American and British English spelling differences
are one aspect of American and British
In the early 18th century, English
was not standardized. Differences became noticeable
after the publishing of influential dictionaries
. Current British English
spellings follow, for the
most part, those of Samuel Johnson
the English Language
(1755), whereas many American English
spellings follow Noah Webster
's An American
Dictionary of the English Language
Webster was a strong proponent of spelling reform
for reasons both philological
and nationalistic. Many spelling changes
proposed in the United States of America by Webster, himself, and in the early 20th century
by the Simplified Spelling
Board, never caught on. Among the advocates of spelling reform in
England, the influences of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of certain
words proved to be decisive. Subsequent spelling adjustments in the
Kingdom had little effect on present-day American
spellings, and vice-versa.
In many cases American English
deviated in the 19th century from mainstream British spelling, but
it has also retained some older forms.
The spelling systems of Commonwealth
countries and Ireland,
for the most part, closely resemble the British system. In Canada
and Australia, however, where much of the spelling is "British",
many "American" spellings are also used. Additional information on
Canadian and Australian spelling is provided throughout this
Spelling and pronunciation
In a few cases, essentially the same word
a different spelling which reflects a different pronunciation.
However, in most cases, the pronunciations of the words is the
same, or nearly so.
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
(mainly in the U.K.) versus
(mainly American): see American
and British English differences: Verb morphology
||Aeroplane, originally a French loanword, is the older
spelling. According to the OED, "[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 Jones
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, aeroplane outnumbers
airplane by more than 7:1 in the U.K. The case is similar
for the British aerodrome and
American airdrome, although both of these terms
are now obsolete. 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, where the suffix is a Grecian word, while the second occurs
(invariably) in aircraft,
airport, airliner, airmail, etc. where the suffix is an English
word. In Canada, airplane is used more commonly than
aeroplane, although aeroplane is not unknown,
especially in parts of French Canada (where the current French term
is, avion—aéroplane designating in French
19th-century flying machines). In all of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, aerodrome is used merely as a technical
||The spelling aluminium is the
international standard in the sciences (IUPAC). The American spelling is nonetheless used by
many American scientists. Humphry Davy,
the element's discoverer, first proposed the name alumium,
and then later aluminum. The name aluminium was
finally adopted to conform with the -ium ending of
metallic elements. Canada uses aluminum and Australia/New
Zealand aluminium, according to their respective
||In vulgar senses "buttocks" ("anus"/"wretch"); unrelated sense
"donkey"/"idiot" is ass in both. Both forms are found in Canada,
Australia, and New Zealand ("ass" to a lesser extent in the latter
two countries also as a "non-vulgar replacement", conversely "arse"
may be used in North America as a "non-vulgar replacement").
||The spoken form is in the U.K., so that the American form,
boogeyman , is reminiscent of the
1970s disco dancing "boogie" to the British ear.
America, where both terms are mainly regional, charivari
is usually pronounced as shivaree, which is also found in
Canada and Cornwall, and is a
corruption of the French word.
||For a two-door car; the horse-drawn carriage is coupé
in both (meaning "cut"); unrelated "cup"/"bowl" is always
coupe. In the United States, the "e" is accented when it
is used as a foreign word.
||This noun (not to be confused with the adjective eerie) rhymes with weary and
hairy respectively. Both spellings and pronunciations
occur in America.
||Meat or fish. Pronounced the French way (approximately) in
||Furore is a late 18th-century Italian loan-word that
replaced the Latinate form in the U.K. in the following century,
and is usually pronounced with a voiced e. The Canadian
the same as the American, and Australia has both.
grotesque; both are slang terms from the 1960s.
||Haulage contractor; haulier is the older
||In the sense "crowbar".
||In America, according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate
Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary, the British
spelling is an also-ran, yet the pronunciation with second-syllable
stress is a common variant. In Britain the second syllable is
||Mother. Mom is sporadically regionally found in the
U.K. (e.g. in West Midlands
English). Some British dialects have mam, and this is
often used in Northern English, Irish English, and Welsh English. 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. In Australia, mum is used.
||The American spelling is from French, and American speakers
generally approximate the French pronunciation as , whereas the
British spelling is nativised, as also the pronunciation . In the
U.K., 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
||Persnickety is a late 19th-century American alteration
of the Scottish word pernickety.
||Abbreviations of quintuplet.
||In the United States (where the word originated, as
scalawag), scallywag is not unknown.
||In British English the standard usage is speciality,
but specialty occurs in the field of medicine, and also as a legal term for a contract under seal. In Canada, specialty
prevails. In Australia both are current.
Most words ending in an unstressed -our
in the United
Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada and Australia (e.g.
) end in -or
in the United
). Wherever the vowel is unreduced in pronunciation
does not occur: contour
, are spelled thus the same everywhere, with
"contour" being an important technical term in mathematics and
meteorology.Most words of this category derive from Latin non-agent
nouns having nominative -or
; the first such borrowings
into English were from early Old French
and the ending was -or
.Webster's Third, p.
