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American and British English spelling differences

American and British English spelling differences

Many of the differences between American and British English date back to a time when spelling standards had not yet developed. For instance, some spellings seen as "American" today were once commonly used in Britain and some spellings seen as "British" were once commonly used in the United States. A "British standard" began to emerge following the 1755 publication of Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, and an "American standard" started following the work of Noah Webster and in particular his An American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828.[1]

Webster's efforts at spelling reform were somewhat effective in his native country, resulting in certain well-known patterns of spelling differences between the American and British varieties of English. However, English-language spelling reform has rarely been adopted otherwise, and so modern English orthography varies somewhat between countries and is far from phonemic in any country.

Historical origins

In the early 18th century, English spelling was inconsistent. These differences became noticeable after the publishing of influential dictionaries. Today's British English spellings mostly follow Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), while many American English spellings follow Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language ("ADEL", "Webster's Dictionary", 1828).[2]

Webster was a proponent of English spelling reform for reasons both philological and nationalistic. In A Companion to the American Revolution (2008), John Algeo notes: "it is often assumed that characteristically American spellings were invented by Noah Webster. He was very influential in popularizing certain spellings in America, but he did not originate them. Rather […] he chose already existing options such as center, color and check for the simplicity, analogy or etymology".[3] William Shakespeare's first folios, for example, used spellings like center and color as much as centre and colour.[4][5] Webster did attempt to introduce some reformed spellings, as did the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 20th century, but most were not adopted. In Britain, the influence of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of words proved to be decisive. Later spelling adjustments in the United Kingdom had little effect on today's American spellings and vice versa.

For the most part, the spelling systems of most Commonwealth countries and Ireland closely resemble the British system. In Canada, the spelling system can be said to follow both British and American forms,[6] and Canadians are somewhat more tolerant of foreign spellings when compared with other English-speaking nationalities.[7] Australian spelling has also strayed slightly from British spelling, with some American spellings incorporated as standard.[8] New Zealand spelling is almost identical to British spelling, except in the word fiord (instead of fjord). There is also an increasing use of macrons in words that originated in Māori and an unambiguous preference for -ise endings (see below).

Latin-derived spellings (often through Romance)

-our, -or

Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English (e.g., colour, flavour, behaviour, harbour, honour, humour, labour, neighbour, rumour, splendour) end in -or in American English (color, flavor, behavior, harbor, honor, humor, labor, neighbor, rumor, splendor). Wherever the vowel is unreduced in pronunciation, e.g., contour, velour, paramour and troubadour the spelling is consistent everywhere.

Most words of this kind came from Latin, where the ending was spelled -or. They were first adopted into English from early Old French, and the ending was spelled -or or -ur.[9] After the Norman conquest of England, the ending became -our to match the later Old French spelling.[10] The -our ending was not only used in new English borrowings, but was also applied to the earlier borrowings that had used -or.[9] However, -or was still sometimes found,[11] and the first three folios of Shakespeare's plays used both spellings before they were standardised to -our in the Fourth Folio of 1685.[4] After the Renaissance, new borrowings from Latin were taken up with their original -or ending and many words once ending in -our (for example, chancellour and governour) went back to -or. Many words of the -our/or group do not have a Latin counterpart; for example, armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, harbo(u)r, neighbo(u)r; also arbo(u)r, meaning "shelter", though senses "tree" and "tool" are always arbor, a false cognate of the other word. Some 16th- and early 17th-century British scholars indeed insisted that -or be used for words from Latin (e.g., color)[11] and -our for French loans; but in many cases the etymology was not clear, and therefore some scholars advocated -or only and others -our only.[12]

Webster's 1828 dictionary had only -or and is given much of the credit for the adoption of this form in the United States. By contrast, Johnson's 1755 (pre-U.S. independence and establishment) dictionary used -our for all words still so spelled in Britain (like colour), but also for words where the u has since been dropped: ambassadour, emperour, governour, perturbatour, inferiour, superiour; errour, horrour, mirrour, tenour, terrour, tremour. Johnson, unlike Webster, was not an advocate of spelling reform, but chose the spelling best derived, as he saw it, from among the variations in his sources. He preferred French over Latin spellings because, as he put it, "the French generally supplied us".[13] English speakers who moved to America took these preferences with them, and H. L. Mencken notes that "honor appears in the 1776 Declaration of Independence, but it seems to have got there rather by accident than by design. In Jefferson's original draft it is spelled "honour".[14] In Britain, examples of color, flavor, behavior, harbor, and neighbor rarely appear in Old Bailey court records from the 17th and 18th centuries, whereas there are thousands of examples of their -our counterparts.[15] One notable exception is honor. Honor and honour were equally frequent in Britain until the 17th century;[16] honor still is, in the UK, the usual spelling as a person's name and appears in Honor Oak, a district of London.

Derivatives and inflected forms

In derivatives and inflected forms of the -our/or words, British usage depends on the nature of the suffix used. The u is kept before English suffixes that are freely attachable to English words (for example in neighbourhood, humourless, and savoury) and suffixes of Greek or Latin origin that have been adopted into English (for example in favourite, honourable, and behaviourism). However, before Latin suffixes that are not freely attachable to English words, the u:

  • may be dropped, for example in honorary, honorific, humorist, vigorous, humorous, laborious, and invigorate;

  • may be either dropped or kept, for example in colo(u)ration and colo(u)rizeorcolourise; or

  • may be kept, for example in colourist.[9]

In American usage, derivatives and inflected forms are built by simply adding the suffix in all cases (for example, favorite, savory etc.) since the u is absent to begin with.


American usage, in most cases, keeps the u in the word glamour, which comes from Scots, not Latin or French. Glamor is sometimes used in imitation of the spelling reform of other -our words to -or. Nevertheless, the adjective glamorous often drops the first "u". Saviour is a somewhat common variant of savior in the US. The British spelling is very common for honour (and favour) in the formal language of wedding invitations in the US.[17] The name of the Space Shuttle Endeavour has a u in it as the spacecraft was named after Captain James Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour. The special car on Amtrak's Coast Starlight train is known as the Pacific Parlour car, not Pacific Parlor. Proper names such as Pearl Harbor or Sydney Harbour are usually spelled according to their native-variety spelling vocabulary.

The name of the herb savory is thus spelled everywhere, although the related adjective savo(u)ry, like savo(u)r, has a u in the UK. Honor (the name) and arbor (the tool) have -or in Britain, as mentioned above, as does the word pallor. As a general noun, rigour /ˈrɪɡər/ has a u in the UK; the medical term rigor (sometimes /ˈraɪɡər/)[18] does not, such as in rigor mortis, which is Latin. Derivations of rigour/rigor such as rigorous, however, are typically spelled without a u even in the UK. Words with the ending -irior, -erior or similar are spelled thus everywhere.

The word armour was once somewhat common in American usage but has disappeared except in some brand names such as Under Armour.

The numbers four and fourteen, when written as words, always keep the u, while forty always drops it.

Commonwealth usage

Commonwealth countries normally follow British usage. Canadian English most commonly uses the -our ending and -our- in derivatives and inflected forms. However, owing to the close historic, economic, and cultural relationship with the United States, -or endings are also sometimes used. Throughout the late 19th and early to mid-20th century, most Canadian newspapers chose to use the American usage of -or endings, originally to save time and money in the era of manual movable type.[19] However, in the 1990s, the majority of Canadian newspapers officially updated their spelling policies to the British usage of -our. This coincided with a renewed interest in Canadian English, and the release of the updated Gage Canadian Dictionary in 1997 and the first Oxford Canadian Dictionary in 1998. Historically, most libraries and educational institutions in Canada have supported the use of the Oxford English Dictionary rather than the American Webster's Dictionary. Today, the use of a distinctive set of Canadian English spellings is viewed by many Canadians as one of the cultural uniquenesses of Canada (especially when compared to the United States).

