American and British Spelling of Words

While discussions surrounding the correct spelling of words can generally be cleared up by checking your spelling in spell check, many people find themselves confused regarding the difference between American and British spellings. Find out how British vs. American spellings are different through examples. 

spelling of american theater and british theatrespelling of american theater and british theatre

Differences Between American and British English Spellings

Although the differences between American and British spellings are often subtle, they are still significant.  These examples show you some of the major differences. 

E vs. AE or OE

American English uses an -E for British English words spelled with the double vowels -AE or -OE. See this at work in these American to British spellings. 

American

British

archeology

archaeology

encyclopedia

encyclopaedia

leukemia

leukaemia

maneuver

manoeuvre

medieval

mediaeval

pediatric

paediatric

ENSE vs. ENCE

Some nouns that end with -ENCE in British English are spelled -ENSE in American English. View the change through American to British English spellings of these words. 

American

British

defense

defence

license

licence

offense

offence

pretense

pretence

ER vs. RE

This is a common change that trips a lot of people up. American English words ending in -ER end in -RE in British English. Explore a list of American to British word spellings. 

American

British

caliber

calibre

center

centre

fiber

fibre

liter

litre

meter

metre

somber

sombre

theater

theatre

K vs. QUE

One of the rarer changes in British vs. American English is QUE vs. K. British English includes the -QUE for many words that end in the American English -K or -CK. However, there are exceptions to this rule. See this change in action by looking at American vs. British spellings. 

American

British

bank

banque

check

cheque

checker

chequer

OG vs. OGUE

Words ending with -OGUE in British English end with -OG in American English. You can see this at play through the American to British words below. 

American

British

analog

analogue

dialog

dialogue

catalog

catalogue

OR vs. OUR

Another one that’s quite noticeable to Americans and Brits is the -OR to -OUR. Words ending in -OR in American English have been changed to -OUR in British English. As you can see this in these examples. 

American

British

behavior

behaviour

color

colour

favorite

favourite

harbor

harbour

humor

humour

labor

labour

rumor

rumour

YZE vs. YSE and IZE vs. ISE

Many verbs ending in -YSE or -ISE in British English have been changed to -YZE or -IZE in American English, although there are exceptions.To see this at work, check out these American to British examples. 

American

British

analyze

analyse

apologize

apologise

breathalyze

breathalyse 

organize

organise

paralyze

paralyse

Vowel Plus L

In British English, words ending in a vowel plus -L double the -L when adding verb endings that begin with a vowel (-ED, -ING). In American English, the -L is not doubled. Perused these American to British examples. 

American

British

canceling

cancelling

fueled

fuelled

traveler

traveller

Other Fun British and American Spelling Differences

Here are some other fun spelling changes you’ll see in American vs. British spellings. 

American

British

aging

ageing

draft

draught

gray

grey

pajamas

pyjamas

program

programme

tire

tyre

Which Spelling Is Correct?

Technically, both American and British spellings of words are correct. However, American spellings are gaining an advantage because Microsoft Word is set to default its spell check feature to American spellings. Thus, British spellings appear as incorrect when using this program.

If you’re a student preparing a research paper, ask your teacher which spelling is preferred. If your instructor has no preference, simply choose either American or British spellings and be consistent throughout the piece.

British and American Punctuation Differences

Writers interested in spelling differences between American and British English may also find it useful to remember a few simple punctuation tips:

  • While British English often favors hyphenated compounds, such as counter-attack, American English discourages the use of hyphens where there is no compelling reason.

  • In British English, writers typically use two spaces after a semicolon. American English encourages writers to use just one space.

  • Although American English typically calls for commas and periods to be included inside the quotation marks, even if they are not part of the quoted sentence, British English shows clearly whether the punctuation is part of the quoted phrase.

An Ongoing Debate

The debate over the correct spelling of words first began when Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755, followed by Noah Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. While people in England preferred Johnson's spellings, Webster's simplified variations became increasingly popular in the United States.

Learn More About British vs. American Spelling

To learn more about the difference between British vs. American English, check out the following helpful websites:

  • English Media Lab has an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of British English.

  • Using English has a printable handout for teachers to use when discussing British and American spellings.

  • XPDNC provides a comprehensive list of words that are spelled differently in American and British English. 

British and American Spellings of Words

While both Americans and British speak English, there are some distinctions between the two dialects. This can be found through pronunciation and even spelling. Learn a bit more about British English by having a good look at British slang.

Post a comment