24a. After the Norman Conquest
termination became -our
in an attempt to
represent the Old French pronunciation of words ending in
, though color
has been used occasionally in
English since the fifteenth century. The -our
not only retained in English borrowings from Anglo-French
, but also applied to
earlier French borrowings. After the Renaissance
, some such borrowings from Latin
were taken up with their original -or
words once ending in -our
) now end in
everywhere. Many words of the -our/-or
do not have a Latin counterpart; for example, armo(u)r
"shelter", though senses "tree
" and "tool
" are always arbor
of the other word. Some
16th and early 17th century British scholars indeed insisted that
be used for words of Latin origin (e.g.
) and -our
for French loans; but in many
cases the etymology was not completely clear, and therefore some
scholars advocated -or
only and others -our
Webster's 1828 dictionary featured only -or
generally given much of the credit for the adoption of this form in
the United States. By contrast, Dr Johnson's 1755 dictionary used
spelling for all words still so spelled in
Britain, as well as for emperour
, and tremour
, where the u
since been dropped. Johnson, unlike Webster, was not an advocate of
spelling reform, but selected the version best-derived, as he saw
it, from among the variations in his sources: he favoured French
over Latin spellings because, as he put it, "the French generally
supplied us." Those English speakers who began to move across the
Atlantic would have taken these habits with them and H L Mencken
makes the point that,
appears in the Declaration of Independence, but it
seems to have got there rather by accident than by design. In
’s original draft it is
." Examples such as color
, or neighbor
scarcely appear in the Old
Bailey's court records from the 17th and 18th century, whereas
examples of their -our
counterparts are numbered in
thousands. One notable exception is honor
were equally frequent down to the 17th century,
still is, in the U.K., the normal spelling as a
Derivatives and inflected forms
. In derivatives
and inflected forms of the -our/or
words, in British usage
is kept before English suffixes that are freely
attachable to English words (neighbourhood
) and suffixes of Greek or Latin
origin that have been naturalized (favourite
); before Latin suffixes
that are not freely attachable to English words, the u
be dropped (honorific
), can be either dropped or
), or can be
American usage, derivatives and inflected forms are built by simply
adding the suffix in all environments (favorite
, etc.) since the
is absent to begin with.
. American usage in most cases retains
in the word glamour
, which comes from Scots, not Latin
or French. "Glamor" is occasionally used in imitation of the
spelling reform of other -our words to -or. The adjective
"glamorous" omits the first "u". Saviour
is a somewhat common variant of
in the United States.
The British spelling is very common for "honour" (and "favour") in
the stilted language of wedding
in the United States. The name of the Space Shuttle Endeavour
in it since this spacecraft
was named for Captain James Cook
the HMS Endeavour
The name of the herb savory
is thus spelled everywhere, although the probably related adjective
, like savour
, has a u
(the name) and arbor
(the tool) have
in Britain, as mentioned above. As a general noun,
( ) has a u
U.K.; the medical term rigor
(often ) does not. Words with
the ending -irior
or similar are spelled
thus everywhere and have never had a "u", for example
. Commonwealth countries
normally follow British usage. In Canada -or
not uncommon, particularly in the Prairie Provinces
, though they are rarer
in Eastern Canada. In Australia, -or
some use in the 19th century, and now are sporadically found in
some regions, usually in local and regional newspapers, though
is almost universal. The name of the Australian Labor Party
, founded in
1891, is a remnant of this trend. New Zealand English
, while sharing some
words and syntax with Australian
, follows British usage.
In British usage, some words of French, Latin, or Greek origin end
with a consonant followed by -re
, with the -re
unstressed and . Most of these words have the ending -er
in the United States. The difference is most common for words
: British spellings
, and sombre
all have -er
in American spelling. The ending -cre
, as in
, is preserved in American English, to indicate
is pronounced rather than . After other consonants,
there are not many -re
endings even in British English:
. In the United
are usually spelled as
; and the other
forms listed are less-used variants of the equivalent
preceding the r
is retained in
American-derived forms of nouns and verbs, for example,
are, naturally, fibres
respectively in British usage. It is dropped for
other inflections, for example, central
. However such dropping cannot be regarded as
proof of an -re
British spelling: for example,
derives from enter
, which has not been
The difference relates only to root words; -er
is universal as a suffix for agentive
) and comparative
) forms. One consequence is the
British distinction of meter
for a measuring instrument
for the unit of length
However, while poetic metre
, etc. are almost always
Many other words have -er
British English. These include Germanic words like anger
, and Romance words
words, like many -re
words, have a cognate
spelled with -re
: among these are
Theater is the prevailing American spelling used to refer to both the dramatic arts and buildings where stage performances and screenings of movies take place (i.e., "movie theaters"); for example, a national newspaper such as The New York Times uses theater throughout its "Theater", "Movies", and "Arts & Leisure" sections. In contrast, the spelling theatre appears in the names of many New York City theaters on Broadway (cf. Broadway theatre) (and elsewhere in the United States) and in listings and reviews in "The Theatre" section of The New Yorker. In 2003 the proposal of the American National Theatre (ANT), eventually to be founded and inaugurated in the fall of 2007, was referred to by the New York Times as the "American National Theater"; but the organization actually uses "re" in the spelling of its name. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C., or The Kennedy Center, features the more common American spelling theater in its references to The Eisenhower Theater, part of The Kennedy Center.
