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In the early 18th century, English spelling was not standardised. 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 United States 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 United 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 most Commonwealth countries and Ireland, for the most part, closely resemble the British system. In Canada, however, the preferred spellings include some American forms and some British, and Canadians are somewhat more tolerant of foreign forms.
Spelling and pronunciation
In a few cases, essentially the same word has a different spelling which reflects a different pronunciation. However, in most cases the pronunciation 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 UK) versus smelled (mainly American): see American and British English differences: Verb morphology.
Aeroplane, originally a French loanword with a different meaning, is the older spelling. The oldest recorded uses of the spelling airplane are British. 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 James recommended its adoption by the BBC in 1928, it has until recently been no more than an occasional form in British English." In the British National Corpus, aeroplane outnumbers airplane by more than 7:1 in the UK. 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 Greek 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 thanaeroplane, 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 term.
The spelling aluminium is the international standard in the sciences according to the IUPAC recommendations, which however add The alternative spelling ‘aluminum’ is commonly used [by 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 dictionaries.
In vulgar senses "buttocks" ("anus"/"wretch"); unrelated sense "donkey"/"idiot" is ass in both. Both forms are found in Australia, New Zealand and to a limited extent in Canada ("ass" to a lesser extent in both countries also as a "non-vulgar replacement"). "Arse" is very rarely used in the US.
The 19th century had the spelling behove pronounced to rhyme with move. Subsequently, a pronunciation spelling was adopted in America, while in Britain a spelling pronunciation was adopted.
It is pronounced /ˈboʊɡimæn/ BOH-gee-man in the UK, so that the American form, boogeyman /ˈbʊɡimæn/, is reminiscent of the 1970s disco dancing "boogie" to the British ear.
for the species of goose
UK: /ˌkɑrbəˈrɛtər/; US: /ˈkɑrbəreɪtər/.
In 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 alwayscoupe. 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 the US; Canada follows British pronunciation and distinguishes between fillet, especially as concerns fish, and filet, as concerns certains cuts of beef. McDonald'sin the UK use the US spelling "filet" for their Filet-O-Fish.
Furore is a late 18th-century Italian loan-word that replaced the Latinate form in the UK in the following century, and is usually pronounced with a voiced e. The Canadian the same as the American, and Australia has both.
Clippings of grotesque; both are slang terms from the 1960s.
Haulage contractor; haulier is the older spelling.
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 usually stressed.
Mother. Mom is sporadically regionally found in the UK (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 writemom. In Australia and New Zealand, mum is used.
The American spelling is from French, and American speakers generally approximate the French pronunciation as/nɑːiːv(ɨ)ˈteɪ/, whereas the British spelling is nativised, as also the pronunciation /nɑːˈiːv(ɨ)ti/. In the UK, naïveté is a minor variant, used about 20% of the time in the British National Corpus; in America, naivete and naiveté are marginal variants, and naivety is almost unattested.
The 'y' represents the pronunciation of the original Urdu "pāy-jāma", and in the 18th century spellings such as "paijamahs" and "peijammahs" appeared. Both "pyjamas" and "pajamas" are also known from the 18th century, but the latter became more or less confined to the US. Canada follows British usage; the spelling "pajamas" is virtually unknown.
Persnickety is a late 19th-century American alteration of the Scots 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.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest form was "tyd bit", and the alteration to "titbit" was probably under the influence of the obsolete word "tit", meaning a small horse or girl.
Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English (e.g., colour, flavour, honour, neighbour, rumour, labour) end in -or in American English (e.g., color, flavor, honor, neighbor, rumor, labor). Wherever the vowel is unreduced in pronunciation, this does not occur: contour,velour, paramour, troubadour, are spelt thus the same 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 ending became -our in Anglo-French in an attempt to represent the Old French pronunciation of words ending in -or, thoughcolor has been used occasionally in English since the 15th century. The -our ending was not only retained in English borrowings fromAnglo-French, but also applied to earlier French borrowings. After the Renaissance, some such borrowings from Latin were taken up with their original -or ending; many words once ending in -our (for example, chancellour and governour) now end in -or everywhere. Many words of the -our/-or group do not have a Latin counterpart; for example, armo(u)r, behavio(u)r, harbo(u)r, neighbo(u)r; also arbo(u)r meaning "shelter", though senses "tree" and "tool" are always arbor, a false cognate of the other word. Some 16th and early 17th century British scholars indeed insisted that -or be used for words 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 United States. 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 and honour 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 naturalised (favourite, honourable, behaviourism); before Latin suffixes that are not freely attachable to English words, the u may be dropped (honorific, honorist, vigorous, humorous, laborious, invigorate), may be either dropped or retained (colo(u)ration, colo(u)rise), or may 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. "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 savior in the United States. The British spelling is very common for "honour" (and "favour") in the stilted language of wedding invitations in the United States. The name of the Space Shuttle Endeavour has a u in it since this spacecraft was named after Captain James Cook's ship, HMS Endeavour.
The name of the herb savory is thus spelled everywhere, although the 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 (/ˈrɪɡər/) has a u in the UK; the medical termrigor (often pronounced /ˈraɪɡɔr/) does not. Words with the ending -irior, -erior or similar are spelled thus everywhere and have never had a "u", for example inferior or exterior.
Commonwealth usage. Commonwealth countries normally follow British usage. In Canada -or endings are not uncommon, particularly inWestern Canada. In Australia, -or endings enjoyed some use in the 19th century, and now are sporadically found in some regions, usually in local and regional newspapers, though the most notable countrywide use of -or is for the Australian Labor Party. Aside from that, -our is almost universal. New Zealand English, while sharing some words and syntax with Australian English, 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 pronounced /ər/. Most of these words have the ending -er in the United States. The difference is most common for words ending -bre or -tre: British spellings centre, goitre, kilometre, litre, lustre, mitre, nitre, reconnoitre, saltpetre, spectre, theatre, titre, calibre, fibre, sabre, and sombre all have -er in American spelling.
There are many exceptions to the -re spelling in British usage. Many words spelled with -re in Modern French are spelled with -er in both British and American usage; among these are chapter, December, diameter, disaster, enter, filter, letter, member, minister, monster,October, November, number, oyster, parameter, powder, proper, September, sober, and tender.
The ending -cre, as in acre, 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 and manoeuvre after -v; meagre (but not eager) andogre after -g; and euchre, ochre, and sepulchre after -ch. In the United States, ogre and euchre are standard; manoeuvre and sepulchre are usually spelled as maneuver and sepulcher; and the other -re forms listed are less used variants of the equivalent -er form.
The e preceding the r is retained in American-derived forms of nouns and verbs, for example, fibers, reconnoitered, centering, which are, naturally, fibres, reconnoitred and centring respectively in British usage. Centring is a particularly interesting example, since it is still pronounced as three syllables in British English (/ˈsɛntərɪŋ/), yet there is no vowel letter in the spelling corresponding to the second syllable. 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, user) and comparative (louder,nicer) forms. One consequence is the British distinction of meter for a measuring instrument from metre for the unit of length. However, whilepoetic metre is often -re, pentameter, hexameter, etc. are almost 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.
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. In 2003 the proposal of the American National Theatre, 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.
In many instances, places in the United States use Centre in their names. Examples include the Stonebriar Centre mall in Frisco, Texas, the cities of Rockville Centre, New York and Centreville, Illinois, and Centre College in Kentucky. Sometimes these places were named before spelling changes took effect, but more often the spelling merely serves as an affectation. 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 spelling, but the American Heritage Dictionary 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 (/rə/ rather than /ər/), as with double-entendre, genre, or oeuvre. However, the unstressed /ər/ 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 mostly standard throughout the Commonwealth. The -er spellings are recognised 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 Mall. However, -re generally prevails in Canada.
