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 love this scavenger hunt! Recently I came across the word “ineluctable” which means “unavoidable.” I like that word a lot, so I’m determined to start using it in my everyday vocabulary now. 😀

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    1. Oh wow! I haven’t heard that one before. What an interesting word! Good luck with the everyday use :p

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  2. A new word I just learned was ‘Quixotic’. The definition is: exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical. And of course, I learned it from reading a fictional book! 😉 Also, I’m grateful for this scavenger hunt because I feel like it kind of helps usher in spring!

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    1. Cool word! And thanks for giving a definition. I was totally going to have to go look that one up otherwise 🙂 I learn so much through fiction. Welcome to Spring!

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  3. Love this! Just for fun, I grew up in Southern California where it never snows. When we went up to the mountains in the winter, we always said we were “going to the snow” or “going up to the snow.” Because it was a location to us 🙂 So if your editor had come from SoCal, she wouldn’t have blinked!

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    1. That’s so cool that you say it too! I think it must be more common in the places where it doesn’t snow. Makes sense. I’ve actually loved getting to know all these different phrases – what works and what doesn’t. It’s fascinating!

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  4. I’m learning medical vocabulary as this pandemic continues–interesting words such as asymptomatic which were never in my vocabulary before.

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    1. Ooh yes, all the pandemic language. It’s like a new culture in itself almost. Hard to believe it’s over a year now since this all started. Hope you’re keeping well 🙂

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  5. I had high hopes that I knew what you meant by ankle biters, but it turns out we have different definitions after all–it’s what my family calls yippy little dogs. To be fair, I’ve been bit on the feet more often by children than dogs, so the Australian definition makes sense.

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    1. We call those ankle biters sometimes too 🙂 Especially chihuahuas. So you’re not wrong. And yes, kids do a lot of biting too :p

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  6. I’ve never heard of your books before, but I am excited to take a look and read them! I also don’t know if I could ever call a cookie a biscuit… That just sounds wrong.🤣

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    1. I hope you enjoy my books if you do read them ❤ As to the biscuits/cookies, I guess it really is what you grow up with. Just to make it even more interesting, what you call biscuits, we call scones!

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  7. I’ve noticed that we in the Southern US shorten a number of words by leaving off the g at the end – Like “fixin’ ” or “walkin’ “. It’s interesting how words get changed depending on the area or cultures present.

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    1. It really is! I’ve always been fascinated by the way even just English as a language changes between different places. Also incredibly thankful it’s my first language. No way would I want to be learning it as a second. So much respect for anyone learning English as a second language!

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    1. Nor did I :p It’s crazy how many differences there really are! Fascinating though 🙂 So glad you’ve enjoyed it.

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  8. This was so fun!!! I laughed over and over and then ran to read it to my mom and brother!! What’s really funny is that both my brother and I have a few words that we naturally want to spell the British/Australian way and we don’t know why!

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    1. That’s awesome! So glad you enjoyed the post. I had a lot of fun writing it 🙂 The English language is pretty crazy. Fun though! Thanks for stopping by! Enjoy the rest of the hunt 🙂

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  9. I’m not sure it’s an actual word but midwesterners use the word “ope” a lot. It’s used in place of oops a lot.

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  10. This was really cool to read! I have a favorite book (Remember To Forget) in which the main character was an Australian who ended up in America (part of why I loved this post so much, and I’m definitely going to check out your books now!). At one point in the book someone points out that he called a grilled cheese sandwich, a cheese toastie. I was wondering if that’s actually what y’all say??

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    1. We sure do! Toasties are the best 🙂 That book sounds fun! I’ll have to look it up. Hope you enjoy my books if you read them ❤ Thanks for stopping by!

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  11. I would have never guess bench meant counter but we use the phrase “sleeping in” or sometimes “sleep in” like: I let the kids sleep in since they were up late last night.