Some cinemas outside New York use the "theatre" spelling.
Many places across the United States have started using the two
spellings differently. Theater
is typically used to mean a
movie theater, whereas theatre
refers to an actual theatre
for performing arts.
instances, places in the United States have Centre in their names (e.g., Newton Centre, Massachusetts, and Rockville Centre, New
York), named both before and after spelling reform, or
as merely an affectation, and there are also a few cases of the use
of Center in the United
Kingdom (e.g., the Valley Centertainment in Sheffield, although this is in fact a portmanteau of the cent- of centre and
-ertainment of entertainment).
For British accoutre(ment)
, the American practice varies:
the Merriam-Webster Dictionary prefers the -re
but the American Heritage Dictionary the -er
More recent French loanwords
spelling in American English. These are not exceptions
when a French-style pronunciation is used ( rather than ), as with
, or oeuvre
However, the unstressed pronunciation of an -er
used more or less frequently with some words, including
, maître d'
, Notre Dame
, and timbre
. The -re
mostly standard throughout the Commonwealth. The -er
spellings are recognized as minor variants in Canada, due in part
to American influences. Proper names, particularly names
incorporating the word centre/center, are an occasional source of
exceptions, such as, for example, Toronto's controversially-named Centerpoint
generally prevails in
Nouns ending in -ce
verb forms: American
English and British English both retain the noun/verb distinction
, but American English has abandoned the
distinction with licence
(where the two words in each pair are homophones
) that British spelling retains.
American English uses practice
American English has kept the Anglo-French spelling for
, which are usually defence
in British English; similarly there are
the American pretense
; but derivatives such as
, and pretension
are always thus spelled in both
Australian and Canadian usage generally follows British.
The spelling connexion
rare in everyday British usage and is not used at all in America:
the more common connection
has become the standard
internationally. According to the Oxford English
the older spelling is more etymologically
conservative, since the word actually derives from Latin forms in
. The American usage derives from Webster
who discarded the -xion
favour of -ction
by analogy with such verbs as
(which comes from the stem complex
standard and complection
usually is not. However, the
(as in "dark-complected"), although
sometimes objected to, can be used as an alternative to
in the U.S., but is quite unknown in this
sense in the UK, although there is an extremely rare usage to mean
American spelling accepts only -ize
endings in most cases,
such as organize
, and realize
. British usage accepts both
and the more French-looking -ise
preferred by some authoritative British sources including the
—which lists the -ise
as "a frequent spelling of -IZE...".Oxford English
" The OED firmly deprecates usage
of "-ise" for words of Greek origin, stating, "[T]he suffix...,
whatever the element to which it is added, is in its origin the
, L[atin] -izāre
; and, as the
pronunciation is also with z
, there is no reason why in
English the special French spelling in -iser
followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and
However in their less academic publications, including Fowler's
Modern English Usage
, Oxford Dictionaries
prominence to the -ise
suffix over -ize
. The main
work goes on to say "... some have used the spelling -ise in
English, as in French, for all these words, and some prefer -ise in
words formed in French or English from Latin elements, retaining
-ize for those of Greek composition." Noah Webster rejected
for the same reasons. Despite these pronouncements,
however, the -ize
spelling is now rarely used in the UK in
the mass media and newspapers, and is often incorrectly regarded as
an Americanism. The Cambridge
, equal in authority to the Oxford institution,
has long favored -ise
The ratio between -ise
stands at 3:2 in
the British National Corpus
The OED spelling
(which can be
indicated by the registered IANA
language tag en-GB-oed
), and thus
, is used in many British-based academic publications,
such as Nature
The Times Literary
. In Australia and New Zealand -ise
spellings strongly prevail; the Australian Macquarie Dictionary
, among other
sources, gives the -ise
spelling first. The -ise
form is preferred in Australian English at a ratio of about 3:1
according to the Macquarie Dictionary
Canadian usage is essentially like American. Worldwide,
endings prevail in scientific writing and are
commonly used by many international organizations. For example,
"synthesize" is used in international chemical journals.
The same pattern applies to derivatives and inflections
such as colonisation
Some verbs ending in -ize
do not derive
from Greek -
, and their endings are therefore not
interchangeable; some verbs take the -z-
for instance capsize
(except in the legal
phrase to be seised of
(only in the
"appraise" sense), whereas others take only -s-
, and televise
. Finally, the verb prise
(meaning to force or lever) is spelled
in the US and prise
everywhere else, including Canada, although in North American
English it is commonly replaced by pry
, a back-formation
from or alteration of prise
The distribution of -yse
endings, as in
, is different: the former is
British English, but the latter is American. Thus, in British
, and paralyse
, but in American English analyze
, and paralyze
. However, analyse
commonly spelled analyze
from the first—the spelling
preferred by Samuel Johnson. This word, which came probably from
the French analyser
, on Greek analogy would have been
, from the French analysiser
, from which
was formed by haplology
In Canada, -yze
prevails, just as in the United States. In
Australia and New Zealand, -yse
stands alone. Unlike
, neither of the endings has any resemblance to
the Greek original ending. The Greek verb from which the word
(lusis) (and thus all its compound words) derives, is
Some words of Greek origin, a few of which derive from Greek
, can end either in -ogue
or in -og
etc. In the U.K. (and generally in the Commonwealth), the
endings are the standard. In the U.S.,
has a slight edge over catalogue
inflected forms, cataloged
standard for the adjective, but both analogue
are current for the noun; in all other cases the
endings strongly prevail, for example
, except for such expressions as dialog box
in computing , which are also
used in the U.K. Finally, in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia
analogue is used, but just as in the U.S. analog
currency as a technical term (e.g. in electronics, as in "analog
electronics" as opposed to "digital electronics" and some
video-game consoles might have an analog stick
The dropping of the "ue" is mandatory in forming such related words
as "analogy", "analogous", and "analogist".