In Australia, -or endings enjoyed some use throughout the 19th century and in the early 20th century. Like Canada, though, most major Australian newspapers have switched from "-or" endings to "-our" endings. The "-our" spelling is taught in schools nationwide as part of the Australian curriculum. The most notable countrywide use of the -or ending is for the Australian Labor Party, which was originally called "the Australian Labour Party" (name adopted in 1908), but was frequently referred to as both "Labour" and "Labor". The "Labor" was adopted from 1912 onward due to the influence of the American labor movement[20] and King O'Malley. Aside from that, -our is now almost universal in Australia. New Zealand English, while sharing some words and syntax with Australian English, follows British usage.

-re, -er

In British English, some words from French, Latin or Greek end with a consonant followed by an unstressed -re (pronounced /ə(r)/). In American English, most of these words have the ending -er.[21][22] The difference is most common for words ending -bre or -tre: British spellings calibre, centre, fibre, goitre, litre, lustre, manoeuvre, meagre, metre, mitre, nitre, ochre, reconnoitre, sabre, saltpetre, sepulchre, sombre, spectre, theatre (see exceptions) and titre all have -er in American spelling.

In Britain, both -re and -er spellings were common before Johnson's dictionary was published. In Shakespeare's first folios, -er spellings are used the most.[5] Most English words that today use -er were spelled -re at one time. In American English, almost all of these have become -er, but in British English only some of them have. Words that were once spelled -re include chapter, December, disaster, enter, filter, letter, member, minister, monster, November, number, October, offer, oyster, powder, proper, September, sober and tender. Words using the "-meter" suffix (from ancient Greek -μέτρον via post-Classical Latin meter) have normally had the -er spelling from earliest use in English. Examples include thermometer and barometer.

The e preceding the r is kept in American inflected forms of nouns and verbs, for example, fibers, reconnoitered, centering, which are fibres, reconnoitred, and centring respectively in British English. Centring is an interesting example, since, according to the OED, it is a "word ... of 3 syllables (in careful pronunciation)"[23] (i.e., /ˈsɛntərɪŋ/), yet there is no vowel in the spelling corresponding to the second syllable (/ə/). The OED third edition (revised entry of June 2016) allows either two or three syllables. The three-syllable version is listed as only the American pronunciation of centering on the Oxford Dictionaries Online website. The e is dropped for other derivations, for example, central, fibrous, spectral. However, the existence of related words without e before the r is not proof for the existence of an -re British spelling: for example, entry and entrance come from enter, which has not been spelled entre for centuries.[24]

The difference relates only to root words; -er rather than -re is universal as a suffix for agentive (reader, winner, user) and comparative (louder, nicer) forms. One outcome is the British distinction of meter for a measuring instrument from metre for the unit of length. However, while "poetic metre" is often -re, pentameter, hexameter etc. are always -er.[25]


Many other words have -er in British English. These include Germanic words; such as anger, mother, timber and water and Romance words danger, quarter and river.

The ending -cre, as in acre,[26] lucre, massacre, and mediocre, is used in both British and American English to show that the c is pronounced /k/ rather than /s/. The spellings ogre and euchre are also the same in both British and American English.

Theater is the prevailing American spelling used to refer to both the dramatic arts and buildings where stage performances and screenings of films take place (i.e., "movie theaters"); for example, a national newspaper such as The New York Times would use theater in its entertainment section. However, the spelling theatre appears in the names of many New York City theatres on Broadway[27] (cf. Broadway theatre) and elsewhere in the United States. In 2003, the American National Theatre was referred to by The New York Times as the "American National Theater", but the organization uses "re" in the spelling of its name.[28][29] The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. has the more common American spelling theater in its references to The Eisenhower Theater, part of the Kennedy Center.[30] Some cinemas outside New York also use the theatre spelling.[31] (Note also that the word "theater" in American English is a place where stage performances and screenings of films take place, but in British English a "theatre" is where stage performances take place but not film screenings – these take place in a cinema.)

Furthermore, the spelling theatre is sometimes used in the United States when referring to the art form of theatre, while the building itself, as noted above, generally is spelled theater. For example, the University of Wisconsin–Madison has a "Department of Theatre and Drama", which offers courses that lead to the "Bachelor of Arts in Theatre", and whose professed aim is "to prepare our graduate students for successful 21st Century careers in the theatre both as practitioners and scholars".[32]

Some placenames in the United States use Centre in their names. Examples include the Stonebriar Centre mall, the cities of Rockville Centre and Centreville, Centre County and Centre College. Sometimes, these places were named before spelling changes but more often the spelling merely serves as an affectation.

For British accoutre, the American practice varies: the Merriam-Webster Dictionary prefers the -re spelling,[33] but The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language prefers the -er spelling.[34]

More recent French loanwords keep the -re spelling in American English. These are not exceptions when a French-style pronunciation is used (/rə/ rather than /ə(r)/), as with double entendre, genre and oeuvre. However, the unstressed /ə(r)/ pronunciation of an -er ending is used more (or less) often with some words, including cadre, macabre, maître d', Notre Dame, piastre, and timbre.

Commonwealth usage

The -re endings are mostly standard throughout the Commonwealth. The -er spellings are recognized as minor variants in Canada, partly due to American influence, and are sometimes used in proper names (such as Toronto's controversially named Centerpoint Mall).[35]

-ce, -se

For advice/advise and device/devise, American English and British English both keep the noun–verb distinction both graphically and phonetically (where the pronunciation is -/s/ for the noun and -/z/ for the verb). For licence/license or practice/practise, British English also keeps the noun–verb distinction graphically (although phonetically the two words in each pair are homophones with -/s/ pronunciation). On the other hand, American English uses license and practice for both nouns and verbs (with -/s/ pronunciation in both cases too).

American English has kept the Anglo-French spelling for defense and offense, which are defence and offence in British English. Likewise, there are the American pretense and British pretence; but derivatives such as defensive, offensive, and pretension are always thus spelled in both systems.

Australian[36] and Canadian usage generally follows British.

-xion, -ction

The spelling connexion is now rare in everyday British usage, its use lessening as knowledge of Latin lessens,[37] and it is not used at all in the US: the more common connection has become the standard worldwide. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the older spelling is more etymologically conservative, since the original Latin word had -xio-. The American usage comes from Webster, who abandoned -xion and preferred -ction.[38] Connexion was still the house style of The Times of London until the 1980s and was still used by the British Post Office for its telephone services in the 1970s, but had by then been overtaken by connection in regular usage (for example, in more popular newspapers).

Complexion (which comes from complex) is standard worldwide and complection is rare.[39] However, the adjective complected (as in "dark-complected"), although sometimes objected to, is standard in the US as an alternative to complexioned,[40] but is not used in this way in the UK, although there is a rare usage to mean complicated.[41]

In some cases, words with "old-fashioned" spellings are retained widely in the US for historical reasons (cf. connexionalism).

Greek-derived and Latin-derived spellings

ae and oe

Many words, especially medical words, that are written with ae/æ or oe/œ in British English are written with just an e in American English. The sounds in question are /iː/ or /ɛ/ (or, unstressed, /i/, /ɪ/ or /ə/). Examples (with non-American letter in bold): aeon, anaemia, anaesthesia, caecum, caesium, coeliac, diarrhoea, encyclopaedia, faeces, foetal, gynaecology, haemoglobin, haemophilia, leukaemia, oesophagus, oestrogen, orthopaedic,[232] palaeontology, paediatric, paedophile. Oenology is acceptable in American English but is deemed a minor variant of enology, whereas although archeology and ameba exist in American English, the British versions archaeology and amoeba are more common. The chemical haem (named as a shortening of haemoglobin) is spelled heme in American English, to avoid confusion with hem.