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    1. There’s certainly a lot of differences between the two forms of English. We use the phrase ‘sleep in’ as a noun, as well as a verb, which I think is the main difference and what I had to change. Enjoy the hunt! 🙂

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      1. Quite a change for you.
        When I married I moved to a different state – and it was a HUGE difference. Ankle biter and sleep in are used here. We definitely don’t say going to the snow here since the snow comes to us – sometimes in feet!
        Cheese toast was used in Texas where I grew up; along with a lot of other differences. Some people have said Texas is like it’s own country, and I believe it! It was culture shock to me.

        Personally, I don’t mind reading the Australian version. Most of the time I know what is being referred to.
        Looking forward to trying your books.

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  12. I was familiar with some of the differences you listed but had never heard of others, like a kitchen bench instead of kitchen counter. It’s interesting to learn about the differences.

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    1. I’m glad you found it interesting too. I find it so fascinating. Thanks for being part of the hunt! Hope you’ve enjoyed yourself 🙂

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  13. Our Aussie friend visited us in the states several years ago, and it was really fun exchanging cultures! She brought vegemite and timtams for us to try, and we shopped with her for American foods, like cinnamon toast crunch. One word difference we found was that while in the US we call them pickup trucks, our Aussie friend called them utes.

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    1. Also, that’s cool about kitchen bench/countertop! I’m in culinary school, and we call our countertop a bench sometimes, when we’re using it to knead bread on and stuff like that.

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    2. Yes! We do love our utes in Australia 🙂 Tim Tams and Vegemite are pretty awesome too. I used to hate Vegemite as a kid but love it now, although none of us eat it by the spoonful like most Americans seem to try it. It’s best on toast with butter 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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    1. Thank you so much! I love writing for YA (even though I’m in my thirties too), and reading it. It is a newish genre in the Christian market but it’s exciting to see the way it’s growing. Hope you’ve enjoyed the hunt!

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    1. Oh wow, my kids would love that one! I think I might conveniently forget to tell them about it :p But great word!

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    1. Thank you! Roseanna White designed the covers and did the most beautiful job. I love them all too 🙂

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    1. Ugh. That one gets me all the time. It’s hard to unlearn something that’s been drilled into you since first grade (or grade one, as we call it in Australia). Three books in, it’s finally starting to become a little more natural. Ish. Kind of. Okay, so I write the book and then do a find/replace and fix them all :p

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    1. It really is! I am so incredibly glad English is my first language. I have so much respect for anyone who’s having to learn it! Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. We had the fun of hosting some Australian kids from a sister church one summer. They even brought their Veggiemite (may have misspelled that) with them…which sadly, I didn’t develop a taste for. The idiom that sticks in my mind is “jumper” which if I remember correctly is the equivalent of a sweater or jacket. It was confusing because over here a jumper is a one piece of clothing like a dress worn by girls. It was a learning experience for all of us, but so much fun!

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    1. Ooh, I forgot to add jumpers to the list. You’re right, it’s the equivalent of a sweater, and your jumper is what we call a pinafore. Ah, English is such fun 🙂 I used to hate Vegemite as a kid but love it now. It’s best on toast with butter (definitely not eaten by itself by the spoonful…ewww!). Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. I love variations on English–the similarities and differences. One of my nieces married an Englishman years ago, and you cannot tell that she was ever an American. I love listening to her talk, reading her posts and emails, etc. and observing the subtle differences in our English. So, your sharing many Australian differences was fun for me. A couple of my friends are from Australia.

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    1. Ooh I love British English! (That accent….swoon…) It really is fascinating how different the languages are, despite being technically the same. Thanks for stopping by!

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    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! I had so much fun writing this one. I know what you mean about the growing TBR. Mine sure has too! Thanks for stopping by!

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  16. My friend from England would visit the States & say she was “cream-crackered” after a long day. Now, I use that phrase sporadically; it’s more entertaining than “exhausted”. 🤪 Thank you so much for sharing with us!! I’m always fascinated to learn speech variations. And…I’m very excited to read Wenderley’s story soon!!! 🥰📚

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    1. I haven’t heard that one before but it does sound particularly British 🙂 Much more fun than simply exhausted. Hope you enjoy Wenderley’s story! Thanks for being part of the hunt.

