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Differences between American and British Spelling

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3 October, 2022
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When learning how to spell in the English language, you might notice some differences between the British and American spelling of words. That’s because – despite speaking the same language – Britain and America spell some of the same words differently. Crazy right?

Generally, if you’re an international learner, you’ll be taught the American spelling of words – but that doesn’t mean you won’t come across the British spelling, especially if you move to the UK! Read on to find out what these differences are and why they even exist.

 

Why are British and American spellings different?

It might seem strange that two countries that speak the same language insist on different spellings, but it all comes down to history. The English language is made up of words ‘borrowed’ from other languages – primarily French and German – and this has impacted the spelling of certain words. In honor of this, Britain kept these original spellings, whereas America decided to modernize their version of the language by spelling words how they sound instead.

Both countries have their own dictionaries where these spellings are established: the British dictionary was complete by Samuel Johnson in 1755, whereas the American ‘A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language’ was printed in 1806, followed by Noah Webster’s dictionary in 1828.

Now that we know why these two nations spell the same words differently, let’s look at some of the various spellings you are most likely to come across!

 

 

RE or ER

British words that end in ‘re’ tend to end in ‘er’ in American English. For example:

British: centre, theatre, metre, fibre

American: center, theater, meter, fiber

NOTE: There are also many in British English that end in ‘er’, so don’t assume that because a word in American English ends in ‘er’ that it must end ‘re’ in British English.

 

OUR or OR

British words that end in ‘our’ often end in ‘or’ in American English. For example:

British: colour, labour, neighbour, flavour

American: color, labor, neighbor, flavor

 

IZE or ISE

British verbs that end in either ‘ize’ or ‘ise’ can be spelt either way, whereas these same words in American English must always end in ‘ise’. For example:

British: apologize OR apologise, organize OR organise, recognize OR recognise

American: apologize, organize, recognize

 

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YSE or YZE

Verbs in British English that end in yse’ are always spelled yze’ in American English:

British: analyse, catalyse, paralyse

American: analyze, catalyze, paralyze

 

LL or L

In British spelling ‘L’ is doubled in verbs ending in a vowel plus ‘L’. In American English, the ‘L’ is not doubled:

British: level, levelled, levelling

American: level, leveled, leveling

 

AE or OE

British English words that are spelled with ‘ae’ or ‘oe’ are usually spelled with just an ‘e’ or ‘i’.

British: manoeuvre, oestrogen, aeroplane

American: maneuver, estrogen, airplane

 

ENCE or ENSE

There are some nouns that end with ence’ in British English are spelled ense’ in American English. For example:

British: offence, licence, pretence

American: offense, license, pretense

 

OG or OGUE

Some nouns that end with ogue’ in British English end with either og’ or ogue in American English. For example:

British: analogue, dialogue, monologue

American: analog OR analogue, dialog OR dialogue, monologue OR monolog

 

 

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