Nouns ending in -ce with -se verb forms: American English and British English both retain the noun/verb distinction in advice / advise anddevice / devise, but American English has abandoned the distinction with licence / license and practice / practise (where the two words in each pair are homophones) that British spelling retains. American English uses practice and license for both meanings.
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.
Australian and Canadian usage generally follows British.
The spelling connexion is now rare in everyday British usage, its employment declining as knowledge of Latin declines, and it is not used at all in America: the more common connection has become the standard internationally. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the older spelling is more etymologically conservative, since the word actually derives from Latin forms in -xio-. The American usage derives fromWebster who discarded the -xion in favor of -ction by analogy with such verbs as connect.
Complexion (which comes from the stem complex) is standard and complection usually 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).
-ise, -ize (-isation, -ization)
See also: Oxford spelling
American spelling accepts only -ize endings in most cases, such as organize, realize, and recognize. British usage accepts both -ize and-ise (organize/organise, realize/realise, recognize/recognise). British English using -ize is known as Oxford spelling, and is used in publications of the Oxford University Press, most notably the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as other authoritative British sources. TheOED lists the -ise form separately, as "a frequent spelling of -IZE..." It 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 Greek -ιζειν, Latin -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." It maintains "... 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 -ise for the same reasons.
Other references, including Fowler's Modern English Usage, now give prominence to the -ise suffix over -ize. The Cambridge University Press has long favored -ise. Perhaps as a reaction to the ascendancy of American spelling, the -ize spelling is now rarely used in the UK mass media and newspapers, to the extent that it is often incorrectly regarded as an Americanism. The ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus. The -ise form is standard in leading publications such as The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Economist. The Oxford 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 organizations, such as theISO and the WHO. The European Union switched from -ize to -ise some years ago in its English language publications, and this resulted in the coexistence of the -ize spelling in older legislative acts and the -ise spelling in more recent ones. Proof readers at the EU's Publications Office ensure consistent spelling in official publications such as the Official Journal (where legislation and other official documents are published), but the -ize spelling may be found in other documents. "Synthesize" is used in international chemical journals.
The same pattern applies to derivatives and inflections such as colonisation/colonization.
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, andtelevise. Finally, the verb prise (meaning to force or lever) is spelled prize in the US and prise everywhere else, including Canada, although in North American English it is almost always replaced by pry, a back-formation from or alteration of prise.
The distribution of -yse and -yze endings, as in analyse / analyze, is different: the former is British English, but the latter is American. Thus, in British English analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse, and paralyse, but in American English analyze, catalyze, hydrolyze, and paralyze. However,analyse was 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 analysize, from the French analysiser, from which analyser was formed by haplology.In Canada, -yze prevails, just as in the United States. In Australia and New Zealand, -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 (lusis) (and thus all its compound words) derives, is λύειν (luein).
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), pedagog(ue), monolog(ue), homolog(ue), synagog(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 (the inflected forms, cataloged and cataloging vcatalogued and cataloguing); analog is standard for the adjective, but both analogue and analog are current for the noun; in all other cases the -gue endings strongly prevail, for example monologue, except for such expressions as dialog box in computing, which are also used in the UK. Finally, in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia analogue is used, but just as in the US analog has some 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 and oe
Many words are written with ae/æ or oe/œ in British English, but a single e in American English. The sound in question is /iː/ or /ɛ/ (or unstressed /ɨ/). Examples (with non-American letter in bold): amoeba, anaemia, anaesthesia, caesium, diarrhoea, encyclopaedia, faeces,foetal, gynaecology, haemophilia, leukaemia, oesophagus, oestrogen, orthopaedic, palaeontology, paediatric. Oenology is acceptable in American English but is regarded as a minor variant of enology.
Exceptions to the American simplification rule include aesthetics and archaeology, which usually prevail over esthetics and archeology, respectively, as well as the stronger case of palaestra, in which the simplified form palestra is a variant described by Merriam-Webster as "chiefly Brit[ish]."
Words where British usage varies include encyclopaedia, homoeopathy, mediaeval, and foetus (though the British medical community, as well as at least one authoritative source, consider this variant to be unacceptable for the purposes of journal articles and the like, since the Latin spelling was actually fetus).
