Standard English

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Standard English refers to any form of the English language considered by some people as the ideal use of language for educated native speakers. It encompasses grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and to some degree pronunciation. It is normally considered the "correct" written version of the language.

Although originating in England, English is now spoken as a first language in many countries of the world, each of which has developed its own "national standards". On the other hand, as English has become the most widely used second language,[1] it is also subject to alteration by non-native speakers.

Unlike some other languages, English does not have a body such as the Real Academia Española or the Académie française to establish usage and there are therefore no official rules for "Standard English".

Does it exist?

Every country has its own version of standard English, and it is the one used by newspapers and television stations.

When teaching "English from England" one might ask the question: "Does standard English exist, or is it a pious lie that we tell our students?" The accent upon which Standard British English is based - RP - is dying out and is now only spoken by a tiny minority of the British public - or, to be more precise, the English public. The grammatical norms to which it is allegedly subject are constantly being changed by the slow evolution of the language; and the very vocabulary of the language is changing faster than foreign-based teachers can keep up. Furthermore every individual, in reality, speaks their own private idiolect which will vary to a greater or lesser extent from the norm. So why not just abandon the very idea of "standard" English?

Obviously the answer is that, if teachers are going to teach something, they need to teach something which has at least the semblance of stability - but we would do well, as teachers, to warn our students that in places like the UK they will certainly run into people who speak something remarkably different from the smoothly averaged language of the classroom.


As with many other languages, there are many grammatical variations in the many local dialects of English, but in formal written language English and the "standard" dialects of English-speaking countries worldwide, the fundamental grammar is generally the same.


Contrary to what some consider consider "correct", contractions such as I'm are part of standard English although, curiously, the form ain't is still considered non-standard English, despite having been continuously used in English for several centuries.


The definitions of words (such as lift vs elevator), idioms, and slang may vary from country to country. With a few exceptions where confusion is possible, most words are the same or mutually intelligible. There are, however, numerous regional words in all versions of English which may cause confusion to other speakers of English from the same country.


In the United States, General American is usually considered to be "standard" or "non-regional", and is generally heard in the national media. In the United Kingdom, Received Pronunciation (RP), also known as "BBC English", is sometimes considered "standard" or "proper", but many regional accents are now heard on the British Broadcasting Corporation. Furthermore, few people in the UK actually speak classic RP.[2] Most countries adopt a variant of one of these accents or a local national accent as the "standard" pronunciation.



With rare exceptions, national "standard" dialects use either American or British spellings, or a mixture of the two (such as in Canadian English). British spellings often prevail in Commonwealth countries. English spellings are, of course notoriously idiosyncratic leading to occasional calls for spelling reform.


  • all right v. alright: Standard usage requires the former (as in "all correct").[3] Although it might be only a question of time before the perfectly logical alright (as in "satisfactory") becomes accepted as standard, language evolution is complex, not perfectly predictable.

Regional standards

While the American and British standards tend to prevail, there are, of course many other regional standards out there, all of which can be considered "correct" but which may sometimes only be mutually understandable by people from the same region, or at least accustomed to the variety of English spoken in a given region.


  1. "Global English" at
  2. Crystal, David The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language Page 365. "It is still the standard accent of the Royal Family, Parliament, the Church of England, the High court and other national institutions; but less than 3% of the British people speak it in a pure form now." ISBN 0 521 59655 6
  3. Trask, R. L. Mind the Gaffe (2001), ISBN 0-14-051476-7

See also


  • Bex, Tony & Watts, Richard J. Standard English: The widening debate. Routledge (1999) ISBN 0415191629
  • Coulmas, Florian & Watts, Richard J. Sociolinguistics: The study of speaker's choices. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press (2006) ISBN 0521836069
  • Crowley, Tony. Standard English and the Politics of Language. Palgrave Macmillan (2003) ISBN 0333990358
  • Crystal, David. The Fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot and left. Oxford. Oxford University Press (2006) ISBN 019920764X
  • Freeborn, Dennis. From Old English to Standard English: A Course Book in Language Variations Across Time Palgrave Macmillan (2006) ISBN 1403998809
  • Gramley, Stephan & Pätzold, Kurt-Michael A survey of Modern English. London. Routledge (2004) ISBN 0415049571
  • Harder, Jayne C. "Thomas Sheridan: A Chapter in the Saga of Standard English", American Speech, Vol. 52, No. 1/2 (Spring - Summer, 1977), pp. 65-75.
  • Hickey, Raymond Legacies of Colonial English. Essen University. Cambridge University Press (2004) ISBN 0521830206
  • Mugglestone, Lynda. The Oxford History of English. Oxford. Oxford University Press (2006) ISBN 0199249318
  • Wright, Laura. The Development of Standard English, 1300 - 1800: Theories, descriptions, conflicts. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press (2000) ISBN 0521771145

External links