Unit 36 - British and American English spelling - the differences

British English spelling American english spelling

In the last unit you saw how English spelling has developed over hundreds of years. There have been many attempts to simplify our spelling system, but only one has really succeeded: the changes made by Noah Webster, whose 'American Dictionary of the English Language' was published in 1828. He wanted to make the point that, now America was no longer ruled by Britain, its language should also be independent.

Most of the changes involved shortening words or changing odd-looking spellings. The main groups are summarised here:

Spelling change
British British English spelling
American American English spelling
our endings change to or colour color
re endings change to theatre theater
ogue endings change to og catalogue catalog
l endings do not double travelling traveling
ae and oe words change to e encyclopaedia encyclopedia
ise endings change to ize apologise apologize

In a few cases, the changes are more complicated, for example:

some -ce endings change to -se: licence > license
some -se endings change to -ce: practise > practice

Often British spellings are accepted in the USA and American spellings in the UK and other English speaking countries. However some people still get very upset if the wrong spelling is used. For example, there were several letters to the press about a move to use sulfur instead of sulphur in a school science exam.

The English language is continuously evolving and as communication brings us closer together it will be interesting to see what happens. We advise learning the differences and continue to use the accepted spelling in your country.

Are American spellings becoming the norm?

This unit will show more examples of the differences above and will test you in British and American spellings.

next part of the spelling course Go to the next page: more examples of differences

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Unit 36: British and American English spelling - the differences
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