The differences between British English and American English spelling are important to know (for example, in the PTE test if you change your spelling from British English to American English midway through your writing test, you lose points). On this page, we will look at the common rules that can help you identify the different spelling patterns.
Important note: British English commonly refers to the type of English used in Britain, whereas America English refers to the language used in the United States. In addition, there are minor differences in English between other English speaking countries. Australia and New Zealand tend to use spelling closer to British English whereas Canada, for example, tends to use spelling following the rules of the United States. This website site uses British English.
Rule #1: Words ending in -ise / -ize
Words that end with -ise in British English tend to end with –ize in American English. Remember that this is referring to the root word, so for example ‘He was not very organised’ (root word is ‘organise’) still follows these rules.
|British English uses -ise||American English used -ize|
Exceptions to Rule #1: All of the words listed below ONLY use -ise all around the world:
advertise, advise, arise, chastise, comprise, compromise, demise, despise, devise, disguise, excise, exercise, franchise, guise, improvise, incise, reprise, revise, rise, supervise, surmise, surprise, televise.
Rule #2 Root words ending in -l
Words that end with -l but then have additional letters afterwards for a specific word family do not have a double ‘l’ in American English, but they do in British English. For example, the root word ‘travel’ would become ‘traveller’ in British English, but would only be ‘traveler’ in America English.
|British English uses double L||American English uses single L|
Exceptions to Rule #2: Some words do NOT double the consonant in British English, but do in American English (confusing, isn’t it!)
British English: skilful, wilful, fulfilment, enrolment, instalment, milimetre
American English: skillful, willful, fulfillment, enrollment, installment, millimeter
Rule #3 Words ending -re or -er
Words that end with -re in British English tend to end with -er in American English. For example, the word ‘centre’ in British English becomes ‘center’ in America English.
|British English uses -re||American English uses -er|
|metre / centimetre / milimetre||meter / centimeter / millimeter (note the double LL)|
Exceptions to Rule #3: Words ending with CRE are the same in British English and American English.
massacre, mediocre, lucre (lucre means advantage, profit or gain – it’s quite an old word and not often used)
Rule #4 Words ending -our or -or
Words that end with -our in British English tend to end with -or in American English. For example, the word ‘colour’ in British English becomes ‘color’ in America English.
|British English uses -our||American English uses -or|
Exceptions to Rule #4: Very little to add here!
The only comment here is that ‘glamour’ tends to be the same British AND American English.
Rule #5 Words ending -ogue or -og
Words that end with -ogue in British English tend to end with -og in American English. For example, the word ‘catalogue’ in British English becomes ‘catalog’ in America English.
|British English uses -ogue||American English uses -og|
Exceptions to Rule #5: The -gue spelling is becoming increasingly common in American English, so this might not be a rule for much longer!
Rule #6 Words with -oe- or -ae-
Words with -oe- or -ae- in British English tend to use just with -e-in American English. For example, the word ‘encyclopaedia’ in British English becomes ‘encyclopedia’ in America English.
|British English uses -oe-||American English uses -e-|
Exceptions to Rule #6: Some words are used with the -oe- or -ae- spelling in American English.
Here are some additional words with different spelling in British and American English:
|British English||American English|
|Practise (verb) / Practice (noun)||Practice (verb and noun)|
|License (verb) / Licence (noun)||License (verb and noun)|
|sulphur (ph)||sulfur (f)|
|mouldy (ou)||moldy (o)|
|tyre (y)||tire (i)|
|judgement (ge)||judgment (g)|
|cheque (qu)||check (ck)|
We hope you find this page on the differences between British English and American English spelling useful!