Canadian English mostly follows American English in this respect, although it is split on gynecology (e.g. Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada vs. the Canadian Medical Association's Canadian specialty profile of Obstetrics/gynecology). Pediatrician is preferred roughly 10 to 1 over paediatrician, while foetal and oestrogen are similarly uncommon.

Words that can be spelled either way in American English include aesthetics and archaeology (which usually prevail over esthetics and archeology),[42] as well as palaestra, for which the simplified form palestra is described by Merriam-Webster as "chiefly Brit[ish]."[43]

Words that can be spelled either way in British English include encyclopaedia, homoeopathy, chamaeleon, mediaeval (a minor variant in both AmE and BrE[44][45][46]), foetid and foetus. The spellings foetus and foetal are Britishisms based on a mistaken etymology.[47] The etymologically correct original spelling fetus reflects the Latin original and is the standard spelling in medical journals worldwide;[48] the Oxford English Dictionary notes that "In Latin manuscripts both fētus and foetus are used".[49]

The Ancient Greek diphthongs <αι> and <οι> were transliterated into Latin as and . The ligatures æ and œ were introduced when the sounds became monophthongs, and later applied to words not of Greek origin, in both Latin (for example, cœli) and French (for example, œuvre). In English, which has adopted words from all three languages, it is now usual to replace Æ/æ with Ae/ae and Œ/œ with Oe/oe. In many words, the digraph has been reduced to a lone e in all varieties of English: for example, oeconomics, praemium, and aenigma.[50] In others, it is kept in all varieties: for example, phoenix, and usually subpoena,[51] but Phenix in Virginia. This is especially true of names: Caesar, Oedipus, Phoebe, etc. There is no reduction of Latin -ae plurals (e.g., larvae); nor where the digraph / does not result from the Greek-style ligature: for example, maelstrom, toe. The British form aeroplane is an instance (compare other aero- words such as aerosol). The now chiefly North American airplane is not a respelling but a recoining, modelled after airship and aircraft. The word airplane dates from 1907,[52] at which time the prefix aero- was trisyllabic, often written aëro-.

Greek-derived spellings (often through Latin and Romance)

-ise, -ize (-isation, -ization)

Origin and recommendations

The -ize spelling is often incorrectly seen as an Americanism in Britain, although it has been in use since the 15th century, predating -ise by over a century.[53] The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) recommends -ize and notes that the -ise spelling is from French: "The suffix…whatever the element to which it is added, is in its origin the Greek -ιζειν, Latin -izāre; and, as the pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English the special French spelling should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and phonetic." The OED lists the -ise form as an alternative.[54]

Publications by Oxford University Press (OUP)—such as Henry Watson Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Hart's Rules,[55] and The Oxford Guide to English Usage[56]—also recommend -ize. However, Robert Allan's Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage considers either spelling to be acceptable anywhere but the US.[57] Also, Oxford University itself does not agree with the OUP, but advocates -ise instead of -ize in its staff style guide.[58]


American spelling avoids -ise endings in words like organize, realize and recognize.[59]

British spelling mostly uses -ise, while -ize is sometimes used (organise/organize, realise/realize, recognise/recognize):[59] the ratio between -ise and -ize stood at 3:2 in the British National Corpus up to 2002.[60] The spelling -ise is more commonly used in UK mass media and newspapers,[59] including The Times (which switched conventions in 1992),[61] The Daily Telegraph, The Economist and the BBC. The Government of the United Kingdom additionally uses -ise, stating "do not use Americanisms" justifying that the spelling "is often seen as such".[62] Meanwhile, -ize is used in some British-based academic publications, such as Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary Supplement. The minority British English usage of -ize is known as Oxford spelling and is used in publications of the Oxford University Press, most notably the Oxford English Dictionary, and of other academic publishers.[63] It can be identified using the IETF language tag en-GB-oxendict (or, historically, by en-GB-oed).[64]

In Canada, the -ize ending is more common, whereas in Ireland, India, Australia and New Zealand -ise spellings strongly prevail: the -ise form is preferred in Australian English at a ratio of about 3:1 according to the Macquarie Dictionary.

The same applies to derivatives and inflections such as colonisation/colonization, or modernisation/modernization

Worldwide, -ize endings prevail in scientific writing and are commonly used by many international organizations, such as the United Nations Organizations (such as the World Health Organization and the International Civil Aviation Organization) and the International Organization for Standardization (but not by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). The European Union's style guides require the usage of -ise.[65] Proofreaders at the EU's Publications Office ensure consistent spelling in official publications such as the Official Journal (where legislation and other official documents are published), but the -ize spelling may be found in other documents.


Some verbs ending in -ize or -ise do not come from Greek -ιζειν, and their endings are therefore not interchangeable:

  • Some words take only the -z- form worldwide, for example capsize, seize (except in the legal phrases to be seised of or to stand seised to), size and prize (only in the "appraise" sense). These, however, do not contain the suffix -ize.

  • Others take only -s- worldwide: advertise, advise, arise, chastise, circumcise, comprise, compromise, demise, despise, devise, disguise, excise, exercise, franchise, guise, improvise, incise, reprise, revise, rise, supervise, surmise, surprise, televise, and wise. Some of these do not contain the suffix -ise, but some do.

  • One special case is the verb to prise (meaning "to force" or "to lever"), which is spelled prize in the US[66] and prise everywhere else,[67] including Canada,[68] although in North American English it is almost always replaced by pry, a back-formation from or alteration of prise.[69] A topsail schooner built in Australia in 1829 was called Enterprize, whereas there have been US ships and spacecraft named "Enterprise".

Some words spelled with -ize in American English are not used in British English, etc., e.g., the verb burglarize, regularly formed on the noun burglar, where the equivalent in British, and other versions of English, is the back-formation burgle and not burglarise.[70]

-yse, -yze

The ending -yse is British and -yze is American. Thus, in British English analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse and paralyse, but in American English analyze, catalyze, hydrolyze and paralyze.

Analyse seems to have been the more common spelling in 17th- and 18th-century English, but many of the great dictionaries of that time – John Kersey's of 1702, Nathan Bailey's of 1721 and Samuel Johnson's of 1755 – prefer analyze. In Canada, -yze prevails (is preferred but -yse is very common), just as in the US. In South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, -yse stands alone.

English verbs ending in -lyse or -lyze are not similar to the Greek verb, which is λύω lúō ("I release"). Instead they come from the noun form λύσις lysis with the -ise or -ize suffix. For example, analyse comes from French analyser, formed by haplology from the French analysiser,[71] which would be spelled analysise or analysize in English.

Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, Oxford states: "In verbs such as analyse, catalyse, paralyse, -lys- is part of the Greek stem (corresponding to the element -lusis) and not a suffix like -ize. The spelling -yze is therefore etymologically incorrect, and must not be used, unless American printing style is being followed."[55]

-ogue, -og

British and other Commonwealth English uses the ending -logue while American English commonly uses the ending -log for words like analog(ue), catalog(ue), dialog(ue), monolog(ue), homolog(ue), etc. The -gue spelling, as in catalogue, is used in the US, but catalog is more common. Additionally, in American English, dialogue is an extremely common spelling compared to dialog, although both are treated as acceptable ways to spell the word.[72] (thus the inflected forms, cataloged and cataloging vs. catalogued and cataloguing). Words like demagogue, pedagogue, and synagogue are seldom used without -ue even in American English.

