Differences between American Spelling and British Spelling

american flag and union jackYou may have noticed that all the information on this site is written with English or British spelling.

All English speakers will come across both American and British spelling variations in their lives, it’s almost impossible to avoid.

So you might be thinking that you only want to learn American spelling and won’t be needing the British version, but I guarantee, you’ll come across both at some time.

Knowing the differences between them will give you confidence to deal with both in any situation.

Here are a few of the ways that British spelling varies from American spelling. Not every little detail is covered but what is presented should get you moving forward quickly. There are a few links with extra information about British-American spelling differences if you want to know more.

Endings with;

Words with;

References

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OUR and OR Endings

A common difference between British and American spelling is the “our” and “or” endings.

When there is an unstressed [ə] British vowel ending in the letters “our”, you’ll find the letters “or” used in American spelling.

Here are some examples;

British American
colour color
flavour flavor
harbour harbor
labour labor
neighbour neighbor
rumour rumor

Extra Notes

  • When using derivatives and inflected forms, the “u” can be absent from British spelling in examples like these;

    honorary, honorific, honorist, vigorous, humorous, laborious, invigorate.

  • The letter “u” can be kept or dropped like in these words;

    coloration – colouration and colourise – colorize

  • The letter “u” may be kept in words such as

    colourist.

RE and ER Endings

This rule depends on the origin of the word. British spelling is applied to words of Latin, Greek or French origin ending in “er” in particular ending with “tre” and “bre”. American spellings of these words end with “er”.

British American
Theatre Theater
centre center
fibre fiber
litre liter
calibre caliber
manoeuvre manoeuver

Extra Notes

  • There are plenty of words with British spelling that end in “er” some of these include;

    December, letter, monster, minister, oyster, proper, sober, tender.

  • German words can have an “er” ending in both British and American spellings like these;

    anger, mother, timber, water.

  • Romance words can also have an “er” ending in both spellings, like these;

    danger, quarter, river.

  • The ending “cre” is kept in both British and American spellings as it keeps the sound of the letter c, hard like [k]. Here are a few examples;

    acre, massacre, mediocre.

  • All of the -er and -re endings have the unstressed vowel sound in this section.

ISE or IZE Endings

British use the “ise” and “isation” ending much more than then “ize” and “ization” the American spelling version. You might find a proportion of words in used in countries that employ British spellings with the American spelling endings.

British American
organise organize
realise realize
recognise recognize
colonisation colonization

Extra Notes

  • The “ise” ending is heavily used in Australia, New Zealand and other commonwealth countries except Canada.
  • Some verbs, not of Greek origin ending with “ise” and “ize” are not interchangeable and must be kept as they are. These include;

    capsize, seize, size, prize
    revise, exercise, franchise, demise, rise, wise

YSE and YZE Endings

The -yse and -yze endings are used similarly to the -ise and -ize endings above. -yse is used in British spellings and -yze is used in American spelling.

British American
analyse analyze
paralyse paralyze
hydrolyse hydrolyze


OGUE and OG Endings

The British spellings use the -ogue endings and American spellings use the -og. Examples include;

British American
analogue analog
dialogue dialog
catalogue catalog

Extra Notes

  • The “ue” is dropped, every where, for related words such as;

    analogy, analogous, analogist.

  • The “gue” ending is kept for these words;

    tongue, vague, league.

AE and OE

Both “ae” and “oe” letter combinations are used in British English but replaced with the letter “e” in American spelling. Here are some examples;

British American
encyclopaedia encyclopedia
foetal fetal
diarrhoea diarrhea


Extra Notes

The letters “oe” and “ae” often loosing the “o” and “a” can make one of three sounds;

[iː] as in paediatrician / pediatrician

[ə] as in anaesthetic / anesthetic

[ɛ] as in oestrogen / estrogren

Doubled Consonants

The British spellings involve a double consonant endings when inflections (-ing, er, est) and noun suffixes (-er, -or) are added, where usually American spellings don’t.

British American
labelled labeled
modelling modeling
signalling signaling



There are some words where American English used a double final consonant and British English doesn’t.

British American
wilful willful
skilful skillful
enrolment enrollment

Extra Notes

  • There are some words that use double consonant endings, especially useful as a pronunciation guide.

    For example; stripped would be become striped (the short vowel in stripped becomes a long vowel in striped)

  • Endings with -ism, ish, ise/ize don’t usually double the final consonant with a few exceptions such as;

    medallist, panellist, duellist

  • A double vowel before a final consonant as in the word “fooling” makes the vowel sound longer than if there is only one vowel and a double consonant as in the word compelling.
  • In both spellings, when word end with double l (-ll), one letter l is dropped when used as prefixes and suffixes;

    useful, handful, almighty, altogether

Silent Letter E

British English tends to keep the silent E at the end of words, especially when it denotes a pronunciation change Where as American spelling uses the “e” only when necessary.

Here are some examples;

British American
ageing aging
likeable likable
sizeable sizable

Extra Notes

  • Both forms keep the silent “e” in words such as;

    dyeing, singeing, swingeing (keeps the meaning of these word different to their counterparts)

  • Both forms keep the silent “e” when it’s needed to maintain sounds within words such as;

    traceable, cacheable, changeable, knowledgeable. (an “a” after the final consonant would give them the hard sound)

What to know more?

If you’ve managed to sit through all of this and are still keen to know more try some of our references. They explore other topics such as;

  • past tense changes
  • different spellings for different meanings
  • different spellings for different pronunciations
  • compounds and hyphens
  • acronyms and abbreviations
  • Punctuation

References

Oxford Dictionaries
American and British Spelling Differences (Wikipedia)

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