Standard American English (SAE)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Standard American English
"Ask a group of experts to define Standard American English, and you'll find, paradoxically, there's no standard answer" (Do You Speak American? 2005). (Jose Luis Pelaez/Getty Images)


The term Standard American English customarily refers to a variety of the English language that's generally used in professional communication in the United States and taught in American schools. Also known as Edited American English, American Standard English, and General American.

Standard American English (SAE or StAmE) may refer to either written English or spoken English (or both).

"Standard American English is not a myth," say linguists William Kretzschmar and Charles Meyer, "but it is not identical with the language of any natural population of speakers; it is a very real institutional construct that has attracted the loyalty of a committed group of speakers who claim that they speak it" ("The Idea of Standard American English" in Standards of English, 2012).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "The notion of a widespread, normative variety, or 'standard dialect,' is an important one, but it is not always easy to define in a precise way, especially for English. . . .

    "In the United States, we don't have a language academy, but we have many grammar and usage books that people turn to for the determination of standard forms. The key words in this definition are 'prescribed' and 'authority' so that the responsibility of determining standard forms is largely out of the hands of most speakers of the language. . . .

    "If we took a sample of everyday conversational speech, we would find that there are virtually no speakers who consistently speak formal standard English as prescribed in the grammar books. In fact, it is not unusual for the same person who prescribes a formal standard English form to violate standard usage in ordinary conversation."
    (Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes, American English: Dialects and Variation, 2nd ed. Blackwell, 2006)
  • Standard American English Usage
    "Standard American English usage is linguistic good manners, sensitively and accurately matched to context—to listeners or readers, to situation, and to purpose. But because our language is constantly changing, mastering its appropriate usage is not a one-time task like learning the multiplication tables. Instead, we are constantly obliged to adjust, adapt, and revise what we have learned."
    (The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. Columbia University Press, 1993)
  • Standard American English and Social Power
    "Standard American English is not a variety of English that is inherently 'standard,' or better, or more beautiful, or more logical than other forms of English. What makes it standard is that some speakers of American English have the social power to impose the variety of English they happen to use on speakers of other varieties. They are in a position to make their English the prestigious form of English. They can do so thanks to their social power. Since this social power is desired by other people, the English spoken by people with power is also desirable for others. In this sense, the possession of the prestigious variety is the possession of social power."
    (Zoltan Kovecses,  American English: An Introduction. Broadview, 2000)

  • Standard American English Pronunciation
    - "StAmE pronunciation differs from region to region, even from person to person, because speakers from different circumstances in and different parts of the United States commonly employ regional and social features to some extent even in formal situations."
    (William A. Kretzschmar, Jr., "Standard American English Pronunciation." A Handbook of Varieties of English, ed. by Bernd Kortmann and Edgar W. Schneider. Mouton De Gruyter, 2004)

    - "As for pronunciation, Standard American English is best defined as the avoidance of pronunciations associated with particular regions or social groups."
    (William A. Kretzschmar, Jr. and Charles F. Meyer, "The Idea of Standard American English." Standards of English: Codified Varieties Around the World. Cambridge University Press, 2012)