In Australia, analog is standard for the adjective, but both analogue and analog are current for the noun; in all other cases the -gue endings strongly prevail,[73] for example monologue, except for such expressions as dialog box in computing,[74] which are also used in the UK. In Australia, analog is used in its technical and electronic sense, as in analog electronics.[8] In Canada and New Zealand, analogue is used, but analog has some currency as a technical term[75] (e.g., in electronics, as in "analog electronics" as opposed to "digital electronics" and some video-game consoles might have an analog stick). The -ue is absent worldwide in related words like analogy, analogous, and analogist.

Both British and American English use the spelling -gue with a silent -ue for certain words that are not part of the -ogue set, such as tongue (cf. tong), plague, vague, and league. In addition, when the -ue is not silent, as in the words argue, ague and segue, all varieties of English use -gue.

Commonwealth usage

In Canada, e is usually preferred over oe and often over ae, but oe and ae are sometimes found in the academic and scientific writing as well as government publications (for example the fee schedule of the Ontario Health Insurance Plan). In Australia, encyclopedia and medieval are spelled with e rather than ae, as with American usage, and the Macquarie Dictionary also notes a growing tendency towards replacing ae and oe with e worldwide.[8] Elsewhere, the British usage prevails, but the spellings with just e are increasingly used.[76] Manoeuvre is the only spelling in Australia, and the most common one in Canada, where maneuver and manoeuver are also sometimes found.[77]

Doubled consonants

The plural of the noun bus is usually buses, with busses a minor American variant.[78] Conversely, inflections of the verb bus usually double the s in British (busses, bussed, bussing) but not American (buses, bused, busing).[78]

Doubled in British English

The final consonant of an English word is sometimes doubled in both American and British spelling when adding a suffix beginning with a vowel, for example strip/stripped, which prevents confusion with stripe/striped and shows the difference in pronunciation (see digraph). Generally, this happens only when the word's final syllable is stressed and when it also ends with a lone vowel followed by a lone consonant. In British English, however, a final -l is often doubled even when the final syllable is unstressed.[79] This exception is no longer usual in American English, seemingly because of Noah Webster.[80] The -ll- spellings are nevertheless still deemed acceptable variants by both Merriam-Webster Collegiate and American Heritage dictionaries.

  • The British English doubling is used for all inflections (-ed, -ing, -er, -est) and for the noun suffixes -er and -or. Therefore, British English usage is cancelled, counsellor, cruellest, labelled, modelling, quarrelled, signalling, traveller, and travelling. Americans typically use canceled, counselor, cruelest, labeled, modeling, quarreled, signaling, traveler, and traveling. However, for certain words such as cancelled, the -ll- spelling is very common in American English as well. The word parallel keeps a single -l- in British English, as in American English (paralleling, unparalleled), to avoid the unappealing cluster -llell-. Words with two vowels before a final l are also spelled with -ll- in British English before a suffix when the first vowel either acts as a consonant (equalling and initialled; in the United States, equaling or initialed), or belongs to a separate syllable (British fu•el•ling and di•alled; American fu•el•ing and di•aled). British woollen is a further exception due to the double vowel (American: woolen). Also, wooly is accepted in American English, though woolly prevails in both systems.[81] The verb surveil, a back-formation from surveillance, always makes surveilling, surveilled.[82]

  • Endings -ize/-ise, -ism, -ist, -ish usually do not double the l in British English; for example, normalise, dualism, novelist, and devilish. Exceptions: tranquillise; duellist, medallist, panellist, and sometimes triallist in British English.

  • For -ous, British English has a single l in scandalous and perilous, but the "ll" in marvellous and libellous.

  • For -ee, British English has libellee.

  • For -age, British English has pupillage but vassalage.

  • American English sometimes has an unstressed -ll-, as in the UK, in some words where the root has -l. These are cases where the change happens in the source language, which was often Latin. (Examples: bimetallism, cancellation, chancellor, crystallize, excellent, tonsillitis, and raillery.)

  • All forms of English have compelled, excelling, propelled, rebelling (notice the stress difference); revealing, fooling (note the double vowel before the l); and hurling (consonant before the l).

  • Canadian and Australian English mostly follow British usage.[79]

Among consonants other than l, practice varies for some words, such as where the final syllable has secondary stress or an unreduced vowel. In the United States, the spellings kidnaped and worshiped, which were introduced by the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s,[83] are common, but kidnapped and worshipped prevail.[84][85] Kidnapped and worshipped are the only standard British spellings. However, focused is the predominant spelling in both British and American English, focussed being just a minor variant in British English.[86]


  • British calliper or caliper; American caliper.

  • British jewellery; American jewelry. The word originates from the Old French word jouel[87] (whose contemporary French equivalent is joyau, with the same meaning). The standard pronunciation /ˈdʒuːəlri/[88] does not reflect this difference, but the non-standard pronunciation /ˈdʒuːləri/ (which exists in New Zealand and Britain, hence the Cockney rhyming slang word tomfoolery /tɒmˈfuːləri/) does. According to Fowler, jewelry used to be the "rhetorical and poetic" spelling in the UK, and was still used by The Times into the mid-20th century. Canada has both, but jewellery is more often used. Likewise, the Commonwealth (including Canada) has jeweller and the US has jeweler for a jewel(le)ry seller.

Doubled in American English

Conversely, there are words where British writers prefer a single l and Americans a double l. In American usage, the spelling of words is usually not changed when they form the main part (not prefix or suffix) of other words, especially in newly formed words and in words whose main part is in common use. Words with this spelling difference include wil(l)ful, skil(l)ful, thral(l)dom, appal(l), fulfil(l), fulfil(l)ment, enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment. These words have monosyllabic cognates always written with -ll: will, skill, thrall, pall, fill, roll, stall. Cases where a single l nevertheless occurs in both American and British English include nullannul, annulment; tilluntil (although some prefer til to reflect the single l in until, sometimes using an apostrophe ('til); this should be considered a hypercorrection as till predates the use of until); and others where the connection is not clear or the monosyllabic cognate is not in common use in American English (e.g., null is used mainly as a technical term in law, mathematics, and computer science).

In the UK, a single l is generally preferred in distil(l), instil(l), enrol(l), and enthral(l)ment, and enthral(l), although ll was formerly used;[89] these are always spelled with ll in American usage. The former British spellings instal, fulness, and dulness are now quite rare.[90] The Scottish tolbooth is cognate with tollbooth, but it has a distinct meaning.

In both American and British usages, words normally spelled -ll usually drop the second l when used as prefixes or suffixes, for example fulluseful, handful; allalmighty, altogether; wellwelfare, welcome; chillchilblain.

Both the British fulfil and the American fulfill never use -ll- in the middle (i.e., *fullfill and *fullfil are incorrect).[91][92]

Johnson wavered on this issue. His dictionary of 1755 lemmatizes distil and instill, downhil and uphill.[93]

Dropped "e"

British English sometimes keeps silent "e" when adding suffixes where American English does not. Generally speaking, British English drops it in only some cases in which it is needed to show pronunciation whereas American English only uses it where needed.

  • British prefers ageing,[94] American usually aging (compare raging, ageism). For the noun or verb "route", British English often uses routeing,[95] but in America routing is used. The military term rout forms routing everywhere. However, all of these words form "router", whether used in the context of carpentry, data communications, or the military. (e.g., "Attacus was the router of the Huns at ....")

Both forms of English keep the silent "e" in the words dyeing, singeing, and swingeing[96] (in the sense of dye, singe, and swinge), to distinguish from dying, singing, swinging (in the sense of die, sing, and swing). In contrast, the verb bathe and the British verb bath both form bathing. Both forms of English vary for tinge and twinge; both prefer cringing, hinging, lunging, syringing.

