Spelling Differences Between British And American English

One of the most notable difference between British and American English is how some words are spelled. The differences in spelling first arose from the fact that at the time the British colonised North America, English spellings weren’t yet standardised.

Standardised spelling of English spellings in England happened in the 18th century, after the American Colonies had already declared independence were already Americanising the language. More spelling differences came when Noah Webster (founder of Webster’s Dictionary) attempted to simplify English spellings in America by trying to spell the words the way they are pronounced.

While the British kept the spellings of words they absorbed from other languages (e.g. Greek and French), the Americans adapted the spelling to reflect the way that the words are actually pronounce. Below are some of the common spelling differences that exist between British and American English.

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British suffix "-our" is "-or" in American English

British English words ending in "-our" usually end in "-or" in American English, as shown in the table below:

British EnglishAmerican English
colourcolor
flavourflavor
humourhumor
labourlabor
neighbourneighbor
honourhonor
armourarmor
behaviourbehavior
candourcandor
clamourclamor
demeanourdemeanor
endeavourendeavor
favourfavor
harbourhabor
odourodor
parlourparlor

British suffix "-ise" is "-ize" in American English

Verbs that are suffixed with "-ise" in British English are suffixed with "-ize" in American English. One thing I have to stress here is that both the "–ize" and "–ise" spellings are valid in British English, though many British people prefer "–ise" spellings. However you cannot use "–ise" spellings in the American English.

British EnglishAmerica English
Apologise or ApologizeApologize
Organise or OrganizeOrganize
Recognise or RecognizeRecognize
Familiarise or FamiliarizeFamiliarize
Civilise or CivilizeCivilize

British suffix "-yse" is "-yze" in American English

Verbs in that end in "-yse" in British English end in "-yze" in American English. Unlike with the "-ize" which you can use perfectly in British English, the –yze ending in words like analyze and paralyze is only used American English.

For example:

British EnglishAmerican English
AnalyseAnalyze
ParalyseParalyze

Double "L" vs single "L"

In British English, words derived from a verb ending with a vowel followed by "L" have double "L" whilst in American English, the "L" is not doubled. For example:

British EnglishAmerican English
TravelTravel
TravelledTraveled
TravellingTraveling
TravellerTraveler
British EnglishAmerican English
FuelFuel
FuelledFueled
FuellingFueling

Doubled consonants

Some words that have single consonants in British English have double consonants in American English. For example:

British EnglishAmerican English
AppalAppall
CarburettorCarburetor
CounsellorCounselor
DistilDistill
EnrolEnroll
FulfilFufill
InstalmentInstallment
InstilInstill
SkilfulSkillful

"-ae-" and "-oe-" vs "-e-"

Many of the words that were borrowed from Ancient Greek have double vowels "-ae-" or "-oe-" in British English but in American English they have only "–e-". Most of these words are scientific, medical, or technical words. For example:

British EnglishAmerican English
LeukaemiaLeukemia
ManoeuvreManeuver
OestrogenEstrogen
PaediatricPediatric
AnaemiaAnemia
DiarrhoeaDiarrhea
EncyclopaediaEncyclopedia
AeonEon
AestheticEsthetic
AnaesthesiaAnesthesia
GynaecologistGynecologist
GonorrhoeaGonorrhea

"-ence" vs "-ense"

For some British English nouns that end with "-ence" the Americans use "-ense". For example:

British EnglishAmerican English
DefenceDefense
Licence (noun)License
OffenceOffense
PretencePretense

"-ogue" vs "-og"

The Americans sometimes drop the "ue" from some nouns that end with "-ogue" in British English. However, the distinctions are not hard and fast. Spelling such as analogue are very much acceptable but not very common in American English.

British EnglishAmerican English
AnalogueAnalog or Analogue
CatalogueCatalog or Catalogue
DialogueDialog or Dialogue
MonologueMonolog or Monologue

"-re" vs "–er"

The "–re" ending of most words originated comes from French and is preserved in British English. However, In the American English it was replaced with "–er" to better reflect how the words are pronounced.

British EnglishAmerican English
CalibreCaliber
CentreCenter
FibreFiber
LitreLiter
LustreLuster
MeagreMeager
MetreMeter
SabreSaber
SceptreScepter
SepulchreSepulcher
SombreSomber
TheatreTheater

Words that were simplified in American English

Many American spellings are a result of Noah Webster’s spelling reforms, which simplified spelling and brought it closer to common American pronunciation.

BritishAmerican
AeroplaneAirplane
ArtefactArtifact
ChequeCheck
CosyCozy
DoughnutDonut
DraughtDraft
GaolJail
GreyGray
JewelleryJewelry
ScepticalSkeptical
SulphurSulfur

Sydney Chako

Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics teacher at Sytech Learning Academy. From Junior Secondary School to Tertiary Level Engineering Mathematics and Engineering Science.

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