Different dialects of English can be tough to learn. Fortunately, a bit of history and cultural context can help you understand the differences between American English and Australian English.
Within this article, we will briefly go over the history that made Australian English what it is today and some of the basic writing rules that anyone can follow, as well as offer a handy guide in those cases when a simple answer is all that you need.
The English language has many different forms and dialects. These changes happened mostly through shared cultural experiences. As nations, countries, and states go through specific experiences together, the language they share can change. For example, the phrase “having a meltdown” didn’t exist until nuclear bombs were common knowledge. In the early 80s, people began using that phrase to mean having an intense response to a situation.
Australia—like the USA—was created after many different types of cultures immigrated to the continent. The first non-aboriginal people in Australia were Dutch and Spanish explorers. Later on, the landmass became a dumping ground for British convicts. These people began creating homes and pushing out the original languages that were spoken on the continent. Eventually, English became the most commonly used language.
Australian English evolved the same way that most dialects evolve. Settlers that lived apart from the English dialects they grew up with began creating their own slang terms and rules as they found their own identities away from Britain.
Some Helpful Rules
As the majority of English speakers in Australia came from Britain, the language began by following English language rules. A lot of those rules are still used in the same way as British English.
Words that end with “or” in American English are typically spelled with “our”
Example: colour, favourite
Words that end with “ize” in American English are typically spelled with “ise”
Example: realise, memorise
Words that end with “er” in American English are often spelled with “re”
Example: theatre, metre
Nouns use the “ice” form and verbs use the “ise” form
Noun: a doctor’s practice
Verb: the doctor practises medicine
Grammar and Punctuation
Do not use the Oxford comma.
AU: I would like a sandwich, a drink and dessert.
NA: I would like a sandwich, a drink, and dessert.
Use apostrophes or single quotations when writing quotes.
AU: She said, ‘I don’t know.’
NA: She said, “I don’t know.”
Do not use a period after abbreviated titles.
AU: Mr and Mrs Johnson have a nice house.
NA: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson have a nice house.
Do not use commas in numbers that are smaller than 10,000
Use the day, month, year format for dates.
AU: 15/01/2010 or 15th of January, 2010
NA: 01/15/2010 or January 15th, 2010
When writing about money in Australian English, be sure to specify which dollar is used. Both Australia and the United States call their currency dollars, so using AUD or USD to clarify which currency is meant will avoid confusion.
Australia uses the metric system to talk about distance, length, and volume. Be sure to use the proper units when writing about measurements.
Instead of writing “call us at 01 2345 6789,” Australian convention is to write or say “call us on 01 2345 6789” when referencing phone numbers.
Australia uses the same law system that is used in the UK. Thus, they do not use the term “attorney.” Australians use words like lawyer, solicitor, and barrister, depending on the professional’s certifications.
Australia has stricter copywriting rules, so be wary of absolute statements and flowery language. Sentences like “our brand is the number one brand in Australia” could be illegal to write if that isn’t true—ensure that everything written about has verifiable facts to back it up.
Unfortunately, simply understanding the history of Australian English cannot always help with knowing the right words, particularly when it comes to cultural vocabulary. Below is a handy list of common vocabulary conversions anyone can use when writing in Australian English.
Understanding the specific dialect of English can help you explain concepts in the right way and get your point across without confusion. With a little practice, you can write in Australian English without using a guide at all.