  • Before -able, British English prefers likeable, liveable, rateable, saleable, sizeable, unshakeable,[97] where American practice prefers to drop the "-e"; but both British and American English prefer breathable, curable, datable, lovable, movable, notable, provable, quotable, scalable, solvable, usable,[97] and those where the root is polysyllabic, like believable or decidable. Both systems keep the silent "e" when it is needed to preserve a soft "c", "ch", or "g", such as in traceable, cacheable, changeable; both usually keep the "e" after "-dge", as in knowledgeable, unbridgeable, and unabridgeable ("These rights are unabridgeable").

  • Both abridgment and the more regular abridgement are current in the US, only the latter in the UK.[98] Likewise for the word lodg(e)ment. Both judgment and judgement are in use interchangeably everywhere, although the former prevails in the US and the latter prevails in the UK[99] except in the practice of law, where judgment is standard. This also holds for abridgment and acknowledgment. Both systems prefer fledgling to fledgeling, but ridgeling to ridgling. Both acknowledgment, acknowledgement, abridgment and abridgement are used in Australia; the shorter forms are endorsed by the Australian Capital Territory Government.[8][100] Apart from when the "e" is dropped and in the word gaol and some pronunciations of margarine, "g" can only be soft when followed by an "e", "i", or "y".

  • The word "blue" always drops the "e" when forming "bluish" or "bluing".

Hard and soft "c"

A "c" is generally soft when followed by an "e", "i", or "y". One word with a pronunciation that is an exception in British English, "sceptic", is spelled "skeptic" in American English. See Miscellaneous spelling differences below.

Past tense differences

In the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, it is more common to end some past tense verbs with a "t" as in learnt or dreamt rather than learned or dreamed.[101] However, such spellings are also found in American English.

Several verbs have different past tenses or past participles in American and British English:

  • The past tense of the verb "to dive" is most commonly found as "dived" in British, Australian, and New Zealand English. "Dove" is usually used in its place in American English. Both terms are understood in Canada, and may be found either in minority use or in regional dialect in America.

  • The past participle and past tense of the verb "to get" is "got" in British and New Zealand English but "gotten" in American and Canadian, and occasionally in Australian English, though "got" is widely used as a past tense. Both terms are understood, and may be found either in minority use or in regional dialect. The main exception is in the phrase "ill-gotten", which is widely used in British, Australian and New Zealand English. This does not affect "forget" and "beget", whose past participles are "forgotten" and "begotten" in all varieties.

Different spellings for different meanings

  • dependantdependent (noun): British dictionaries distinguish between dependent (adjective) and dependant (noun). In the US, dependent is usual for both noun and adjective, regardless of dependant also being an acceptable variant for the noun form in the US.[102]

  • discdisk: Traditionally, disc used to be British and disk American. Both spellings are etymologically sound (Greek diskos, Latin discus), although disk is earlier. In computing, disc is used for optical discs (e.g., a CD, Compact Disc; DVD, Digital Versatile/Video Disc), by choice of the group that coined and trademarked the name Compact Disc, while disk is used for products using magnetic storage (e.g., hard disks or floppy disks, also known as diskettes).[103]

  • enquiryinquiry:[104] According to Fowler, inquiry should be used in relation to a formal inquest, and enquiry to the act of questioning. Many (though not all) British writers maintain this distinction; the OED, in their entry dating from 1900, lists inquiry and enquiry as equal alternatives, in that order (with the addition of "public inquiry" in a 1993 addition). Some British dictionaries, such as Chambers 21st Century Dictionary,[105] present the two spellings as interchangeable variants in the general sense, but prefer inquiry for the "formal inquest" sense. In the US, only inquiry is commonly used; the title of the National Enquirer, as a proper name, is an exception. In Australia, inquiry and enquiry are often interchangeable.[106] Both are current in Canada, where enquiry is often associated with scholarly or intellectual research.

  • ensureinsure: In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, the word ensure (to make sure, to make certain) has a distinct meaning from the word insure (often followed by against – to guarantee or protect against, typically by means of an "insurance policy"). The distinction is only about a century old.[107] In American usage, insure may also be used in the former sense, but ensure may not be used in the latter sense. According to Merriam-Webster's usage notes, ensure and insure "are interchangeable in many contexts where they indicate the making certain or [making] inevitable of an outcome, but ensure may imply a virtual guarantee 'the government has ensured the safety of the refugees', while insure sometimes stresses the taking of necessary measures beforehand 'careful planning should insure the success of the party'."[108]

  • mattmatte: In the UK, matt refers to a non-glossy surface, and matte to the motion-picture technique; in the US, matte covers both.[109]

  • programmeprogram: The British programme is from post-classical Latin programma and French programme. Program first appeared in Scotland in 1633 (earlier than programme in England in 1671) and is the only spelling found in the US. The OED entry, updated in 2007, says that program conforms to the usual representation of the Greek as in anagram, diagram, telegram etc. In British English, program is the common spelling for computer programs, but for other meanings programme is used. New Zealand also follows this pattern. In Australia, program has been endorsed by government writing standards for all meanings since the 1960s,[110] and is listed as the official spelling in the Macquarie Dictionary;[8] see also the name of The Micallef P(r)ogram(me). In Canada, program prevails, and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary makes no meaning-based distinction between it and programme. However, some Canadian government documents nevertheless use programme for all meanings of the word – and also to match the spelling of the French equivalent.[110]

  • tonneton: In the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, the spelling tonne refers to the metric unit (1,000 kilograms), which is the nomenclature used in SI units, whereas in the US the same unit is called a metric ton. The unqualified ton usually refers to the long ton (2,240 pounds or 1,016 kilograms) in the UK and to the short ton (2,000 pounds or 907 kilograms) in the US (but note that the tonne and long ton differ by only 1.6%, and are roughly interchangeable when accuracy is not critical; ton and tonne are usually pronounced the same in speech).

  • meter/metre: In British English there is a distinction between metre as a unit of length, and a meter in the sense of an ammeter or a water meter, whereas the standard American spelling for both is "meter".[111]

Different spellings for different pronunciations

In a few cases, essentially the same word has a different spelling that reflects a different pronunciation.

As well as the miscellaneous cases listed in the following table, the past tenses of some irregular verbs differ in both spelling and pronunciation, as with smelt (UK) versus smelled (US) (see American and British English differences: Verb morphology).

Aeroplane*, originally a French loanword with a different meaning, is the older spelling.[112] The oldest recorded uses of the spelling *airplane[a]irplane
  • became the standard American term (replacing *
aeroplane*) after this was adopted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1916. Although A. Lloyd James recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it has until recently been no more than an occasional form in British English." In the British National Corpus,[114] *aeroplane
  • outnumbers *
  • by more than 7:1 in the UK. The case is similar for the British *
aerodrome*[115] and American *airdrome;[116]Aerodrome
  • is used merely as a technical term in Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The prefixes aero- and air- both mean air, with the first coming from the Ancient Greek word ἀήρ (āēr). Thus, the prefix appears in aeronautics, aerostatics, aerodynamics, aeronautical engineering and so on, while the second occurs invariably in aircraft, airport, airliner, airmail etc. In Canada, *
  • is more common than *
aeroplane*, although *aeroplane
  • is used as part of the regulatory term "ultra-light aeroplane".[117]
ampouleampuleThe -poule spelling and/-puːl/pronunciation, which reflect the word's French origin, are common in America,[118] whereas -pule and/-pjuːl/are rare in Britain.[119] Another US variant isampul.
aluminiumaluminumThe spelling *aluminium
  • is the international standard in the sciences according to the IUPAC recommendations. Humphry Davy, the element's discoverer, first proposed the name alumium, and then later aluminum. The name *
  • was finally adopted to conform with the -ium ending of some metallic elements.[120] Canada uses *
  • and Australia and New Zealand *
aluminium*, according to their respective dictionaries[121] and the Canadian trade association is called the 'Aluminium Association of Canada'[122]
arseassIn vulgar senses "buttocks" ("anus"/"wretch"/"idiot"); unrelated sense "donkey" is ass in both. Arse is very rarely used in the US, though often understood, whereas both are used in British English (with arse being considered vulgar). Arse is also used in Newfoundland.
behovebehooveThe 19th century had the spelling *behove
  • pronounced to rhyme with move.[123] Subsequently, a pronunciation spelling with doubled oo was adopted in America, while in Britain a spelling pronunciation rhyming with rove was adopted.
bogeymanboogeyman or boogermanIt is pronounced/ˈboʊɡimæn/in the UK, so that the American form, boogeyman/ˈbʊɡimæn/, is reminiscent of musical "boogie" to the British ear. Boogerman/ˈbʊɡərmæn/is common in the Southern US and gives an association with the slang term booger for nasal mucus while the mainstream American spelling of boogeyman does not, but aligns more closely with the British meaning where a bogey is also nasal mucus.
brentbrantFor the species of goose.
carburettorcarburetorUK:/ˌkɑːbəˈrɛtə/; US:/ˈkɑrbəreɪtər/.
charivarishivaree, charivariIn America, where both terms are mainly regional,[124] charivari is usually pronounced as shivaree, which is also found in Canada and Cornwall,[125] and is a corruption of the French word.
eyrieaerieThis noun (not to be confused with the adjective eerie) rhymes with weary and hairy respectively. Both spellings and pronunciations occur in America.
filletfillet, filetMeat or fish. Pronounced the French way (approximately) in the US; Canada follows British pronunciation and distinguishes between fillet, especially as concerns fish, and filet, as concerns certain cuts of beef. McDonald's in the UK and Australia use the US spelling "filet" for their Filet-O-Fish.
furorefurorFurore is a late 18th-century Italian loan-word that replaced the Latinate form in the UK in the following century,[126] and is usually pronounced with a voiced final e. The Canadian usage is the same as the American, and Australia has both.[127]
grottygrodyClippings of grotesque; both are slang terms from the 1960s.[128]
haulierhaulerHaulage contractor; haulier is the older spelling.[129]
jemmyjimmyIn the sense "crowbar".
In America, according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, the British spelling is an also-ran, yet the pronunciation with second-syllable stress is a common variant. In Britain the second syllable is usually stressed.
mum(my)mom(my)Mother. Mom is sporadically regionally found in the UK (e.g., in West Midlands English). Some British and Irish dialects have mam,[130] and this is often used in Northern English, Hiberno-English, and Welsh English. Scottish English may also use mam, ma, or maw. In the American region of New England, especially in the case of the Boston accent, the British pronunciation of mum is often retained, while it is still spelled mom. In Canada, there are both mom and mum; Canadians often say mum and write mom.[131] In Australia and New Zealand, mum is used. In the sense of a preserved corpse, mummy is always used.
naïvetéThe American spelling is from French, and American speakers generally approximate the French pronunciation as/nɑːˈiːv(ə)teɪ/, whereas the British spelling conforms to English norms, as also the pronunciation/nɑːˈiːv(ə)ti/[132][133]. In the UK, naïveté is a minor variant, used about 20% of the time in the British National Corpus; in America, naivete and naiveté are marginal variants, and naivety is almost unattested.[134][135]
orientatedorientedIn the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, it is common to use orientated (as in family-orientated), whereas in the US, oriented is used exclusively (family-oriented). Both words have the same origins, coming from "orient" or its offshoot "orientation".[136]
pyjamaspajamasThe 'y' represents the pronunciation of the original Urdu "pāy-jāma", and in the 18th century spellings such as "paijamahs" and "peijammahs" appeared: this is reflected in the pronunciation/paɪˈdʒɑːməz/(with the first syllable rhyming with "pie") offered as an alternative in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Two spellings are also known from the 18th century, but 'pajama' became more or less confined to the US.[137] Canada follows both British and American usage, with both forms commonplace.
pernicketypersnicketyPersnickety is a late 19th-century American alteration of the Scots word pernickety.[138]
plonkplunkAs verb meaning "sit/set down carelessly".[139]
potterputterAs verb meaning "perform minor agreeable tasks".[140]
quinquintAbbreviations of quintuplet.
In the United States (where the word originated, as scalawag),[141] scallywag is not unknown.[142]
sledgesledIn American usage a sled is smaller and lighter than a sledge and is used only over ice or snow, especially for play by young people, whereas a sledge is used for hauling loads over ice, snow, grass, or rough terrain.[143]
specialityspecialtyIn British English the standard usage is speciality, but specialty occurs in the field of medicine,[144] and also as a legal term for a contract under seal. In Canada, specialty prevails. In Australia and New Zealand, both are current.[145]
titbittidbitAccording to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest form was "tyd bit", and the alteration to "titbit" was probably under the influence of the obsolete word "tit", meaning a small horse or girl.

Miscellaneous spelling differences

In the table below, the main spellings are above the accepted alternative spellings.

annexeannexTo annex is the verb in both British and American usage. However, the noun—an annex(e) of a building—is spelled with an -e at the end in the UK and Australia, but not in the US.
apophthegm[146]apothegm[147]Johnson favoured apophthegm (the ph is silent) which matches Ancient Greek:ἁπόφθεγμα, romanized: apophthegma.[148] Webster favoured apothegm, which matches Latin: apothegma, and was also more common in England until Johnson.[148] There is an unrelated word spelled apothem in all regions.[148]
artifactIn British English, artefact is the main spelling and artifact a minor variant.[149] In American English, artifact is the usual spelling. Canadians prefer artifact and Australians artefact, according to their respective dictionaries.[150] Artefact reflects Arte-fact(um), the Latin source.[151]
Both the noun and verb. The word comes from Old English æx. In the US, both spellings are acceptable and commonly used. The Oxford English Dictionary states that "the spelling ax is better on every ground, of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe, which became prevalent in the 19th century; but it ["ax"] is now disused in Britain".[152]
camomile, chamomilechamomile, camomileThe word derives, via French and Latin, from Greek χαμαίμηλον ("earth apple"). The more common British spelling "camomile", corresponding to the immediate French source, is the older in English, while the spelling "chamomile" more accurately corresponds to the ultimate Latin and Greek source.[153] In the UK, according to the OED, "the spelling cha- is chiefly in pharmacy, after Latin; that with ca- is literary and popular". In the US chamomile dominates in all senses.
caratcarat, karatThe spelling with a "k" is used in the US only for the measure of purity of gold. The "c" spelling is universal for weight.[151]
chequecheckIn banking. Hence pay cheque and paycheck. Accordingly, the North American term for what is known as a current account or cheque account in the UK is spelled chequing account in Canada and checking account in the US. Some American financial institutions, notably American Express, use cheque, but this is merely a trademarking affectation.
chequercheckerAs in chequerboard/checkerboard, chequered/checkered flag etc. In Canada as in the US.[154]
The original Mexican Spanish word is chile, itself derived from the Classical Nahuatl chilli.[154][155] In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, chile and chilli are given as also variants.
cipher, cyphercipher
cosycozyIn all senses (adjective, noun, verb).
disorientateddisorientedThe word 'disorientated' is mostly preferred in British English, while 'disoriented' is mostly preferred in American English.
dykedikeThe spelling with "i" is sometimes found in the UK, but the "y" spelling is rare in the US, where the y distinguishes dike in this sense from dyke, a (usually offensive) slang term for a lesbian.
doughnutdoughnut, donutIn the US, both are used, with donut indicated as a less common variant of doughnut.[156]
draftBritish English usually uses draft for all senses as the verb;[157] for a preliminary version of a document; for an order of payment (bank draft), and for military conscription (although this last meaning is not as common as in American English). It uses draught for drink from a cask (draught beer); for animals used for pulling heavy loads (draught horse); for a current of air; for a ship's minimum depth of water to float;[158] and for the game draughts, known as checkers in America. It uses either draught or draft for a plan or sketch (but almost always draughtsman in this sense; a draftsman drafts legal documents). American English uses draft in all these cases. Canada uses both systems; in Australia, draft is used for technical drawings, is accepted for the "current of air" meaning, and is preferred by professionals in the nautical sense.[159] The pronunciation is always the same for all meanings within a dialect (RP/drɑːft/, General American/dræft/). The spelling draught reflects the older pronunciation,/drɑːxt/. Draft emerged in the 16th century to reflect the change in pronunciation.[160][161]
Both spellings have existed since Middle English.[163]
gauntletgauntlet, gantletWhen meaning "ordeal", in the phrase running the ga(u)ntlet, some American style guides prefer gantlet.[164] This spelling is unused in Britain[165] and less usual in America than gauntlet. The word is an alteration of earlier gantlope by folk etymology with gauntlet ("armoured glove"), always spelled thus.
glycerineglycerin, glycerineScientists use the term glycerol, but both spellings are used sporadically in the US.
greygrayGrey became the established British spelling in the 20th century,[166] but it is a minor variant in American English, according to dictionaries. Canadians tend to prefer grey. The two spellings are of equal antiquity, and the Oxford English Dictionary states that "each of the current spellings has some analogical support".[167] Both Grey and Gray are found in proper nouns everywhere in the English-speaking world. The name of the dog breed greyhound is never spelled grayhound; the word descends from grighund.
In the US, "grille" refers to that of an automobile, whereas "grill" refers to a device used for heating food. However, it is not uncommon to see both spellings used in the automotive sense,[168] as well as in Australia[169] and New Zealand.[170] Grill is more common overall in both BrE and AmE.[171]
hearkenharkenThe word comes from hark. The spelling hearken was probably influenced by hear.[172] Both spellings are found everywhere.
idyllidyl, idyllIdyl was the spelling of the word preferred in the US by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, for the same reason as the double consonant rule; idyll, the original form from Greek eidullion, is now generally used in both the UK and US.
jailIn the UK, gaol and gaoler are used sometimes, apart from literary usage, chiefly to describe a medieval building and guard. Both spellings go back to Middle English: gaol was a loanword from Norman French, while jail was a loanword from central (Parisian) French. In Middle English the two spellings were associated with different pronunciations. In current English the word, however spelled, is always given the pronunciation originally associated only with the jail spelling/dʒeɪl/. The survival of the gaol spelling in British English is "due to statutory and official tradition".[173]
kerbcurbFor the noun designating the edge of a roadway (or the edge of a British pavement/ American sidewalk/ Australian footpath). Curb is the older spelling, and in the UK and US it is still the proper spelling for the verb meaning restrain.[174]
(kilo)gramThe dated spelling (kilo)gramme is used sometimes in the UK[175] but never in the US. (Kilo)gram is the only spelling used by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
liquoricelicoriceThe American spelling is nearer the Old French source licorece, which is ultimately from Greek glykyrrhiza.[176] The British spelling was influenced by the unrelated word liquor.[177] Licorice prevails in Canada and it is common in Australia, but it is rarely found in the UK. Liquorice is all but nonexistent in the US ("Chiefly British", according to dictionaries).[178]
midriffmidriff, midrif[179][180]
molluscmollusk, molluscThe related adjective may be spelled molluscan or molluskan.
mouldmoldIn all senses of the word. Both spellings have been used since the 16th century.[181] In Canada, both spellings are used.[182] In New Zealand, "mold" refers to a form for casting a shape while "mould" refers to the fungus.
neurone, neuronneuron
The omelet spelling is the older of the two, in spite of the etymology (French omelette).[183] Omelette prevails in Canada and Australia.
ploughplowBoth spellings have existed since Middle English. In England, plough became the main spelling in the 18th century.[184] Although plow was Noah Webster's pick, plough continued to have some currency in the US, as the entry in Webster's Third (1961) implies. Newer dictionaries label plough as "chiefly British". The word snowplough/snowplow, originally an Americanism, predates Webster's dictionaries and was first recorded as snow plough. Canada has both plough and plow,[185] although snowplow is more common. In the US, "plough" sometimes describes a horsedrawn kind while "plow" refers to a gasoline (petrol) powered kind.
primaeval, primevalprimevalPrimeval is also common in the UK but etymologically 'ae' is nearer the Latin source primus first + aevum age.[186]
programme, programprogramWhile “program” is used in British English in the case of computer programs, “programme” is the spelling most commonly used for all other meanings. However, in American English, “program” is the preferred form.
rack and ruinwrack and ruinSeveral words like "rack" and "wrack" have been conflated, with both spellings thus accepted as variants for senses connected to torture (orig. rack) and ruin (orig. wrack, cf. wreck)[187] In "(w)rack and ruin", the W-less variant is now prevalent in the UK but not the US.[188] The term, however, is rare in the US.
skepticThe American spelling, akin to Greek, is the earliest known spelling in English.[189] It was preferred by Fowler, and is used by many Canadians, where it is the earlier form.[190] Sceptic also pre-dates the European settlement of the US, and it follows the French sceptique and Latin scepticus. In the mid-18th century, Dr Johnson's dictionary listed skeptic without comment or alternative, but this form has never been popular in the UK;[191] sceptic, an equal variant in the old Webster's Third (1961), has now become "chiefly British". Australians generally follow the British usage (with the notable exception of the Australian Skeptics). All of these versions are pronounced with a /k/ (a hard "c"), though in French that letter is silent and the word is pronounced like septique.
slew, slueslue, slewMeaning "to turn sharply; a sharp turn", the preferred spelling differs. Meaning "a great number" is usually slew in all regions.[192]
smouldersmolderBoth spellings go back to the 16th century, and have existed since Middle English.[151][193]
storey, storeysstory, storiesLevel of a building. The letter "e" is used in the UK and Canada to differentiate between levels of buildings and a story as in a literary work.[194] Story is the earlier spelling. The Oxford English Dictionary states that this word is "probably the same word as story [in its meaning of "narrative"] though the development of sense is obscure.[195] One of the first uses of the (now British) spelling "storey" was by Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1852 (Uncle Tom's Cabin xxxii).
The spelling sulfate is the more common variant in British English in scientific and technical usage; see the entry on sulfur and the decisions of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC)[197] and the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).[198]
sulphur, sulfursulfur,
Sulfur is the preferred spelling by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) since 1971 or 1990[197] and by the UK's Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) since 1992.[199] Sulfur is used by scientists in all countries and has been actively taught in chemistry in British schools since December 2000,[200] but the spelling sulphur prevails in British, Irish, and Australian English, and it is also found in some American place names (e.g., Sulphur, Louisiana, and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia). Use of both variant f~ph spellings continued in Britain until the 19th century, when the word was standardized as sulphur.[201] On the other hand, sulfur is the form that was chosen in the United States, whereas Canada uses both. Oxford Dictionaries note that "in chemistry and other technical uses ... the -f- spelling is now the standard form for this and related words in British as well as US contexts, and is increasingly used in general contexts as well."[202] Some American English usage guides suggest sulfur for technical usage and both sulfur and sulphur in common usage and in literature, but American dictionaries list sulphur as a less common or chiefly British variant.[203][204][205][206] The variation between f and ph spellings is also found in the word's ultimate source: Latin sulfur, sulphur,[207] but this was due to Hellenization of the original Latin word *sulpur
  • to *
  • in the erroneous belief that the Latin word came from Greek. This spelling was later reinterpreted as representing an /f/ sound and resulted in the spelling *
  • which appears in Latin toward the end of the Classical period. (The true Greek word for sulfur,
θεῖον, is the source of the international chemical prefix thio-.) In 12th-century Anglo-French, the word became *sulfre*. In the 14th century, the erroneously Hellenized Latin *-ph-
  • was restored in Middle English *
sulphre*. By the 15th century, both full Latin spelling variants sulfur and sulphur became common in English.
"Thru" is typically used in the US as shorthand. It may be acceptable in informal writing, but for formal documents, "thru" would generally be viewed as "not correct English" and "not a real word". Because "thru" is much shorter than "through", it may also carry a negative connotation, as though the writer of "thru" were "cutting corners" and was "too lazy" to fully spell out "through". In the COBOL programming language, THRU is accepted as an abbreviation of the keyword THROUGH. Since programmers like to keep their code brief, THRU is generally the preferred form of this keyword.
tyretireThe outer portion of a wheel. In Canada, as in the US, tire is the older spelling, but both were used in the 15th and 16th centuries (for a metal tire). Tire became the settled spelling in the 17th century but tyre was revived in the UK in the 19th century for rubber/pneumatic tyres, possibly because it was used in some patent documents,[209] though many continued to use tire for the iron variety. The Times newspaper was still using tire as late as 1905. For the verb meaning "to grow weary" both American and British English use only the tire spelling.
vicevise, viceFor the two-jawed workbench tool, Americans and Canadians retain the very old distinction between vise (the tool) and vice (the sin, and also the Latin prefix meaning a deputy), both of which are vice in the UK and Australia.[210] Regarding the "sin" and "deputy" senses of vice, all varieties of English use -c-. Thus American English, just as other varieties, has vice admiral, vice president, and vice principal—never vise for any of those.
whisky (Scotland), whiskey (Ireland)whiskey, whiskyIn the United States, the whiskey spelling is dominant; whisky is encountered less frequently, but is used on the labels of some major brands (e.g., Early Times, George Dickel, Maker's Mark, and Old Forester) and is used in the relevant US federal regulations.[211] In Canada, whisky is dominant. Often the spelling is selected based on the origin of the product rather than the location of the intended readership, so it may be considered a faux pas to refer to "Scotch whiskey" or "Irish whisky". Both ultimately derive from "uisce beatha" (Irish) and "uisge beatha" (Scottish) meaning 'water of life'.
Yoghurt is an also-ran in the US, as is yoghourt in the UK. Although the Oxford Dictionaries have always preferred yogurt, in current British usage yoghurt seems to be prevalent. In Canada, yogurt prevails, despite the Canadian Oxford preferring yogourt, which has the advantage of satisfying bilingual (English and French) packaging requirements.[6][212] Australian usage tends to follow the UK. Whatever the spelling is, the word has different pronunciations:/ˈjɒɡərt/in the UK,/ˈjoʊɡərt/in New Zealand, America, Ireland, and Australia. The word comes from the Turkish language word yoğurt.[213] The voiced velar fricative represented by ğ in the modern Turkish (Latinic) alphabet was traditionally written gh in Latin script of the Ottoman Turkish (Arabic) alphabet used before 1928.

Compounds and hyphens

British English often prefers hyphenated compounds, such as anti-smoking, whereas American English discourages the use of hyphens in compounds where there is no compelling reason, so antismoking is much more common. Many dictionaries do not point out such differences. Canadian and Australian usage is mixed, although Commonwealth writers generally hyphenate compounds of the form noun plus phrase (such as editor-in-chief).[214] Commander-in-chief prevails in all forms of English.

Compound verbs in British English are hyphenated more often than in American English.[215]

  • any more or anymore: In sense "any longer", the single-word form is usual in North America and Australia but unusual elsewhere, at least in formal writing.[216] Other senses always have the two-word form; thus Americans distinguish "I couldn't love you anymore [so I left you]" from "I couldn't love you any more [than I already do]". In Hong Kong English, any more is always two words.[217]

  • for ever or forever: Traditional British English usage makes a distinction between for ever, meaning for eternity (or a very long time into the future), as in "If you are waiting for income tax to be abolished you will probably have to wait for ever"; and forever, meaning continually, always, as in "They are forever arguing".[218] In British usage today, however, forever prevails in the "for eternity" sense as well,[219] in spite of several style guides maintaining the distinction.[220] American writers usually use forever regardless of which sense they intend (although forever in the sense of "continually" is comparatively rare in American English, having been displaced by always).

  • near by or nearby: Some British writers make the distinction between the adverbial near by, which is written as two words, as in, "No one was near by"; and the adjectival nearby, which is written as one, as in, "The nearby house".[221] In American English, the one-word spelling is standard for both forms.

  • per cent or percent: It can be correctly spelled as either one or two words, depending on the Anglophone country, but either spelling must always be consistent with its usage. British English predominantly spells it as two words, so does English in Ireland and countries in the Commonwealth of Nations such as Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. American English predominantly spells it as one word. Historically, it used to be spelled as two words in the United States, but its usage is diminishing; nevertheless it is a variant spelling in American English today. The spelling difference is reflected in the style guides of newspapers and other media agencies in the US, Ireland, and countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. In Canada (and sometimes in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, other Commonwealth countries, and Ireland) percent is also found, mostly sourced from American press agencies.

Acronyms and abbreviations

Acronyms pronounced as words are often written in title case by Commonwealth writers, but usually as upper case by Americans: for example, Nasa / NASA or Unicef / UNICEF.[222] This does not apply to abbreviations that are pronounced as individual letters (referred to by some as "initialisms"), such as US, IBM, or PRC (the People's Republic of China), which are virtually always written as upper case. However, sometimes title case is still used in the UK, such as Pc (Police Constable).[223]

Contractions where the final letter is present are often written in British English without full stops/periods (Mr, Mrs, Dr, St, Ave). Abbreviations where the final letter is not present generally do take full stops/periods (such as vol., etc., i.e., ed.); British English shares this convention with the French: Mlle, Mme, Dr, Ste, but M. for Monsieur. In American and Canadian English, abbreviations like St., Ave., Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., and Jr., usually require full stops/periods. Some initials are usually upper case in the US but lower case in the UK: liter/litre and its compounds (2 L or 25 mL vs 2 l or 25 ml);[224][225] and ante meridiem and post meridiem (10 P.M. or 10 PM vs 10 p.m. or 10 pm).[226][227][228] Both AM/PM and a.m./p.m. are acceptable in American English, but U.S. style guides overwhelmingly prefer a.m./p.m.[229]


The use of quotation marks, also called inverted commas or speech marks, is complicated by the fact that there are two kinds: single quotation marks (') and double quotation marks ("). British usage, at one stage in the recent past, preferred single quotation marks for ordinary use, but double quotation marks are again now increasingly common; American usage has always preferred double quotation marks, as have Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand English. It is the practice to alternate the type of quotation marks used where there is a quotation within a quotation.[230]

The convention used to be, and in American English still is, to put full stops (periods) and commas inside the quotation marks, irrespective of the sense. British English has moved away from this style while American English has kept it. British style now prefers to punctuate according to the sense, in which punctuation marks only appear inside quotation marks if they were there in the original. Formal British English practice requires a full stop to be put inside the quotation marks if the quoted item is a full sentence that ends where the main sentence ends, but it is common to see the stop outside the ending quotation marks.[231]

See also

  • Australian English

  • Canadian English

  • English language in England

  • English in the Commonwealth of Nations

  • English orthography

  • Hong Kong English

  • Hiberno-English

  • Indian English

  • Malaysian English

  • Manx English

  • New Zealand English

  • Philippine English

  • Scottish English

  • Singaporean English

  • South African English


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