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UK/ US usage

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This is an outline of some of the most common US/UK differences in language and letter-writing conventions that are relevant to written applications. There are also tips on language and letter-writing conventions for other countries in which English is spoken.

CVs and résumés

The British say "CV" and Americans say "résumé" for German Lebenslauf. The final "e" in "résumé" is pronounced. In fact, the word is sometimes spelled "resume".

Both CVs and résumés can be either chronological (usually reverse chronological these days) or functional. Additionally, the term "CV" is used in the US to refer to academic "résumés". These are usually longer than the typical résumé and include a list of publications and detailed information on research and dissertations.

Dates

In Britain, 4-6-20XX is written in full as "4 June 20XX" (in spoken British English "the fourth of June two thousand and XX "). In the US, 4-6-20XX is written in full as "April 6, 20XX" (in spoken US English usually "April sixth two thousand XX "). Notice the comma before the year in the written US version. As can be seen from this example, it makes sense to write the date in full to avoid confusion.

Salutations and complementary closes

While the salutation in modern UK business correspondence has no punctuation, in the US the addressee's title (Mr., Ms. etc.) is followed by a period (UK full stop) and the salutation is followed by a colon:

UK: Dear Mr Smith

US: Dear Mr. Smith:

In the UK the matching salutations and complementary closes are as follows:

Dear Mr Smith          -> Yours sincerely
Dear Sir or Madam   -> Yours faithfully

US usage is less rigid regarding a "correct" complementary close. “Sincerely yours,” or just plain “Sincerely,” (notice the commas) are the two most common ways of closing a formal letter in the US.

Salutations and complementary closes in business emails

When you send someone a formal business email for the first time, you should use the same salutation and complementary close as you would for postal correspondence. It’s different when English-speakers email somebody regularly. They soon start using the first name in the salutation ("Dear David"). In the UK, various closes are used, including "Best regards", "Regards", "Kind regards" or just the sender's first name. In the US the sender usually signs off with just his or her name and no complementary close.

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Subject lines

In the US the subject line normally comes before the salutation. In modern British style the subject line comes after the salutation. The subject line is normally in bold.

Punctuation

In the US punctuation is used more than in Britain. You would write in an address, for example, "Ms. Samantha L. Brown". Notice the periods (UK full stops). In Britain there would usually be no punctuation: "Ms Samantha L Brown".

In modern British letter-writing style there is no punctuation at all in the address, the date, the salutation and the close of a letter (see above). The only punctuation you will find is in the body of the letter. In the US punctuation is common throughout the letter.

Spelling

When applying for a job in the US, don't forget that US and UK spelling is sometimes different. Here are the main differences:                                                                                

US UK
-ize -ise
realize realise
organize organise
recognize recognise
-ization -isation
organization organisation
colonization colonisation
-or -our
color colour
honor honour
labor labour
-er -re
center centre
meter metre
theater theatre
-og -ogue
analog analogue
catalog catalogue
dialog dialogue

Single instead of double consonant in past tense *

US UK
traveled travelled
canceled cancelled *

 

* of a two-syllable word stressed on the first syllable

Other differences

US UK
tire tyre
program programme
defense defence
check cheque

 

English usage in other countries

Other countries tend to follow either US or UK conventions. Canada, Japan and the Philippines, for example, largely use US letter writing format. In South Africa, CVs and cover letters are mostly written in British style. Australia and New Zealand use a mixture of UK and US styles but tend more towards US style. Our advice: study the website of the company you are applying to, find out which style of English they tend to use (US or UK English) and write your application consistently in that style.

 


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