Simplification of ae (æ) and oe
Many words are written with ae/æ
British English, but a single e
in American English. The
sound in question is or (or unstressed ). Examples (with
non-American letter in bold
): am'oeba, anaemia, anaesthesia, caesium, diarrhoea, gynaecology, haemophilia, leukaemia, oesophagus, oestrogen, orthopaedic, paediatric.
Words where British usage varies include encyclopaedia,
foetus (though the
British medical community considers this variant to be unacceptable
for the purposes of journal articles and the like, since the Latin
spelling was actually fetus). In the American
usage, aesthetics and
archaeology usually prevail
over esthetics and archeology, while oenology is a minor variant of enology.
retained its name's traditional spelling even after
relocating to the U.S.A.
<οι> were transliterated
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 imported words from all three
languages, it is now usual to replace Æ/æ with
Ae/ae and Œ/œ with Oe/oe. In many cases, the digraph has been
reduced to a single e in all varieties of English: for
praemium, and aenigma. In others, it is retained in all
varieties: for example, phoenix
, and usually subpoena
This is especially true of
There is no reduction of Latin -ae plurals
ae); nor where the digraph / does
not result from the Greek-style ligature: for example, maelstrom, toe.
is an instance (compare other aero-
words such as
). The now chiefly North
American airplane is not a respelling but a recoining,
modeled after airship
. The word airplane dates from 1907,
at which time the prefix aero- was trisyllabic, often
Canada, e is usually preferred over oe and often
over ae as well, just as in the neighboring United States.
In Australia and elsewhere, the British
usage prevails, but the spellings with just e
increasingly used. Manoeuvre
is the only spelling in
Australia, and the most common one in Canada, where
are also sometimes
This shortening is natural, especially since the Canadian Forces in
the air and on the oceans are frequently involved in joint
maneuvers with the U.S. Air Force
and the U.S. Navy
. In Canada,
are used occasionally in the academic
and science communities.
Internationally, the American spelling is closer to the usage in a
number of other languages using the Latin alphabet; . For instance,
almost all Romance languages
tend to have more phonemic
spellings (a notable exception
being in French
), as do Swedish
, and others, while Dutch
uses them sometimes ("ae" is rare, but
"oe" is the normal representation of the sound , while written "u"
represents either the sound y
or in IPA). The languages
and some others retain the
original ligatures. In German
, is retained as
its equivalent of the ligature, for when written without the
umlaut. These words resemble the British usage (i.e. ä
uses "é" as a
replacement for "ae" (although it becomes "e" sometimes), and the
special character "ő" (sometimes "ö") for "oe".
Compounds and hyphens
British English often prefers hyphenated compounds, such as
American English discourages the use of hyphens in compounds where
there is no compelling reason, so counterattack
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
Commander-in-chief is dominant in all forms of English.
- 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. 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.
- 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". In
contemporary British usage, however, forever prevails in
the "for eternity" sense as well, in spite of several style guides
maintaining the distinction. American writers usually use
forever in all senses.
- 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". In American English, the one-word spelling is
standard for both forms.
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
this occurs only when the word's final syllable is stressed and
when it also ends with a single vowel followed by a single
consonant. In British English, however, a final -l
often doubled even when the final syllable is unstressed. This
exception is no longer usual in American English, apparently
because of Noah Webster. The -ll-
nevertheless still regarded as acceptable variants by both
Merriam-Webster Collegiate and American Heritage dictionaries.
- The British English doubling is required for all inflections
(-ed, -ing, -er, -est) and for
the noun suffixes -er and -or. Therefore, the
British English counsellor, cruellest,
modelling, quarrelled, signalling,
traveller, and travelling. Americans usually use
counselor, cruelest, modeling,
quarreled, signaling, traveler,
- parallel keeps a single -l- in British
English, as in American English (paralleling,
unparalleled), to avoid the unappealing cluster
- Words with two vowels before 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), but 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 dominates in
- Endings -ize/-ise, -ism,
-ist, -ish usually do not double the l
in British English: normalise, dualism,
- Exceptions: tranquillise; duellist,
medallist, panellist, 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 U.K., in some words where the root has -l. These
are cases where the alteration occurs in the source language, which
was often Latin. (Examples: bimetallism,
cancellation, chancellor, crystallize,
- But 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 largely follow British
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
, which were introduced by the Chicago Tribune
in the 1920s, are common.
