I've mainly encountered the term "Commonwealth English" in The Jargon File. However, Wiktionary says the term is fairly rare. Are there more accepted terms?

Ones that I'm aware of include:

  1. British English (as used by EL&U itself!). I don't view this term as ideal, as I'm referring to differences between English in commonwealth countries and the USA, rather than differences between Australia and the UK, for example.
  2. Queen's English. Not ideal, because it also suggests a very refined, as opposed to colloquial, form of English.

I'm aware that American English isn't just spoken in the USA, but maybe I don't mind that term as much, as I think those countries are often ones where it's spoken as a second language, such as Japan.


No, because there's no such thing as 'Commonwealth English'. English occurs in many varieties throughout the Commonwealth and they have few, if any, common features. 'British English' is the English spoken in the UK, but even that is not homogeneous. 'Queen's English' is too vague a term to be used at all.

  • There are many common features in British English, especially in the spelling of past tense verbs. While there are dialects, on the whole, British English is similar throughout the colonies, especially when compared to American English. – Coomie Sep 19 '11 at 7:26
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    An extraordinary claim like this needs more than one paragraph. Are you honestly saying that it's just coincidence that Australia, and the UK spell "colour" and "centre" one way, and do their dates one way, and the US does it another? – Andrew Grimm Sep 19 '11 at 7:30
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    There are 54 members of the Commonwealth. Here are some examples of English from just four of them. It would be misleading, to say the least, to claim that they were examples of a common variety of the language. ‘Yu noken draivim kar long sipid nogut.’ ‘Letshowaydoonthabooza.’ ‘This Banaras very old city. Nobody know how old. Varanasi our very oldest city in India.’ ‘He drove through a robot on the way to work.’ – Barrie England Sep 19 '11 at 9:32
  • While I agree that differences in dialect between English spoken between some commonwealth countries and England may often be larger than between American English and some British varieties, I think it can be useful to group "non-American" English varieties together, especially when talking of learning English as a second language, because they often broadly share vocabulary and spelling. "Commonwealth English" wouldn't be any more homogeneous than "British English" or "American English" which has many different regional variations in accent as well. – ghoppe Sep 19 '11 at 11:20
  • However, I believe the phrase is rare because there are reasonably few contexts where it would be appropriate to speak of "Commonwealth English". As you say it's often easier to speak of the differences than the similarities. – ghoppe Sep 19 '11 at 11:22

If your aim is to distinguish between the English spoken in the UK and the English spoken in the US and Canada, it's probably easiest to use "American English" as the reference term and contrast non-American English(es) with it.

  • +1 Nice suggestion, though not a direct answer to the question. – JeffSahol Sep 19 '11 at 16:22

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