

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    1. Thank YOU for taking part in the scavenger hunt! These things would be no fun at all if no one came. Glad you enjoyed my post. It was a lot of fun to write. Words are such fun to learn 🙂

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  16. I already knew some of these words, but it was fun to find out some I didn’t know. I particularly love Fairy Floss for cotton candy. Thanks for taking part in the scavenger hunt!

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  17. I can usually tell when someone who isn’t from the United States is writing a story about someone who is. It’s almost impossible to catch every single word difference, and it doesn’t really make much difference to me as long as they don’t sound completely inauthentic.

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    1. That’s exactly why I set my books in a fairytale land rather than the US 🙂 I was way too paranoid that I’d get the culture wrong. It’s so hard to do that right unless you’ve really been immersed in a culture. Thanks for being part of the hunt. Hope you’ve enjoyed it.

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  18. I recognized all of these words and can’t think of any others that I didn’t know. I find it interesting how there are different names for things in different countries when it is all English. Your books sound great !

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    1. Thanks! And nice work! You’ve clearly either travelled a lot or read a lot 🙂 It is fascinating how diverse even just one language can be. Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt.

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    1. Pelisse is a great word. That one comes up lots in English books I’ve read. I love learning new words. Thanks for being part of the hunt! ❤

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    1. That’s definitely what gets me the most. Thankfully, setting my spellcheck on Word to US English helps a lot by underlining the really obvious ones. The weirdest thing is when I’m writing blog posts, emails, social media posts, etc that aren’t manuscripts, trying to decide whether to use US or Australian spellings. I think I use a mix of both :p Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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  19. Soft drinks: it’s called pop in Ohio (U.S.) A change purse is where I put my coins. I believe the British just call it a purse. We have jam and jelly and then there’s also preserves. It pretty much all tastes alike to me.

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    1. Isn’t it crazy all the different names for things! I find it fascinating. Thanks for sharing yours 🙂 Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt!

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  20. I don’t know if it is from watching BritComs, or having friends from England, or friends stationed there, or if our time living in Europe is the reason, but most of these differences are familiar and not a problem, almost 2nd nature to hear them. A few of the ‘Aussie’ terms were not as familiar. And I’d never heard of a kitchen bench as a kitchen counter.

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    1. We do take a lot of our language from England so it’s not surprising you were familiar with a lot of them. How cool that you got to spend some time in Europe! I’d love to visit one day. Britain, anyway 🙂 Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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    1. Oh hey! We call them bubblers too! And water fountains. Both, really 🙂 How funny. I’d never thought of whether that one would translate. Thanks for sharing!

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  21. I don’t know if it’s the same in Australia, but I notice on “Call the Midwife” (England) they say “they need to go to hospital.” In the US, we say “they need to go to THE hospital.” Fun post!

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    1. I’m trying to think now which version we use – I think it’s probably both. Ha! I’d really have to think about that one if I wrote it in a book because they both sound right (and I’m sure I’ve used/heard them both). Intriguing! Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt 🙂

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  22. Goodness there’s so many comments, I was trying to read them but got lost haha. I watched an Australian series Wentworth and it’s one of my favorites. I picked up on so many regional words but still must have forgotten a few. Funny in Portuguese they have a similar thing with cookies. Some places call them “bolacha” while others call them “bicoito” (almost like a biscuit). And some people just opt with the American “cookie”, so they’ve got 3 in reality. Enjoyed the post! Gonna follow to check out more 👍🏼🍪

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! It was fascinating reading all the comments. I learnt heaps of words just from that. Ha! The different words people use, even in the same country, are always so interesting. Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

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