, the only standard
- British calliper or caliper; American
- British jewellery; American jewelry. The
standard pronunciations ( ) do not reflect this difference.
According to Fowler, jewelry used to be the "rhetorical
and poetic" spelling in the U.K. Canada has both, but
jewellery is more often used. Likewise, the Commonwealth
(including Canada) has jeweller and the United States has
jeweler for a jewel(le)ry retailer.
Doubled in American English
Conversely, there are words where British writers prefer a single
and Americans usually use a double l
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 exhibiting this spelling difference
. These words have monosyllabic cognates
always written with -ll
. Cases where a single l
nevertheless occurs in both American and British English include
; and others where the connection is
not transparent 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 U.K., ll
is used occasionally in
, and often in enthral(l)
, all of
which are always spelled this way in American usage. The former
British spellings instal
are now quite rare. The Scottish tolbooth
is cognate with toll booth
, but it has a specific distinct
In both American and British usages, words normally spelled
usually drop the second l
when used as
prefixes or suffixes, for example full
The British fulfil
and American fulfill
Dr Johnson wavered on this issue. His dictionary of 1755 lemmatizes
British English sometimes keeps silent e
suffixes where American English does not. Generally speaking,
British English drops it in only some cases in which it is
unnecessary to indicate pronunciation whereas American English only
uses it where necessary.
- British prefers ageing, American usually
aging (compare raging, ageism). For the
noun or verb "route", British English often uses
routeing;, but in America routing is used.(The
military term rout forms routing everywhere.)
However, all of these word form "router", whether used in the
context of carpentry, data communications, or military. (e.g.
"Attacus was the router of the Huns at ....")
Both forms of English retain the silent e
in the words
, and swingeing
sense of dye
, and swinge
distinguish from dying
(in the sense of die
). In contrast, both bathe
and the British
both form bathing
. Both forms of
English vary for tinge
; both prefer
- Before -able, British English prefers
likeable, liveable, rateable,
saleable, sizeable, unshakeable, 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, and those
where the root is polysyllabic, like believable or
decidable. Both forms of the language retain the silent
e when it is necessary to preserve a soft c,
ch, or g, such as in traceable,
cacheable, changeable; both usually retain the
"e" after -dge, as in knowledgeable,
unbridgeable, and unabridgeable. ("These rights
- Both abridgment and the more regular
abridgement are current in America, only the latter in the
U.K. Similarly for the word lodg(e)ment. Both
judgment and judgement are in use
interchangeablly everywhere, although the former prevails in
America and the latter prevails in the U.K. except in the practice
of law, where judgment is standard. The similar situation
holds for abridgment. Both forms of English fledgling to fledgeling, but
- The word "blue" always drops the "e" when forming
Different spellings, different connotations
- artefact or artifact: In
British usage, artefact is the main spelling and
artifact a minor variant. In American English,
artifact is the usual spelling. Canadians prefer
artifact and Australians artefact, according to
their respective dictionaries. Artefact reflects
Arte-fact(um), the Latin source.
- dependant or dependent:
British dictionaries distinguish between dependent
(adjective) and dependant (noun). In the U.S.,
dependent is usual for both noun and adjective,
notwithstanding that dependant is also an acceptable
variant for the noun form in the US.
- disc or disk: 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) while disk is used for products
using magnetic storage (e.g. hard
disk or floppy disks, also known as
diskettes). For this limited application, these spellings are used
in both the U.S. and the Commonwealth.
- enquiry or inquiry:
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, on the other hand, lists inquiry and
enquiry as equal alternatives, in that order. Some British
dictionaries, such as Chambers 21st Century Dictionary,
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. In
Australia, inquiry and enquiry are often
interchangeable, but inquiry prevails in writing. Both are
current in Canada, where enquiry is often associated with
scholarly or intellectual research.
- ensure or insure: In the UK
(and Australia), 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, and this helps explain why
in (North) America ensure is just a variant of
insure, more often than not. 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 ensured the
safety of the refugees>, while insure sometimes
stresses the taking of necessary measures beforehand
insure the success of the party>.
- insurance or assurance: In
the business of risk transfer, AmE speakers will normally refer to
life insurance or fire insurance, whereas BrE speakers will more
commonly refer to life assurance or home assurance, although none
of these uses are exclusive to North America or to the UK. Canadian
and Australian speakers are more likely than US speakers to follow
British convention, due possibly to British risk carriers having
had a greater relative presence historically in Canada and
Australia than in the US.
- matt or matte: In the UK,
matt refers to a non-glossy surface, and matte to
the motion-picture technique; in
the US, matte covers both.
- programme or program: The
British programme is a 19th-century French version of
program. Program first appeared in Scotland in
the 17th century and is the only spelling found in the US. The OED
entry, written around 1908 and listing both spellings, said
program was preferable, since it conformed 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. In Australia,
program has been endorsed by government writing standards
for all senses since the 1960s, although programme is also
seen; see also the name of The Micallef Program.
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 in all senses of the word - and also to match
the spelling of the French equivalent.
- tonne or ton: in the U.K.,
the spelling tonne refers to the
metric unit (1000 kilograms), whereas in the U.S. the same unit is
referred to as a metric ton. The unqualified ton usually refers to the long
ton (2,240 lb.) in the U.K., and to the short ton (2,000 lb.) in the U.S.
See also meter/metre
which there is a British English distinction between these
etymologically related forms with different meanings but the
standardized American spelling is "meter" . The spelling used by
Bureau of Weights and Measures
is "metre". This spelling is
also the usual one in most English-speaking countries, but only the
spelling "meter" is used in American English, and this is
officially endorsed by the United States.
A few British publications prefer to use kilogramme
the metric unit of mass
, but kilogram
more common spellings in British English and therefore listed first
in British dictionaries. In the United States, the spellings are
, and these are also used
exclusively by the International Bureau of Weights and
is used in some places, but never in the United
States, where it has always been simply a telegram
Acronyms and abbreviations
Proper names formed as proper acronyms are often rendered in
title case by Commonwealth writers, but
usually as upper case by Americans: for
example, Nasa /
NASA or Unicef /
UNICEF. This does not apply to most pure initialisms, such as U.S.A., NATO, IBM, or PRC (the People's Republic of China).
However, it is occasionally done for some in the U.K., such as Pc
In North America, PC
already means either "personal
computer" or "politically correct".
, where the final
letter is present, are often written in British English without
final letter is not present generally do take stops/periods (such
British English shares this convention with the French:
. In American and Canadian
English, abbreviations like St.
, always require periods. Some initials are usually
upper case in America but lower case in Britain: liter/litre
and its compounds ("2 L or
25 mL" vs "2 l or 25 ml"); and ante meridiem and post meridiem
or 10 PM
or 10 pm
Miscellaneous spelling differences
||Adz is more common in the US.
annex is the verb in both British and American usage;
however, when speaking of an annex(e) – the noun referring
to an extension of a main building - not a military or political
conquest, which would be an annexation - as in the Nazi
German annexation of Austria in 1938. The root word is usually spelled
with an -e at the end in the U.K., but in the U.S. it is
||When referring to the animal, or a stupid person, ass
is used in both. In America, "arse" is sometimes used as a minced oath.
||Both the noun and verb. (The word comes from Old English æx). In the US, "axe"
sometimes refers to the weapon while "ax" refers to the tool,
though both spellings are acceptable and commonly used.
||In the U.K., according to the OED, "the spelling cha-
is chiefly in pharmacy, after Latin; that with ca- is
literary and popular". In the U.S. chamomile dominates in
all senses. However, these are all obscure words in any case.
||In banking. Hence pay cheque and
paycheck. Accordingly, the North American term for what is
known as a current account or cheque account in
the U.K. is spelled chequing account in Canada and
checking account in the U.S. Some American financial
institutions, notably American
Express, prefer cheque, but this is merely a
trademarking affectation. The U.S. uses the spelling "cheque" when
referring to "traveler's cheques".
||As In chequerboard/checkerboard,
chequered/checkered flag, etc. In Canada as in
the U.S. While "checker" is more common in the U.S., "exchequer" is
used in the U.K.
||The original Mexican Spanish
word is spelled chile. In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate
Dictionary, chile and chilli are given as
||However, in cryptology, the words
that are used in the U.S. are cypher, encypher,
||With a 'U' is the original British spelling (also used in other
Commonwealth nations such as Canada) and color is the only accepted
American spelling. (Which makes using the HTML code "color" garnish
many errors for those who use the British spelling)
||In all senses (adjective, noun, verb).
||In the U.S., both are used with donut indicated as a
variant of doughnut. In the U.K., donut is
indicated as an American variant for doughnut.
||British English usually uses draft for all senses as
the verb; 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; 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, including
draftsman (male or female) (although in regard to drinks,
draught is sometimes found). 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. The pronunciation is always
the same for all meanings within a dialect (RP , General American
). The spelling draught is older; draft appeared
first in the late 16th century.
||The same difference applies to cognate words derived from the
Greek word "παις/Pais"(a child), such as paedophile/pedophile.
||When meaning "ordeal", in the phrase running the gantlet, some American
style guides favor gantlet.
This spelling is unused in Britain and less usual in America than
gauntlet. The word is an alteration of earlier
gantlope by folk etymology
with gauntlet , always spelled
||Scientists use the term glycerol, but
both spellings are used sporadically in the US.
||Grey became the established British spelling in the
20th century, pace
Dr. Johnson and others, and it is but a minor variant in American
English, according to dictionaries. Canadians tend to prefer
grey. The non-cognate greyhound was never grayhound. Both
Grey and Gray are found in proper names
everywhere in the English-speaking world. Americans tend to
differentiate spelling when comparing the color with the
||In the U.K., gaol and gaoler are used
sometimes, apart from literary usage, chiefly to describe a
medieval building and guard.
||For 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 U.K. as well as in
the U.S., it is still the proper spelling for the verb meaning
restrain. Canada as in the U.S.
||Licorice prevails in Canada and it is common in
Australia, but it is rarely found in the U.K.; liquorice,
which has a folk etymology cognate
with liquor, is all but nonexistent in the U.S. ("chiefly
British", according to dictionaries).
||and other words using the former æ
||The related adjective is normally molluscan in all
forms of English.
||In all senses of the word. In Canada, both words have wide
currency. When speaking of the noun, the US will also use the
||Omelette prevails in Canada and in Australia. The
shorter spelling is the older in English, in spite of the etymology
||Originally an Americanism, this word made its widespread
appearance in Britain during the Phoney
War. Famously used frequently in Catcher in the Rye.
||"Program" is generally used for computer programming, but the
older form is normally used in the U.K. for agendas and theatrical
||in the U.K., or in the U.S. and Canada.
||Both date back to Middle English. The OED records several dozen
variants. In the U.K., plough has been the standard
spelling for about three centuries. Although plow was Noah
Webster's pick, plough continued to have some currency in
the U.S., as the entry in Webster's Third (1961) implies.
Newer dictionaries label plough as "chiefly British". The
word snowplough/snowplow, originally an
Americanism, it predates Webster's reform, and it was first
recorded as snow plough. Canada has both plough
and plow, although snowplough is much rarer there
than snowplow. In the US, "plough" sometimes describes a
horsedrawn variety while "plow" refers to a gasoline powered
variety. "Plow" has roots in the Latin "plovum".
|rack and ruin
||wrack and ruin
||Several 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) In "(w)rack and
ruin", the W-less variant is now prevalent in the U.K. but not the
|sceptic (-al, -ism)
||skeptic (-al, -ism)
||The American spelling, akin to Greek, was preferred by Fowler,
and is used by many Canadians, where it is the earlier form.
Sceptic also pre-dates the European settlement of the
U.S., 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 U.K.; 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 hard "c", though in French that
letter is silent and the word is pronounced like
||Level of a building. The plurals are storeys vs.
stories respectively. The letter "e" is used in British
English and in Canada to differentiate between levels of buildings
and a story as in a literary work.
||Sulfur is the international standard in the sciences
(IUPAC), and it is supported by the U.K.'s RSC. Sulphur was
preferred by Dr. Johnson, it is still used by British and Irish
scientists, and it is still actively taught in British and Irish
schools. It prevails in Canada and Australia, and it
is also found in some American place names (e.g., Sulphur
Springs, Texas and White Sulphur Springs, West
Virginia). American English usage guides suggest
sulfur for technical usage, and both sulphur and
sulfur in common usage and in literature.
||The outer portion of a wheel, which contacts the road or the
rail and may be made of metal or rubber. In Canada as in the U.S.
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 U.K. in the 19th century somehow for rubber / pneumatic
tyres, possibly because it was used in some patent documents,
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 the tire spelling
||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 U.K. and Australia. Thus, we have Vice-Admiral,
Vice-President, and Vice-Principal, but never
"Vise-" for any one of these.
||Yoghurt is an also-ran in the U.S., as is
yoghourt in the U.K. 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 being bilingual. In Australia as in the
U.K. Whatever the spelling is, the word has different
pronunciations: in the U.K. or , only in America, Ireland, and
Australia. The word comes from the Turkish language word yoğurt. the
voiced velar fricative
represented by ğ in the modern Turkish alphabet was traditionally
written gh in romanizations of the Ottoman Turkish alphabet used
For quotation marks
English generally uses "double quotes" primarily except in
newspaper headings, while the British more commonly use 'single
quotes' primarily outside of periodicals. British English always
puts sentence-final punctuation outside of quotation marks if it is
not part of the quoted material; e.g. 'word'. instead of "word."
which is a more typically American typesetting convention.
- Burchfield, R. W. (Editor); Fowler, H. W. (1996). The New
Fowler's Modern English Usage. Clarendon Press. ISBN
- Fowler, Henry; Winchester, Simon (introduction) (2003 reprint).
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage (Oxford Language Classics
Series). Oxford Press. ISBN 0-19-860506-4.
- Hargraves, Orin (2003). Mighty Fine Words and Smashing
Expressions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN
- Nicholson, Margaret; (1957). "A Dictionary of American-English
Usage Based on Fowler's Modern English Usage". Signet, by
arrangement with Oxford University Press.
- Oxford English
Dictionary, 20 vols. (1989) Oxford University Press.
- Webster's Third New
International Dictionary (1961; repr. 2002)
- Oxford English Dictionary, airplane, draft revision
March 2008; airplane is labelled "chiefly North
- British National Corpus. Retrieved 1 April 2008.
- Merriam-Webster online, aerodrome.
Retrieved 1 April 2008.
- Oxford English Dictionary, airdrome.
- History & Etymology of Aluminium
- Peters, p. 32.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
Fourth Edition. 
- OED, shivaree
- Oxford English Dictionary, furore.
- Peters, p. 221.
- Oxford English Dictionary, Grotty; Grody
- Peters, p. 242
- Oxford English Dictionary, mom and mam
- Peters, p. 364.
- Merriam Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary, naïveté
- Oxford English Dictionary, persnickety
- Peters, p. 487
- In Webster's New World College Dictionary,
scalawag is lemmatized without alternative, while
scallawag and scallywag are defined by
cross-reference to it. All of them are marked as "originally
- See, for example, the November 2006 BMA document titled Selection for Specialty Training
- Peters, p. 510.
- Oxford English Dictionary, colour, color.
- Peters, p. 397.
- Johnson 1755—preface
- Oxford English Dictionary, honour, honor.
- From the OED cites, Chaucer used both forms, but the last
usages of the "re" form were in the early 1700s. The Oxford English
Dictionary: 1989 edition.
- (except in a 1579 usage) The Oxford English Dictionary: 1989
- Although acre was spelled æcer in Old English
and aker in Middle English, the acre spelling of
French was introduced in the 15th Century. Similarly,
loover was respelled in the 17th Century by influence of
the unrelated Louvre. (see
OED, s.v. acre and louvre)
- Peters, p. 461.
- Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers of Australian
Government Publications, Third Edition, Revised by John Pitson,
Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1978, page 10,
"In general, follow the spellings given in the latest edition of
the Concise Oxford Dictionary.
- 1989 Oxford English
- Oxford English Dictionary, -ize.
- Hargraves, p. 22.
- Peters, p. 298
- Peters, p. 298.
- "prize". Webster's Third New International Dictionary,
Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. Also, "prize".
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Ed.
- According to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary,
Eleventh Ed.: prise is a "chiefly Brit var of
- Peters, p. 441
- Peters, p. 446.
- Oxford English Dictionary, analyse, -ze, v. . Retrieved
- Both the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and
American Heritage Dictionary
have catalog as the main headword and catalogue as an equal
- Peters, p. 236.
- Peters, p. 36.
- Peters, p. 20.
- Webster's Third, p. 23a.
- Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, airplane.
- Peters, p. 20, p. 389.
- Peters, p. 338.
- Peters, p. 258
- Peters, p. 41.
- Oxford English Dictionary, for ever.
- AskOxford: forever. Retrieved 24 June 2008. Cf.
Peters, p. 214.
- For example, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
- The Columbia Guide to Standard American English
- Peters, p. 309.
- Cf. Oxford English Dictionary, traveller,
- Peters, p. 581
- Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, jewellery U.K., American jewelry
- Peters, p. 283
- Peters, p. 501.
- Peters, p. 22.
- Peters, p. 480. Also National Routeing Guide
- In American English, swingeing is sometimes spelled
swinging see American Heritage Dictionary entry, and the reader
has to discern from the context which word and pronunciation is
- British National Corpus
- Peters, p. 7
- Peters, p. 303.
- Oxford English Dictionary, artefact.
- Peters, p. 49.
- Merriam-Webster Online. (Accessed 30 December
- Peters, p. 282.
- Peters, p. 285
- Merriam-Webster Online. (Accessed 30 December
- Peters, p. 340.
- Peters, p. 443.
- Bureau International des Poids et Mesures, 2006, p.
- The Metric Conversion Act of 1985 gives the Secretary of
Commerce of the US the responsibility of interpreting or modifying
the SI for use in the US. The Secretary of Commerce delegated this
authority to the Director of the National
Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) ( Turner, 2008). In 2008, the NIST published the
US version ( Taylor and Thompson, 2008a) of the English text
of the eighth edition of the International
Bureau of Weights and Measures publication Le Système
International d’ Unités (SI) ( BIPM, 2006). In the NIST publication, the spellings
"meter," "liter," and "deka" are used rather than "metre", "litre",
and "deca" as in the original BIPM English text ( Taylor and Thompson, 2008a, p. iii). The Director of
the NIST officially recognized this publication, together with
Taylor and Thompson (2008b), as the "legal
interpretation" of the SI for the United States ( Turner, 2008).
- See for example
- Peters, p. 104.
- Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. Retrieved
- Merriam-Webster Online. (Accessed 1
- Cambridge Advanced Learner’s
Dictionary. (Accessed 1 January 2008)
- Peters, p. 165.
- Oxford English Dictionary, draught.
- Peters, p. 235
- tiscali.reference. Retrieved on 2007-03-10.
- Peters, p. 321.
- Peters, p. 360
- Peters, p. 392.
- Oxford English Dictionary, phoney, phony
- Peters, p. 449.
- Oxford English Dictionary, plough, plow.
- Peters, p. 230.
- Maven's word of the day: rack/wrack
- Cald Rack
- Peters, p. 502.
- Oxford English Dictionary, sceptic, skeptic.
- Royal Society of Chemistry 1992 policy
- "The spelling sulfur predominates in United States
technical usage, while both sulfur and sulphur
are common in general usage. British usage tends to favor
sulphur for all applications. The same pattern is seen in
most of the words derived from sulfur." Usage note,
Merriam-Webster Online. (Accessed 1 January
- The contrasting spellings of the chemical elements
Al and S mean that the American
spelling aluminum sulfide becomes aluminum
sulphide in Canada, and as aluminium sulphide in
older British usage.
- Peters, p. 553.
- Peters, p. 556.
- Peters, p. 587. Yogourt is an accepted variant in
French of the more normal Standard French yaourt.
- Merriam-Webster Online – Yogurt entry