The differences between British English and American English spelling

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The differences between British English and American English spellingThe 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 -iseAmerican English used -ize
CapitaliseCapitalize
AuthoriseAuthorize
MinimiseMinimize
RecogniseRecognize
AnalyseAnalyze
CivilisedCivilized
OrganiseOrganize

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
fuellingfueling
cancelledcanceled
equalledequaled
counsellorcounselor
signallingsignaling
levelledCivilized

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
centrecenter
metre / centimetre / milimetremeter / centimeter / millimeter (note the double LL)
equalledequaled
counsellorcounselor
signallingsignaling
levelledCivilized

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
colourcolor
labourlabor
flavourflavor
demeanourdemeanor
savourysavory
rumourrumor
honourhonor
splendoursplendor
neighbourneighbor
endeavourendeavor
favouritefavorite
behaviourbehavior
vapourvapor
harbourharbor

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
cataloguecatalog
dialoguedialog
cataloguecatalog

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-
encyclopaediaencyclopedia
caesareancesarean
anaemiaanemia
paediatricpediatric
manoeuvremaneuver
gynaecologygynecology

Exceptions to Rule #6: Some words are used with the -oe- or -ae- spelling in American English.

aesthetics, archaeology

Additional examples:

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)
aeroplaneairplan e
aluminiumaluminum
moustachemustache
mummom
pyjamaspajamas
specialityspecialty

We hope you find this page on the differences between British English and American English spelling useful!

 


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