The Ancient Greek diphthongs <αι> and <οι> were transliterated into Latin as
In Canada, e is usually preferred over oe and often over ae as well, just as in the neighbouring United States. In Australia and elsewhere, the 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.
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, 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 being in French), as do Swedish, Polish, and others, while Dutch uses them sometimes ("ae" is rare, but "oe" is the normal representation of the sound [u], while written "u" represents either the sound [y] or [ʏ]). The languages Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and some others retain the original ligatures. In German, through umlauts, is retained as its equivalent of the ligature, for when written without the umlaut. These 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). 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 regardless of which sense they intend (although forever in the sense of "continually" is comparatively rare in American English, having been displaced by always).
near by or nearby: Some British writers make the distinction between the adverbial near by, which is written as two words, as in, "No one was near by"; and the adjectival nearby, which is written as one, as in, "The nearby house". 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). Generally, 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 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 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, British English usage is cancelled, counsellor, cruellest, modelling, quarrelled, signalling, traveller, and travelling. Americans usually use canceled,counselor, cruelest, modeling, quarreled, signaling, traveler, and traveling.
The word parallel keeps a single -l- in British English, as in American English (paralleling, unparalleled), to avoid the unappealing cluster -llell-.
Words with two vowels before a final l are also spelled with -ll- in British English before a suffix when the first vowel either acts as a consonant (equalling and initialled; in the United States, equaling or initialed), or belongs to a separate syllable (British fu•el•ling anddi•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 both systems.
Endings -ize/-ise, -ism, -ist, -ish usually do not double the l in British English; for example, normalise, dualism, novelist, and devilish.
Exceptions: tranquillise; duellist, medallist, panellist, and sometimes triallist in British English.
For -ous, British English has a single l in scandalous and perilous, but the "ll" in marvellous and libellous.
For -ee, British English has libellee.
For -age, British English has pupillage but vassalage.
American English sometimes has an unstressed -ll-, as in the UK, in some words where the root has -l. These are cases where the alteration occurs in the source language, which was often Latin. (Examples: bimetallism, cancellation, chancellor, crystallize, excellent,tonsillitis, and raillery.)
All forms of English have compelled, excelling, propelled, rebelling (notice the stress difference); revealing, fooling (note the double vowel before the l); and hurling (consonant before the l).
Canadian and Australian English largely follow British usage.
Among consonants other than l, practice varies for some words, such as where the final syllable has secondary stress or an unreduced vowel. In the United States, the spellings kidnaped and worshiped, which were introduced by the Chicago Tribune in the 1920s, are common. Kidnapped and worshipped, the only standard British spellings.
British calliper or caliper; American caliper.
British jewellery; American jewelry. The standard pronunciations (/ˈdʒuː(ə)lri/) do not reflect this difference. According to Fowler, jewelryused to be the "rhetorical and poetic" spelling in the UK. 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 l and Americans usually use a double l. In American usage, the spelling of words is usually not changed when they form the main part (not prefix or suffix) of other words, especially in newly formed words and in words whose main part is in common use. Words exhibiting this spelling difference include wil(l)ful, skil(l)ful, thral(l)dom, appal(l), fulfil(l),fulfil(l)ment, enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment. These words have monosyllabic cognates always written with -ll: will, skill, thrall, pall, fill, roll, stall,still. Cases where a single l nevertheless occurs in both American and British English include null→annul, annulment; till→until; 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 UK, ll is used occasionally in distil(l), instil(l), enrol(l), and enthral(l)ment, and often in enthral(l), all of which are always spelled this way in American usage. The former British spellings instal, fulness, and dulness are now quite rare. The Scottish tolbooth is cognate with toll booth, but it has a specific distinct sense.
In both American and British usages, words normally spelled -ll usually drop the second l when used as prefixes or suffixes, for examplefull→useful, handful; all→almighty, altogether; well→welfare, welcome; chill→chilblain.