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  17. Enjoying the scavenger hunt! A word that I had to look up one time (we were at Disney World and an alert came through) and it was squalls. Had no clue what it was. Yesterday we had an unexpected eLearning day so I asked my students today if they survived the squalls 🙂

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    1. Ooh squalls is a fun word! Reminds me of pirates for some reason. Ha! Hope your students survived the squalls okay 🙂 Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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  18. I’m so glad I ran across you through this scavenger hunt! I loved hearing about the differences between Australian and American English. Thanks for making this a fun scavenger hunt. Following you on IG and BookBub!

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to do the hunt, Pearl! I had a lot of fun writing this post so I’m really glad you enjoyed reading it too 🙂 Thanks for the follows.

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  19. My dad is from England so there is an endless supply of words that he says that we don’t here in America. I look forward to reading your books Hannah!

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    1. Thanks Shannon! I hope you enjoy them 🙂 You’ve probably picked up heaps of words from your dad through the years. Does he have an English accent? I love British accents! They’re so proper!

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    1. Awwww! Thankyou!! You just made my day. I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for taking part in the hunt.

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  20. This was really interesting! I have family members who live in Canada, and they do weird things like adding an extra “u” to words too, LOL. My dad, who is from Ontario but has lived in the United States for over 20 years, still says “mum.” One thing I’ve noticed too is that people from the North call a can of soda “pop.” But as a Texan, I say either coke or soda–if you call it “pop” it’s obvious you’re not from the South 😉 I love learning about other regions and how their own phrases and words differ from what I’m used to hearing, even though we all speak the same language.

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    1. Australia is pretty similar to Canada in a lot of ways, probably because we’re both Commonwealth countries. As to pop/soda/coke/soft drink…. I tend to totally avoid using it in my stories because there are just so many different ways people describe it. In Australia, Coke is just Coca Cola, not any other forms of it. So glad you found this interesting 🙂 I had a lot of fun writing it. Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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  21. Ok, so it’s so odd… I “sleep in” on the weekends. I’m in the US. hahaha Also, I’d totally understand what you’d mean if I read “go to the snow” for holiday. Makes total sense. I should probably be Australian. I’ll just start adding “u” to my words and swap “z” for “s”. Boom… Australian. hahahaha In the midwest we call it “pop” and here in the south they call it “soda”. I think in New England they call it a bubbler and in the Deep South everything is “coke” even if it’s not the brand. “What kind of coke do you want?” “I’ll take a Sprite.” Funny, right?

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    1. That is kind of funny about the drinks. I’ve never quite understood how a coke can mean all of them 🙂 Gotta love cultural quirks! And I think the difference with the ‘sleep in’ is that we use the phrase as a noun as well as a verb whereas the US just uses it as a verb? At least, that’s how I understand it. Thanks for joining in the hunt 🙂 Always fun to catch up with people I ‘know’ 🙂

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  22. Wow,I enjoyed reading your post, I had no idea that bangs were called fringes. Have a Great weekend and stay safe.

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    1. Thanks Alicia 🙂 I love learning new phrases and words from different cultures. Very glad I’m not the only one! Thanks for being part of the hunt.

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    1. Thanks for joining in! The scavenger hunts wouldn’t be much fun without you all taking the time to read them 🙂

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  23. Yesterday, I learned ‘Williwaw’ which means a violent squall that blows in near-polar latitudes. Don’t think I’ll be using that anytime soon though. :9

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    1. Oh wow, I hope I never have to be in one of those! That does not sound fun. Cool word though! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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    1. Woah, really? Is that using actual beetle wings? MIght have to look that one up. Definitely intriguing! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  24. Thanks for sharing. I love seeing the different words in different cultures. They are so fun to read and really can make a book.

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    1. I agree. It’s always really interesting learning new words through books. Thanks for joining in the hunt. Hope you’ve enjoyed it!

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  25. I have read so many new words by reading Outlander. I have to keep my phone nearby so I can look them up!

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    1. I’m not surprised! That would be like being immersed in a whole new culture! Good idea to keep a phone nearby to look them up. I do that too. Thanks for being part of the hunt!

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