I'm a non-native English speaker and as such, I was taught one variety of English In school--in my case, American.

However, I've also been extensively in contact with British English, and now I prefer some spellings, like -re instead of -er in theatre, ou instead of o in colour, or manoeuvre instead of maneuver (I also have conciously changed my pronunciations of certain syllables, but that's different).

What would you think if you found someone who used American structure, but certain British spellings consistently (not at the beginning of an essay center and later on theatre)?

Edit: If it isn't too odd, is it excessively pretentious?

Thanks in advance for your time.

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    I would think that person was either inconsistent or a non-native speaker. Stick to one or the other. – Robusto Dec 25 '12 at 16:59
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    someone who used American structure, but certain British spellings consistently ... That sounds like a Canadian. – GEdgar Dec 25 '12 at 17:17
  • Any slightest difference will sound 'off' by itself. Exhibiting a number of them will just sound foreign. The locals are used to consistency and those few Britishisms will look more like you speak/write British English to an American English speaker/reader. – Mitch Dec 25 '12 at 17:28
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    First of all, spellings don't "sound" funny, or any other way; spelling is visual, not aural. It also has nothing to do with English structure. Second, there's no such thing as a "British" or "American" feature; dialectal features are no respectors of boundaries. Third, oddness and pretentiousness are not general features of language, but judgements by individuals stemming from their own individual cultural histories and values. – John Lawler Dec 25 '12 at 17:49
  • Don't mix British and American spellings if you write formal essays for academic journals. That's strictly a style manual rule, but it's usually enforced by publishers, and some publishers who care enough about consistent spelling tell you what dictionaries (eg, Merriam-Webster's New Collegiate 10th for AmE, Oxford English {not THE OED} for BrE, Steadman's Medical Dictionary for biomed terms) to use for spelling and definitions. Otherwise, I agree with John Lawler's comment. – user21497 Dec 25 '12 at 23:25

Summary: Just be consistent with yourself, not with anything or anyone else.

This question contains a false premise: that there are two sets of non-overlapping spellings, one from the United States and the the other from the United Kingdom.

In actual fact, it is far more complicated than that. Each individual word, or sometimes each set of morphologically tail-similar words, works in its own way, with individual preference varying on both sides of the Atlantic.

For example, just because this or that American writer of renown happens to use grey rather than gray, or signalled instead of signaled, or amoeba instead of ameba, this does not mean they are using “the British spelling”.

By the same token, an Oxford don who uses emphasizes instead of emphasises, or fetus instead of foetus, or acknowledgment instead of acknowledgement, is not using “the American spelling”.

And not just for one reason alone, either. In nearly all such sets of spelling variants, it is possible — indeed in most cases perfectly easy — to find examples of native speakers naturally using spellings that Microsoft Word castigates them for as being from the wrong side of the pond. This is complete nonsense.

So long as a variant exists, it is not “wrong”, and it is unreasonable to brand it as such. Many words in English admit more than one spelling. True, today these number many fewer than compared with before the printing press, but it is not like one variant is “correct” and another “incorrect”. Certainly if a respected dictionary lists both variants, none should gainsay you, least of all some prescriptive spelling checker that does not believe in the same word having more than one possible spelling.

The important thing is that you be consistent to your own choices within the same piece of writing, as seeing the same word spelled different ways in different places by the same writer in the same document looks haphazard, capricious, and even careless. So don’t write both grey and gray in the same document (unless it occurs in a proper name), or both signalled and signaled. Choose one and stick with it.

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  • @Tim Thanks for the edit. I can never see these things while first typing them. – tchrist Dec 25 '12 at 18:56
  • You seem to be emphasizing the edge cases that are much less frequent relative to most differences between AmE and BrE (speling or speaking). Yes, I agree, be self-consistent because lack of that consistency is much worse. But consistency with a standard (like AmE or BrE, or whatever the rules are they have in Canada). Whatever variation there might be within any of these standards, between them there is much much more variation and any departure will be very noticeable to anyone used to one of those standards. – Mitch Dec 25 '12 at 19:54
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    tchrist is certainly right when he says that there is a far more complicated state of affairs than there just being a choice between the US or the UK set of spellings. Collins allows fetus as well as foetus as a UK spelling, for instance. Some theatres in the US are spelt 'theatre'. Back in the UK, programme is retained for TV programmes, whilst program is preferred for the computer variety. Pupils a few years ago would lose marks for spelling sulphur sulfur in English exams, and for spelling it sulphur in science exams. And should we adjust Transatlantic quotes to preserve consistency? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 26 '12 at 1:16
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    I've never even seen ameba, but there it is in my dictionary! – Andrew Lazarus Dec 26 '12 at 1:22
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    As for the Oxford don, since Oxford English (the sub-division of British English that follows the rules of the Oxford University Press and Oxford English Dictionary) favours -ize over -ise, emphasizes wouldn't even strike him as going against the flow. – Jon Hanna Dec 26 '12 at 21:59

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