The British fulfil and American fulfill are never fullfill or fullfil.
Dr Johnson wavered on this issue. His dictionary of 1755 lemmatises distil and instill, downhil and uphill.
British English sometimes keeps silent e when adding suffixes where American English does not. Generally speaking, British English drops it in only some cases in which it is 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 usesrouteing;, 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 dyeing, singeing, and swingeing (in the sense of dye, singe, and swinge), to distinguish from dying, singing, swinging (in the sense of die, sing, and swing). In contrast, both bathe and the British verb bath both formbathing. Both forms of English vary for tinge and twinge; both prefer cringing, hinging, lunging, syringing.
Before -able, British English prefers likeable, liveable, rateable, saleable, sizeable, unshakeable, 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 are unabridgeable.")
Both abridgment and the more regular abridgement are current in America, only the latter in the UK. Similarly for the word lodg(e)ment. Both judgment and judgement are in use interchangeably everywhere, although the former prevails in America and the latter prevails in the UK except in the practice of law, where judgment is standard. The similar situation holds for abridgment and acknowledgment. Both forms of English prefer fledgling to fledgeling, but ridgeling to ridgling.
The word "blue" always drops the "e" when forming "bluish".
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 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, Latindiscus), 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 disks or floppy disks, also known as diskettes). For this limited application, these spellings are used in both the US and the Commonwealth. Solid-state devices also use the spelling "disk".
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
insurance or assurance: In the business of risk transfer, American English speakers will normally refer to life insurance or fire insurance, whereas historically British English speakers would more commonly refer to life assurance, reserving insurance for the home. This distinction no longer applies, with British companies as likely as US ones to provide "life insurance". Canadian speakers remain more likely than US speakers to use assurance.
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, programis 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(me). In Canada, program prevails, and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary makes no meaning-based distinction between it andprogramme. 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 UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the spelling tonne refers to the metric unit (1000 kilograms), whereas in the US the same unit is referred to as a metric ton. The unqualified ton usually refers to the long ton (2,240 lb.) in the UK (but note that the tonne and long ton differ by only 1.6%, and are roughly interchangeable when accuracy is not critical; ton and tonne are usually pronounced the same in speech), and to the short ton (2,000 pounds (910 kg)) in the US.
See also meter/metre, for which there is a British English distinction between these etymologically related forms with different meanings but the standardised American spelling is "meter". The spelling used by the International 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 for the metric unit of mass and gramme, but kilogram and gram are the more common spellings in British English and therefore listed first in British dictionaries. In the United States, the spellings are always (kilo)gram, and these are also used exclusively by the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.
Telegramme is used in some places, but never in the United States, where it was always 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 US, IBM, or PRC (the People's Republic of China). However, it is occasionally done for some in the UK, such as Pc (Police Constable).
Contractions, where the final letter is present, are often written in British English without full stops/periods (Mr, Mrs, Dr, St, Ave).Abbreviations where the final letter is not present generally do take full stops/periods (such as vol., etc., i.e., ed.); British English shares this convention with the French: Mlle, Mme, Dr, Ste, but M. for Monsieur. In American and Canadian English, abbreviations like St., Ave., Mr.,Mrs., Ms., Dr., and Jr., 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 (10 P.M. or 10 PM vs 10 p.m. or10 pm). Both AM/PM and a.m./p.m. are acceptable in American English, though AM/PM is more common.
Miscellaneous spelling differences
adze adz, adze Adz is more common in the US.
aluminium aluminum Aluminum is more common in American English.
