American English versus British English

There are some variations in American and British English spellings which sometimes confuse readers who are not aware of this fact. The British (and those of the Commonwealth countries) spell words as they have always been spelling them. The Americans, on the other hand, tend to spell words as they sound… often by omitting some letters. The most common difference –

1. Nouns that end in –or in American English, end in –our in British English. Examples:

American English British English
color colour
neighbor neighbour
favor favour

2. Nouns that end in –er in American English, end in –re in British English. Examples:

American English British English
meter metre
center centre
theater theatre

3. Nouns that end in –g in American English, end in –gue in British English. Examples:

American English British English
catalog catalogue
dialog dialogue
analog analogue

4. Some other examples of nouns:

American English British English
program programme
draft draught
check cheque
jewelry jewellery
tire tyre

5. Verbs that end in –ze in American English, end in –se in British English. Examples:

American English British English
criticize criticise
memorize memorise
organize organise

6. –ll versus –l: In American English, verbs that end in –l preceded by a vowel, form their past by keeping the l singular when the suffixes –ed or –ing are added; but in British English the l is doubled. Examples:

American English British English
traveled/traveling travelled/travelling
quarreled/quarreling quarrelled/quarrelling

But – in American English, the l is doubled when the last syllable of a word that ends in –l is stressed; whereas, in British English it is not. Examples:

American English British English
fulfill fulfil
enrollment enrolment
skillful skilful

7. Some other differences when suffixes are added:

American English British English
aging ageing
kidnaping kidnapping
argument arguement
judgment judgement

These are just some of the differences in American and British English spellings. There are others, but it’s not possible to give them all here in one post. (We have already written about the differences in spellings when forming the past of some verbs :– those ending in –ed or –t.)

There is another thing that must be mentioned here. As a result of modern trends in the pop scene, scientific and technical advances, as well as the fast growth and reach of the media, American spellings are fast gaining ground. Their influence can also be seen in British English which is now slowly adopting American spellings as standard. This is why you will often see American spellings in British English.

Both the American and British spellings are correct and any may be used, but consistency is important.

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7 Responses

  1. There are some errors in this article. For example “argument” is correct in British English, “Quarrel” has a double rr in British English & I would guess in US English too?

    • Thank you so much, Julia, for pointing out the errors. “Quarel” was a typo. I should have rechecked my post (which I obviously didn’t). My apologies. The error has been fixed.
      As for “argument”, you are right in saying that this spelling can also be found in British English. It is one of the many American spellings that have now been adopted by British English. I have now added this fact at the end of my post.
      Thank you once again.

  2. This a very intereseting topical and has lead (or is it led?) to any amount (or is it ammount?) of discussion (or is it discushun?) on both sides of the Atlantic.

    True British English has a long history and tradition and all of the words do have an origin to be found in some other language (often French, Latin or even Greek). But simpifiying it leads to great confusion – especially if this is only done on one side of the water.

    English is just not a phonetic language (or is it langwidge?), never was and never will be. Hence it really doesn’t make any sense to even start thinking of it that way. I was born and educated in England and had no more or less problems with the language.

    What about all of those “poor” people in places like China? So called simplified Chinese is like the worst nightmare (or is it nitemair?) any language student ever had.

    I have been living in Germany for many years and am fluent in that language. Apart from a few exceptions (or is it xcepshuns?) it is a logical and very phonetically structed language. Even though, Germany has reformed its standards many times (in sync with Austria) much to the disgust and confusion of the general population. