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American and British English

spelling differences
American and British English spelling differences are one
aspect of American and British English differences.

British English (BrE)

American English (AmE)

• 1 Historical origins
• 2 Spelling and pronunciation
• 3 Latin-derived spellings
o 3.1 -our, -or
o 3.2 -re, -er
o 3.3 -ce, -se
o 3.4 -xion, -ction
• 4 Greek spellings
o 4.1 -ise, -ize
4.1.1 -yse, -yze
o 4.2 -ogue, -og
o 4.3 Simplification of ae (æ) and oe (œ)
• 5 Compounds and hyphens
• 6 Doubled consonants
o 6.1 Doubled in British English
o 6.2 Doubled in American English
• 7 Dropped e
• 8 Different spellings, different connotations
• 9 Acronyms and abbreviations
• 10 Miscellaneous spelling differences

The spelling systems of Commonwealth countries, for the most

part, closely resemble the British system. In Canada, however,
while most spelling is "British", many "American" spellings are
also used. Additional information on Canadian and Australian
spelling is provided throughout the article.

Historical origins
In the early 18th century, English spelling 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's
Dictionary of the English Language (1755), whereas many
American English spellings follow Noah Webster's An American
Dictionary of the English Language of 1828.

Webster was a strong proponent of spelling reform for reasons

both philological and nationalistic. Many spelling changes
proposed in the US 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 decisive. Subsequent
spelling adjustments in the UK had little effect on present-day
US spelling, and vice versa. While in many cases American
English deviated in the 19th century from mainstream British
spelling, on the other hand it has also often retained older
Spelling and pronunciation
In a few cases, essentially the same word has a different
spelling which 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 withsmelt (mainly UK)
versus smelled (mainly US): see American and British English
differences: Verb morphology.

UK US Notes
aeroplan airplane Aeroplane, originally a French loanword, is
e the older spelling. According to the OED,
[a]irplane became the standard U.S. term
(replacing aeroplane) after it 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. The
case is similar for UK aerodrome and
US airdrome, although both of these forms
are now obsolescent. The
prefixes aero- and air- both mean air, the first
coming from the Greek wordαέρας. Thus, for
example, the first appears in aeronautics,
aerostatics and aerodynamics, and so on,
where the second suffix is a Greek word,
while the second occurs (invariably)
in aircraft, airport, airliner, airmail, etc. where
the second 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 (the current French term is,
however, avion — aéroplanedesignating in
French the plane ancestor). Both Canada and
Australia use aerodrome as a technical term.
aluminiu aluminum The spelling aluminium is the international
m standard in the sciences (IUPAC). The
American spelling is nonetheless used by
many American scientists. Humphry Davy,
the element's discoverer, first proposed the
namealumium, and then later aluminum. The
name aluminium was finally adopted to
conform with the -ium ending of metallic
elements. Canada as US, Australia as UK.
arse ass In vulgar senses "buttocks"
("anus"/"wretch"); unrelated sense
"donkey"/"idiot" is ass in both. Both forms
are found in Canada and Australia ("ass" to a
lesser extent in the latter; "arse" may be
used in North America as a "non-vulgar
barmy balmy In sense "slightly insane", "crazy",
"foolish", which has limited meaning in
American English. Both forms originated in
19th century England from other
senses: barmy meant "frothing [as of
beer]"; balmy means "warm and soft [as of
weather]". British barmy is generally
misheard in North America as balmy.
behove behoove
bogeym boogeyman The spoken form is pronounced IPA: /ˈboʊgiː
an ˌmæn/ ("BOH-ghi-man") in the UK, so that the
US form,boogeyman, is reminiscent of the
1970s disco dancing 'boogie' to the UK ear.
carburet carburetor British pronunciation IPA: /ˌkɑːbəˈɹɛtə(ɹ)/;
tor US IPA: /ˈkɑɹbəˌɹeɪtɚ/. Canada spelling and
pronunciation as US.
charivari shivaree,char In the US, where both terms are mainly
ivari regional, charivari is usually pronounced
as shivaree, which is also found in Canada
and Cornwall, and is a corruption of the
French word.
coupé coupe For a two-door car; the horse-drawn carriage
is coupé in both; unrelated "cup"/"bowl" is
always coupe. In the US, the E is accented
when used as a foreign word.
eyrie aerie Rhyme with weary and hairy respectively.
Both spellings and pronunciations occur in
the US.
fillet fillet, filet Meat or fish. Pronounced the French way
(approximately) in the US.
furore furor Furore is a late 18th-century Italian loan that
replaced the Latinate form in the UK in the
following century, and is usually pronounced
with a voiced e. Canada as US, Australia has
grotty grody Clippings of grotesque; both are slang terms
from the 1960s.
haulier hauler Haulage contractor; haulier is the older
moustac mustache In the US, according to the Merriam-Webster
he 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.
mum(my mom(my) Mother. Mom is sporadically regionally found
) in the UK (West Midlands English); some
British dialects havemam, and this is often
used in Northern English, Irish and Welsh
English. In the US region of New England,
especially in the case of the Boston accent,
the British pronunciation of mum is often
retained, while it is still spelledmom. Canada
has mom and mum; in Australia, mum is
naivety naiveté,naïve The American forms are from French,
té ending [-'eɪ]; the British form is nativised,
ending [-i].
pernicke persnickety Persnickety is a late 19th-century North
ty American alteration of the Scottish
word pernickety.
quin quint Abbreviations of quintuplet.
scallywa scalawag In the US (where the word originated,
g as scalawag), scallywag is not unknown.
snigger snicker According to major dictionaries, both forms
can occur in both dialects,
although snigger can cause offense in the US
due to the similarity to nigger.
specialit specialty In British English the standard usage
y 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.
titbit tidbit

Latin-derived spellings
-our, -or

Most words ending in unstressed -our in the United Kingdom

(e.g., colour, flavour, honour, armour, rumour) end in -or in the
United States (i.e., color,flavor, honor, armor, rumor). Where
the vowel is unreduced, this does not occur: contour,
paramour, troubadour, are spelled thus everywhere. 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 or -ur. After
the Norman Conquest, the termination became -our in Anglo-
French in an attempt to represent the Old French pronunciation
of words ending in -or, though color has been used occasionally
in English since the fifteenth century. The -our ending was 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 termination; many words once ending in -our (for
example, chancellour and governour) now end in
-oreverywhere. 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)rmeaning "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 of Latin
origin (e.g. color) 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 only.

Webster's 1828 dictionary featured only -or and is generally

given much of the credit for the adoption of this form in the US.
By contrast, Dr Johnson's 1755 dictionary used the -our spelling
for all words still so spelled in Britain, as well as
for emperour, errour, governour, horrour, tenour,terrour,
and tremour, where the u has 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, "honor appears in the
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. "Examples such as color, flavor, behavior,
harbor, 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: honor andhonour were equally
frequent down to the 17th century, Honor still is, in the UK, the
normal spelling as a person's name.

Derivatives and inflected forms. In derivatives and

inflected forms of the -our/or words, in British usage the u is
kept before English suffixes that are freely attachable to
English words (neighbourhood, humourless, savoury) and
suffixes of Greek or Latin origin that have been naturalized
(favourite, honourable, behaviourism); before Latin suffixes
that are not freely attachable to English words, the u can be
dropped (honorific, honorist,vigorous, humorous, laborious,
invigorate), can be either dropped or retained (colo(u)ration,
colo(u)rize), or can be retained (colourist). In American usage,
derivatives and inflected forms are built by simply adding the
suffix in all environments (favorite, savory, etc.) since the u is
absent to begin with.

Exceptions. American usage in most cases retains the u in the

word glamour, which comes from Scots, not Latin or French;
saviour is a common variant of savior in the US. The British
spelling is very common for "honour" (and "favour") on
wedding invitations in the United States. The Space Shuttle
Endeavour has a u as it is named after Captain Cook's ship,
HMS Endeavour.

The name of the herb savory is thus spelled everywhere,

although the probably related adjective savo(u)ry, like savour,
has a u in the UK. Honor (the name) and arbor (the tool) have
-or in Britain, as mentioned above. As a general noun, rigour
(IPA: /ˈrɪgə(ɹ)/) has a u in the UK; the medical term rigor(often
IPA: /ˈraɪgɔː(ɹ)/) does not.

Commonwealth usage. Commonwealth countries normally

follow British usage. In Canada -or endings are not uncommon,
particularly in the Prairie Provinces, though they are rarer in
Eastern Canada. In Australia, -or terminations enjoyed some
use in the 19th century, and now are sporadically found in
some regions, usually in local and regional newspapers,
though -our is almost universal. The name of the Australian
Labor Party, founded in 1891, is a remnant of this trend.

-re, -er
In British usage, some words of French, Latin, or Greek origin
end with a consonant followed by -re, with the -re unstressed
and pronounced /ə(ɹ)/. Most of these words have the ending -er
in the US. The difference is most common for words ending
-bre or -tre: British spellings theatre, goitre, litre,lustre, mitre,
nitre, reconnoitre, saltpetre, spectre, centre, titre; calibre, fibre,
sabre, and sombre all have -er in American spelling. The
ending -cre, as inacre, lucre, massacre, mediocre, is preserved
in American English, to indicate the c is pronounced /k/ rather
than /s/. After other consonants, there are not many -re
endings even in British English: louvre, manoeuvre after -v-;
meagre, ogre after -g-; euchre, ochre, sepulchre after -ch-. In
the US, ogre andeuchre are standard; manoeuvre and
sepulchre are usually maneuver and sepulcher; and the other
-re forms listed are variants of the equivalent -er form.

The e preceding the r is retained in US derived forms of nouns

and verbs, for example, fibers, reconnoitered, centering, which
are, naturally, fibres,reconnoitred and centring respectively in
British usage. It is dropped for other inflections, for
example, central, fibrous, spectral. However such dropping
cannot be regarded as proof of an -re British spelling: for
example, entry derives from enter, which has not been
spelled entre for centuries.

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

Exceptions. Many other words have -er in British English.

These include Germanic words like anger, mother, timber,
water, and Romance words like danger, quarter, river. Some -er
words, like many -re words, have a cognate in Modern French
spelled with -re: among these are chapter,
December,diameter, disaster, enter, letter, member, minister,
monster, number, oyster, powder, proper, sober, tender, filter,

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
or 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.

In rare instances, places in the United States have Centre in

their names (e.g., Rockville Centre, New York), named both
before and after spelling reform, and there may also be rare
instances of the use of Center in the UK.

For British accoutre(ment), US practice varies: Merriam-

Webster prefers the -re spelling, American Heritage
the -er spelling.

More recent French loanwords retain an -re spelling in

American English. These are not exceptions when a French-
style pronunciation is used (/ɹ(ə)/rather than /ɚ/), as with
double-entendre, genre, or oeuvre; however, the unstressed
/ɚ/ pronunciation of an -er ending is used more or less
frequently with some words, including cadre, macabre, maître
d', Notre Dame, piastre, and timbre.

Commonwealth usage. The -re endings are standard

throughout the Commonwealth. The -er spellings are
recognized, as minor variants, only in Canada.

-ce, -se

Nouns ending in -ce with -se verb forms: American English and
British English both retain the noun/verb distinction in advice /
advise and device /devise, but American English has
abandoned the distinction
with licence / license and practice / practise (where the two
words in each pair arehomophones) that British spelling
retains. American English uses practice and license for both

Also, American English has kept the Anglo-French spelling for

defense and offense, which are usually defence and offence in
British English; similarly there are the American pretense and
British pretence; but derivatives such as defensive, offensive,
and pretension are always thus spelled in both systems.

-xion, -ction

The spellings connexion, inflexion, deflexion, reflexion,

genuflexion are now somewhat rare in everyday British usage,
but are not used at all in the US: the more common connection,
inflection, deflection, reflection, genuflection have almost
become the standard internationally. According to the Oxford
English Dictionary the older spellings are more etymologically
conservative, since these four words actually derive from Latin
forms in -xio-. The US usage derives from Webster who
discarded -xion in favour of -ction for analogy with such verbs
as connect.

Connexion has found preference again amongst recent British

government initiatives such as Connexions (the national
careers and training scheme for school early leavers). Until the
early 1980s, The Times of London also used connexion as part
of its house style. It is still used in legal texts and British
Methodism retains the eighteenth century spelling connexion
to describe its national organization, for historical reasons.

In both forms, complexion (which comes from the

stem complex) is standard and complection is not. However,
the adjective complected (as in "dark-complected"), although
sometimes objected to, can be used as an alternative
to complexioned in the US, but is quite unknown in this sense
in the UK, although there is an extremely rare usage to
mean complicated (OED). Note, however, that crucifiction is an
error in either form of English;crucifixion is the correct spelling.

Greek spellings
-ise, -ize

American spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases,

such as organize, recognize, and realize. British usage accepts
both -ize and the more French-looking -ise (organise, recognise,
realise). The -ize spelling is preferred by some authoritative
British sources including the Oxford English Dictionary —
which, until recently, did not list the -ise form of many words,
even as an alternative — and Fowler's Modern English Usage.
The OED firmly deprecates usage of "-ise", stating, "[T]he
suffix…, whatever the element to which it is added, is in its
origin the Gr[eek] -ιζειν, L[atin] -izāre; and, as the
pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English
the special French spelling in -iser should be followed, in
opposition to that which is at once etymological and
phonetic.Noah Webster rejected -ise for the same reasons.
Despite these denouncements, 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 -ise form is used by the British government and is more

prevalent in common usage within the UK today; the ratio
between -ise and -ize 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 -ize, is
used in many British-based academic publications, such as
Nature, the Biochemical Journal and The Times Literary
Supplement. 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. Conversely, Canadian usage is
essentially like American. Worldwide, -ize endings prevail in
scientific writing and are commonly used by many international

The same pattern applies to derivatives and inflections such as


Some verbs ending in -ize or -ise do not derive from Greek

-ιζειν, and their endings are therefore not interchangeable;
some verbs take the -z- form exclusively, for instance capsize,
seize (except in the legal phrase to be seised of/to stand seised
to), size and prize (only in the "appraise" sense), whereas
others take only -s-: advertise, advise, apprise, arise, chastise,
circumcise, incise, excise, comprise, compromise, demise,
despise, devise, disguise,exercise, franchise, improvise,
merchandise, revise, supervise, surmise, surprise, and televise.
Finally, the verb prise (meaning to force or lever) is
spelledprize in the US and prise everywhere else, including
Canada, although in North American English pry (a back-
formation from or alteration ofprise) is often used in its place.

-yse, -yze

The distribution of -yse and -yze endings, as in analyse /

analyze, is different: the former is British, the latter American.
Thus, UK analyse, catalyse,hydrolyse, paralyse; US analyze,
catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze. However, analyse was commonly
spelled analyze from the first—the spelling preferred by
Samuel Johnson; the word, which came probably from French
analyser, on Greek analogy would have been analysize, from
French analysiser, from whichanalyser was formed by
haplology. In Canada, -yze prevails; in Australia, -yse stands
alone. Unlike -ise/-ize, neither of the endings has any
resemblance to the Greek original ending. The Greek verb from
which the word λύσις (lysis) (and thus all its compound words)
derives, is λύειν (lyein).

-ogue, -og

Some words of Greek origin, a few of which derive from

Greek λόγος or αγωγός, can end either in -ogue or
in -og: analog(ue), catalog(ue), dialog(ue),demagog(ue), pedag
og(ue), monolog(ue), homolog(ue), etc. In the UK (and
generally in the Commonwealth), the -ogue endings are the
standard. In the US, catalog has a slight edge
over catalogue (note the inflected
forms, cataloged and cataloging v catalogued and cataloguing)
; analog is standard for the adjectivebut
both analogue and analog are current for the noun; in all other
cases the -gue endings strongly prevail, except for such
expressions as dialog box in computing, which are also used in
the UK. Finally, in Canada, New Zealand and Australia as well
as the US analoghas currency as a technical term (e.g. in
electronics, as in "analog computer" and many video game
consoles might have an analog stick).
Simplification of ae (æ) and oe (œ)

Many words are written with ae or oe in British English, but a

single e in American English. The sound in question is /i/ or /ɛ/
(or unstressed /ə/). Examples (with non-American letter in
bold): anaemia, anaesthesia, caesium, diarrhoea,gynaecology,
haemophilia, leukaemia, oesophagus, oestrogen, orthopaedic,
paediatric. Words where British usage varies include
encyclopaedia, foetus (though the British medical community
deems this variant unacceptable for the purposes of journal
articles and the like, since the Latin spelling is actually fetus),
homoeopathy, mediaeval. In American usage, aestheticsand
archaeology prevail over esthetics and archeology, while
oenology is a minor variant of enology.

The Ancient Greek diphthongs <αι> and <οι> were

transliterated into Latin as <ae> and <oe>. 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 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 example, oeconomics,
praemium, and aenigma. In others, it is retained in all varieties:
for example,phoenix, and usually subpoena. This is especially
true of names: Caesar, Oedipus, Phoebe, etc. There is no
reduction ofLatin -ae plurals (e.g. larvae); nor where the
digraph <ae>/<oe> does not result from the Greek-style
ligature: for example,maelstrom, toe. British 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 on airship and aircraft. Airplane dates from
1907, at which time aero- was trisyllabic, often written aëro-.

Commonwealth usage. In Canada, e is usually preferred

over oe and often over ae as well; in Australia and elsewhere,
British usage prevails, but the spellings with just e are
increasingly used. Manoeuvre is the only spelling in Australia
and the most common one in Canada,
where maneuver and manoeuver are also sometimes found. In
Canada, oe and ae 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 (which tend to have
more phonemic spelling) lack the ae and oe spellings (a
notable exception is French), as do Swedish, Polish, and others,
while Dutch uses them ("ae" is rare and "oe" is the normal
representation of the sound IPA: [u], while written "u"
represents either the sound y or ʏ in IPA). Danish, Icelandic,
Norwegian and some other languages retain the original
ligatures. German, through umlauts, retains its equivalent of
the ligature, for when written without the umlaut, words
resemble the British usage (i.e. ä becomes ae and ö becomes
oe). Similarly, Hungarian 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 counter- attack, whereas 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 editor-in-chief).

• any more or anymore: In sense "any longer", the single-

word form is usual in North America and Australia but
unusual in the UK, 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]".
• for ever or forever: Traditional British usage makes a
distinction between for ever, meaning for eternity (or a
very long time), as in "I have been waiting for you 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 useforever in all
• 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 consonants
Doubled in British English

The final consonant of an English word is sometimes doubled

when adding a suffix beginning with a vowel. Generally this
occurs only when the word's final syllable ends with a single
vowel followed by a single consonant, and the syllable is
stressed; but in British English, a final -l is 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-spellings are nonetheless 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 noun suffixes -er, -or.
British counsellor, cruellest,modelling, quarrelled, signalli
ng, traveller; American
usually counselor, cruelest, modeling, quarreled, signalin
g, traveler.
o parallel keeps a single -l- in British English, as in
American English (paralleling, unparalleled), to avoid
a cluster -llell-.
o Words with two vowels before l are covered where
the first either acts as a consonant
(Br equalling, initialled; US
usually equaling, initialed) or belongs to a separate
syllable (Br fu•el•ling, di•alled; US
usually fu•el•ing di•aled)
 The distinction applies to victualler/victualer in
spite of the irregular pronunciation IPA: /
 British woollen is a further exception
(US woolen); also, wooly is accepted in America
though woolly dominates in both.
• Endings -ize/-ise, -ism, -ist, -ish usually do not double
the l in British
English: normalise, dualism, novelist, devilish
o Exceptions: tranquillise; duellist, medallist, panellist,
sometimes triallist
• For -ous, British English has a
single l in scandalous and perilous, but two
in marvellous and libellous.
• For -ee, British English has libellee.
• For -age British English has pupillage but vassalage.
• American English has unstressed -ll-, as in the UK, in
some words where the root has -l. These are cases where
the alteration occurs in the source language, often Latin.
(Examples: bimetallism, cancellation, chancellor, crystalli
ze, excellent, tonsillitis)
• But both dialects
have compelled, excelling, propelled, rebelling (notice the
stress difference); revealing, fooling (double vowel before
the l); 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 US, the
spellings kidnaped and worshiped, introduced by the Chicago
Tribune in the 1920s, are common
alongside kidnapped and worshipped, the only standard British


• British calliper or caliper; American caliper.

• British jewellery; American jewelry. The standard
pronunciations (UK IPA: /ˈdʒuː(ə)lri/, US IPA: /ˈdʒu(ə)lri/) do
not reflect this difference. According to
Fowler, jewelry used to be the "rhetorical and poetic"
spelling in the UK. Canada has both, but jewellery is most
used. Likewise, Commonwealth (including Canada)
has jeweller and US has jeweler for a jewel(le)ry retailer.
Doubled in American English

Conversely, there are words where British writers prefer a

single l and Americans usually use a double l. These
include wil(l)ful, skil(l)ful, thral(l)dom,appal(l), fulfil(l), fulfil(l)m
ent, enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment. In the UK ll is used occasionally
in distil(l), instil(l), enrol(l) and enthral(l)ment, and often
inenthral(l). Former spellings instal, fulness, and dulness are
now rare. The Scottish tolbooth is cognate with toll booth, but
has a specific distinct sense.

The preceding words have monosyllabic cognates always

written with -ll: will, skill, thrall, pall, fill, roll, stall, still.
Comparable cases where a single l occurs in American English
include full→useful, handful; all→almighty, altogether; null→ann
ul, annulment; till→until; well→welfare, welcome; chill→chilblain
; and others where the connection is less transparent. Note
that British fulfil and American fulfill are never fullfill or fullfil.

Dr Johnson wavered on this issue; his dictionary of 1755

lemmatizes distil and instill, downhil and uphill.

Dropped e
British English sometimes keeps silent e when adding suffixes
where American English does not.

• British prefers ageing, American

usually aging (compare raging, ageism). UK
often routeing; US
usually routing (for route; rout makesrouting everywhere)
. Both systems retain the
silent e in dyeing, singeing, swingeing, to distinguish
from dying, singing, swinging. In contrast, batheand the
British bath both form bathing. UK often whingeing, US
less so; whinge is chiefly British. Both systems vary
for tinge and twinge; both
prefer cringing, hinging, lunging, syringing.
• Before -able, UK
prefers likeable, liveable, rateable, saleable, sizeable, uns
hakeable, where US prefers to drop the -e; but UK as US
prefers breathable, curable, datable, lovable, movable, no
table, provable, quotable, scalable, solvable, usable, and
those where the root is polysyllabic,
like believable or decidable. Both systems retain the
silent e when necessary to preserve a soft c, ch, or g, as
in traceable, cacheable,changeable; both
retain e after -dge, as in knowledgeable, unbridgeable.
• Both abridgment and the more regular abridgement are
current in the US, only the latter in the UK. Similarly
for lodg(e)ment. Both judgmentand judgement can be
found everywhere, although the former strongly prevails
in the US and the latter prevails in the UK except in law,
wherejudgment is standard. Similarly for abridgment.
Both prefer fledgling to fledgeling,
but ridgeling to ridgling.
• The informal Briticisms moreish (causing a desire for
more of something) and blokeish usually retain e; more
established words like slavish andbluish usually do not.

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.

• dependant or dependent: British dictionaries
distinguish between dependent (adjective)
and dependant (noun). In the US, 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. floppy disk and hard disk; short for diskette). For this
limited application, these spellings are used in both the
US 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, butensure 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>

• 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, which 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 style for all senses since
the 1960s, although programme is also common; see also
the name of The Micallef Program(me). In
Canada, program prevails, and the Canadian Oxford
Dictionary makes no meaning-based distinction between
it and programme; many Canadian government
documents useprogramme in all senses of the word also
to match the spelling of the French equivalent.

• tonne or ton: in the UK, the spelling tonne refers to the
unit of mass usually known as the metric ton in the US;
the short ton and the long ton are always thus spelled;
unqualified ton usually refers to the long ton in the UK
and to the short ton in the US.

Compare also meter/metre, for which an older English written

distinction between etymologically related forms with different
meanings once existed, but was obviated in the regularization
of American spellings.

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 initialisms, such as USA or
HTML; though it is occasionally done for some, such as Pc
(Police Constable).

Contractions, where the final letter is present, are often

written in British English without stops/periods (Mr, Mrs, Dr, St).
Abbreviations where the final letter is not present generally do
take stops/periods (such as vol., etc., ed.); British English
shares this convention with French: Mlle, Mme, Dr,Ste, but M.
for Monsieur. In American English, abbreviations like St., Mr.,
Mrs., and Dr. always require stops/periods.

Miscellaneous spelling differences

UK US Remarks
adze adze,
annexe annex To 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 military conquest, which would
be annexation – , it is usually spelled with an -e at
the end in the UK, but in the US it is not.
axe ax, axe Both noun and verb. The two-letter form is more
etymologically conservative (the word comes from
Old English æx).
camomil chamomi In the UK, according to the OED, "the
e, le, spelling cha- is chiefly in pharmacy, after Latin;
chamomi camomil that with ca- is literary and popular". In the
le e US chamomile dominates in all senses.
cheque check In banking. Hence pay cheque and paycheck.
Accordingly, the North American term for what is
elsewhere known as a current account or cheque
account is spelled chequing account in Canada
and checking account in the US. Some US financial
institutions, notably American Express, prefer
chequer checker As
in chequerboard/checkerboard, chequered/checke
red flag, etc. Canada as US. While "checker" is
more common in the US, "exchequer" is
commonly used.
cosy cozy In all senses (adjective, noun, verb).
cipher, cipher Both spellings are quite old.
doughnu doughnu In the US, both are used with donut indicated as a
t t, donut variant of doughnut. In the UK, donut is indicated
as a US variant fordoughnut.
draught draft The UK usually uses draft for all senses as a 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 the US. It uses either draught or draft
for a plan or sketch (but almost always
draughtsman in this sense; a draftsman drafts
legal documents). The US uses draft in all these
cases (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 /drɑ:ft/, General
American /dræft/). The spelling draughtis older;
draft appeared first in the late 16th century.
gauntlet gauntlet, When meaning "ordeal", in the phrase running the
gantlet ga(u)ntlet, 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
etymologywith gauntlet ("armored glove"), always
spelled thus.
glycerin glycerin,
Scientists use the term glycerol.
e glycerine
grey gray Grey became the established British spelling in
the 20th century, pace Dr. Johnson and others,
and is but a minor variant in American English,
according to dictionaries. Canadians tend to prefer
grey. Non-cognate greyhound is never grayhound.
BothGrey and Gray are found in proper names
jail, gaol jail In the UK, gaol and gaoler are used, apart from
literary usage, chiefly to describe a Medieval
building and guard.
kerb curb For the noun designating the edge of a roadway
(or the edge of a [UK] pavement/[US]
sidewalk/[Australia] footpath). Curbis the older
spelling, and in the UK as in the US is still the
proper spelling for the verb meaning restrain.
Canada as US.
liquorice licorice Licorice prevails in Canada and is common in
Australia, but is rarely found in the UK; liquorice,
which has a folk etymology cognate
with liquor, is all but nonexistent in the US.
("chiefly British", according to dictionaries).
mollusk, The related adjective is normally molluscan in
mollusc both.
In all senses of the word. In Canada both have
mould mold
wide currency.
moult molt
omelette omelet, Omelette prevails in Canada and Australia. The
omelette shorter spelling is older, despite the etymology
(French omelette).
Originally an Americanism, this word made its
phoney phony
appearance in Britain during the Phoney War.
Pronounced /-'dʒɑːməz/ in the
pyjamas pajamas UK, /-'dʒɑməz/ or /-'dʒæməz/ in the US. Canada
has both.
per cent percent
plough plow Both date back to Middle English; the OED records
several dozen variants. In the UK, plough has been
the standard spelling for about three
centuries. Although plow was Webster's
pick, plough continued to have currency in the US,
as the entry inWebster's Third (1961) implies;
newer dictionaries label plough "chiefly British".
The word snowplough/snowplow, originally an
Americanism, predates Webster's reform and was
first recorded as snow plough. Canada has
both plough and plow, although snowplough is
much rarer than snowplow.
rack and wrack Several words "rack" and "wrack" have been
ruin and ruin 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 UK but not the US.
sceptic skeptic The American spelling, akin to Greek, preferred by
(-al, (-al, Fowler, and used by many Canadians, is the
-ism) -ism) earlier form. Sceptic also pre-dates the settlement
of the US and 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; sceptic, an equal variant
in Webster's Third (1961), has now become
"chiefly British". Australians generally follow
British usage. All are pronounced with a hard "c"
though in French the letter is silent and is
pronounced like septique.
storey story Level of a building. Note also the differing
plural, storeys vs stories respectively.
sulphur sulphur, Sulfur is the international standard in the sciences
sulfur (IUPAC), and is supported by the UK's RSC.
Sulphur was preferred by Johnson, is still used by
British and Irish scientists and is still actively
taught in British and Irish schools, prevails in
Canada and Australia, and is also found in some
American place names (e.g., Sulphur Springs,
Texas and Sulphur, Louisiana). AmE usage guides
suggest sulfur for technical usage, and both
sulphur and sulfur in common usage.
tyre tire The outer lining of a wheel, which contacts the
road or rail and may be metal or rubber. Canada
as 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 tyrewas revived in the UK in the 19th
century for 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.
vice vise The two-jaw tool. Americans (and Canadians)
retain a medieval distinction between vise (the
tool) and vice (the sin and the Latin prefix
meaning "deputy"), both of which are vice in the
UK (and Australia).
yoghurt, yogurt Yoghurt is an also-ran in the US, as yoghourt is in
yogurt the UK. Although Oxford Dictionaries have always
preferred yogurt, in current British usage yoghurt
seems to be preferred. In Canada yogurt prevails,
despite the Canadian Oxford preferringyogourt,
which has the advantage of being bilingual,
English and French. Australia as the UK. Whatever
the spelling, the word has different pronunciations
in the UK /jɒ-/ (or /jəʊ-/) and the US. /joʊ-/.
Australia as US with regard to pronunciation. The
word comes from the Turkish yoğurt.; the voiced
velar fricative represented by ğ in the modern
Turkish (Latin) alphabet was traditionally written
gh in romanizations of the Ottoman Turkish
(Arabic) alphabet used before 1928.


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