The differences between British English and American English spelling

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 -ise American English used -ize
Capitalise Capitalize
Authorise Authorize
Minimise Minimize
Recognise Recognize
Analyse Analyze
Civilised Civilized
Organise Organize

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
fuelling fueling
cancelled canceled
equalled equaled
counsellor counselor
signalling signaling
levelled Civilized

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
centre center
metre / centimetre / milimetre meter / centimeter / millimeter (note the double LL)
equalled equaled
counsellor counselor
signalling signaling
levelled Civilized

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
colour color
labour labor
flavour flavor
demeanour demeanor
savoury savory
rumour rumor
honour honor
splendour splendor
neighbour neighbor
endeavour endeavor
favourite favorite
behaviour behavior
vapour vapor
harbour harbor

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
catalogue catalog
dialogue dialog
catalogue catalog

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-
encyclopaedia encyclopedia
caesarean cesarean
anaemia anemia
paediatric pediatric
manoeuvre maneuver
gynaecology gynecology

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)
aeroplane airplan e
aluminium aluminum
moustache mustache
mum mom
pyjamas pajamas
speciality specialty

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