Spelling Differences Between British And American English

Spelling Differences Between British And American English

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.

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 English American English
colour color
flavour flavor
humour humor
labour labor
neighbour neighbor
honour honor
armour armor
behaviour behavior
candour candor
clamour clamor
demeanour demeanor
endeavour endeavor
favour favor
harbour habor
odour odor
parlour parlor

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 English America English
Apologise or Apologize Apologize
Organise or Organize Organize
Recognise or Recognize Recognize
Familiarise or Familiarize Familiarize
Civilise or Civilize Civilize

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 English American English
Analyse Analyze
Paralyse Paralyze

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 English American English
Travel Travel
Travelled Traveled
Travelling Traveling
Traveller Traveler
British English American English
Fuel Fuel
Fuelled Fueled
Fuelling Fueling

Doubled consonants

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

British English American English
Appal Appall
Carburettor Carburetor
Counsellor Counselor
Distil Distill
Enrol Enroll
Fulfil Fufill
Instalment Installment
Instil Instill
Skilful Skillful

"-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 English American English
Leukaemia Leukemia
Manoeuvre Maneuver
Oestrogen Estrogen
Paediatric Pediatric
Anaemia Anemia
Diarrhoea Diarrhea
Encyclopaedia Encyclopedia
Aeon Eon
Aesthetic Esthetic
Anaesthesia Anesthesia
Gynaecologist Gynecologist
Gonorrhoea Gonorrhea

"-ence" vs "-ense"

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

British English American English
Defence Defense
Licence (noun) License
Offence Offense
Pretence Pretense

"-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 English American English
Analogue Analog or Analogue
Catalogue Catalog or Catalogue
Dialogue Dialog or Dialogue
Monologue Monolog 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 English American English
Calibre Caliber
Centre Center
Fibre Fiber
Litre Liter
Lustre Luster
Meagre Meager
Metre Meter
Sabre Saber
Sceptre Scepter
Sepulchre Sepulcher
Sombre Somber
Theatre Theater

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.

British American
Aeroplane Airplane
Artefact Artifact
Cheque Check
Cosy Cozy
Doughnut Donut
Draught Draft
Gaol Jail
Grey Gray
Jewellery Jewelry
Sceptical Skeptical
Sulphur Sulfur

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