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 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 UK, but in the US it is not.
axe ax, axe 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.
camomile, chamomile chamomile, camomile In the UK, according to the OED, "the spelling cha- is chiefly in pharmacy, after Latin; that with ca- is literary and popular". In the US chamomile dominates in all senses.
centre center Center is more common in the US.
cheque check 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 UK is spelled chequing account in Canada and checking account in the US. Some American financial institutions, notablyAmerican Express, prefer cheque, but this is merely a trademarking affectation.
chequer checker As In chequerboard/checkerboard, chequered/checkered flag, etc. In Canada as in the US. While "checker" is more common in the US, "chequer" is used in the UK.
chilli chili The original Mexican Spanish word is spelled chile. In Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, chile and chilli are given as also variants.
cipher, cypher cipher
cosy cozy In all senses (adjective, noun, verb).
doughnut doughnut, donut In the US, both are used with donut indicated as a variant of doughnut. In the UK, donutis indicated as an American variant for doughnut.
draught draft 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; fora 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 draughtsmanin 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 /ˈdrɑːft/, General American /ˈdræft/). The spelling draught is older; draft appeared first in the late 16th century.
encyclopaedia encyclopedia The same difference applies to cognate words derived from the Greek word "παις/Pais"(a child), such as paedophile/pedophile.
foetus fetus The Latin word is fetus: foetus originated as a medieval variant. Fetus is generally used in medical literature worldwide, and for all purposes in the US: for non-medical purposes foetusis the common spelling in Commonwealth usage.
gauntlet gauntlet, gantlet When meaning "ordeal", in the phrase running the ga(u)ntlet, some American style guidesprefer gantlet. This spelling is unused in Britain and less usual in America thangauntlet. The word is an alteration of earlier gantlope by folk etymology with gauntlet ("armored glove"), always spelled thus.
glycerine glycerin, glycerine Scientists use the term glycerol, but both spellings are used sporadically in the US.
grey gray 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 Greyand Gray are found in proper names everywhere in the English-speaking world.
jail, gaol jail In the UK, gaol and gaoler are used sometimes, 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 British pavement/ American sidewalk/ Australian footpath). Curb is the older spelling, and in the UK as well as in the US, it is still the proper spelling for the verb meaning restrain. Canada as in the US.
liquorice licorice Licorice prevails in Canada and it is common in Australia, but it 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).
mediaeval medieval and other words using the former æ
mollusc mollusk, mollusc The related adjective is normally molluscan in all forms of English.
mould mold In all senses of the word. In Canada, both words have wide currency. When speaking of the noun, the US will also use the "mould" spelling.
neurone, neuron neuron
omelette omelet, omelette Omelette prevails in Canada and in Australia. The shorter spelling is the older in English, in spite of the etymology (French omelette).
pedophile;pederast, which does not have exactly the same meaning, is common
phoney phony Originally an Americanism, this word made its widespread appearance in Britain during thePhoney War. Famously used frequently in The Catcher in the Rye.
programme, program program "Program" is generally used for computer programming, but the -mme form is normally used in the UK for agendas and theatrical brochures. "Program" is the older form.
pyjamas pajamas pronounced /pɨˈdʒɑːməz/ in the UK, /pɨˈdʒɑːməz/ or /pɨˈdʒæməz/ in the US and Canada.
plough plow Both date back to Middle English. The OED records several dozen variants. In the UK, ploughhas been the standard spelling for about three centuries. Although plow was Noah Webster's pick, plough continued to have some currency in the US, as the entry in Webster's Third (1961) implies. Newer dictionaries label plough as "chiefly British". The wordsnowplough/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 (petrol) powered variety.
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 UK but not the US.
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 US, and it follows the French sceptique and Latin scepticus. In the mid-18th century, Dr. Johnson's dictionary listed skeptic without comment or alternative, but this form has never been popular in the UK; 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 septique.
storey story 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.
sulphur sulphur, sulfur Sulfur is the international standard in the sciences (IUPAC), and it is supported by the UK'sRSC. 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, Louisiana 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.
tyre tire 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 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 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 exclusively.
vice vise, vice The two-jawed workbench tool. Americans and Canadians retain the very old distinction between vise (the tool) and vice (the sin, and also the Latin prefix meaning a "deputy"), both of which are vice in the UK and Australia. Thus, Americans have Vice-Admiral, Vice-President, and Vice-Principal, but never "Vise-" for any one of these.
For quotation marks, American 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 only exercised in America when the punctuation is not a full stop/period or a comma.