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Unit 36: British and American English spelling - the differences
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Unit 36: British / American spelling differences

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British and American spelling - the differences

To further complicate things Australia, Canada and New Zealand and other English speaking countries can be the same as either British or US spellings but it depends on the word. Look for the flags below to see which spellings these countries use. If you live in another English speaking country not shown here you should check a local dictionary for advice.

This first set of words (also referred to in Unit 25) shows how British our endings change to US or:


British English spelling
colour - color, British and American English spelling differences
our endings change to or
colour > color
American English spelling
armour
armoury
behaviour
candour
clamour
colour
demeanour
endeavour
favourite
flavour
glamour
harbour
honour
humour
labour
neighbour
odour
rancour
rigour
rumour
saviour
savour
savoury
splendour
valour
vapour
vigour
armor
armory
behavior
candor
clamor
color
demeanor
endeavor
favorite
flavor
glamor
harbor
honor
humor
labor
neighbor
odor
rancor
rigor
rumor
savior
savor
savory
splendor
valor
vapor
vigor

This second set (also referred to in Unit 25) shows how British re endings change to (a more logical) US er, coming in line with many others in our language:


British English spelling
theatre - theater, British and American English spelling differences
re endings change to
theatre > theater
American English spelling
amphitheatre
calibre
centimetre
centre
fibre
kilometre
litre
louvre
lustre
manoeuvre
meagre
metre
millimetre
sabre
sceptre
sombre
spectre
theatre
amphitheater
caliber
centimeter
center
fiber
kilometer
liter
louver
luster
maneuver
meager
meter
millimeter
saber
scepter
somber
specter
theater

Some words have to retain their original spelling. Can you think why by looking at these examples?

acre massacre mediocre ogre

Click here for the answer.

The simplification continues with ogue endings changing to og:


British English spelling
catalogue - catalog, British and American English spelling differences
ogue endings change to og
catalogue > catalog
American English spelling
analogue
dialogue
catalogue
epilogue
monologue
prologue
travelogue
analog
dialog
catalog
epilog
monolog
prolog
travelog
Note:
-ogue can sometimes be used in the USA

Analog is sometimes used in all countries when writing about electronics.

And again to reduce the need for doubling:


British English spelling
traveller - traveler, British and American English spelling differences
l endings do not double in US spellings
traveller > traveler
American English spelling
cancelled
counsellor
equalled
fuelling
fuelled
grovelling
jeweller
jewellery
levelled
libelled
marvellous
modelling
panelled
quarrelling
revelled
woollen
canceled
counselor
equaled
fueling
fueled
groveling
jeweler
jewelery
leveled
libeled
marvelous
modeling
paneled
quarreling
reveled
woolen

British English spelling
Some British English words ending in one l may have double ll in the USA spelling:
American English spelling
appal
distil
enrol
enthral
fulfil
instil
skilful
wilful
appall
distill
enroll
enthrall
fulfill
instill
skillful
willful

ae and oe words get in on the act too:


British English spelling
encyclopaedia - encyclopedia, British and American English spelling differences
ae and oe words change to e
encyclopaedia > encyclopedia

American English spelling
diarrhoea
oestrogen
foetus
manoeuvre
mementoes
anaemia
caesarean
gynaecology
haemorrhage
leukaemia
palaeontology
paediatric
diarrhea
estrogen
fetus
maneuver
mementos
anemia
cesarean
gynecology
hemorrhage
leukemia
paleontology
pediatric

ize endings are increasingly creeping into British English spelling but other than the examples in the table, we would normally use -ise in British spelling and -ize in American:


British English spelling
apologise - apologize, British and American English spelling differences
ise endings change to ize
apologise > apologize

American English spelling
appetiser
authorise
capitalise
characterise
civilise
colonise
criticise
dramatise
emphasise
equalise
mobilise
naturalise
organise
popularise
realise
recognise
satirise
standardise
symbolise
vaporise
**************
analyse
paralyse
appetizer
authorize
capitalize
characterize
civilize
colonize
criticize
dramatize
emphasize
equalize
mobilize
naturalize
organize
popularize
realize
recognize
satirize
standardize
symbolize
vaporize
**************
analyze
paralyze
Spelling rule breakers - American English and British English spellings Some words are the same in both countries:
size
capsize
prize
seize
**************
advise
surprise
advertise
Some people are more accepting of British spellers using the -ize endings than others so beware.

You may remember from Unit 20 that in British English, the spelling of the soft c can be produced by either spelling -ce or -se. Our choice may be determined by their word function (here, noun or verb):


British English spelling
American English spelling
defence defense
offence offense
pretence pretense
vice
(workbench tool)
vise
licence (as a noun):
I've lost my driving licence.
license (noun and verb)
license (as a verb) is the same in both countries:
He is licensed to drive large trucks
practise (as a verb):
I practise the piano every day.
practice (noun and verb)
practice (as a noun) is the same in both countries:
Get practice in these words.

And finally, some more examples for you to learn:

Spelling change
British English spelling

American English spelling
ph > f sulphate  sulphide  sulphur sulfate  sulfide  sulfur
ugh > f or w draught  plough draft  plow
y > i tyre (on a wheel)  gybe tire  jibe
ou > o mould  moult  smoulder mold  molt  smolder
mme > m programme program
computer program is spelt the same everywhere
que > ck cheque (money)
chequer (game)
check
checker
ge > g acknowledgement
ageing
judgement
acknowledgment
aging
judgment
Miscellaneous: aluminium aluminum
  axe ax
  cosy cozy
  kerb (edge of road) curb
  furore furor
  grey gray
  carat (gold) karat
  liquorice licorice
  moustache mustache
  pyjamas pajamas
  sceptic skeptic
  phial vial
  whisky (England, Scotland, Canada, Japan and many other countries) whiskey (Ireland and USA)

Some believe that with the growth of the internet that American spellings will become the most used. What is for certain, is that Spellzone will watch the changes with interest.

What next?
The links below give you a choice or activity. You can select British or American spellings – or indeed both!

next part of the spelling course
Go to the test:
British spellings

next part of the spelling course
Go to the test:
American spellings

next part of the spelling course
Take both tests
you may need to know both!

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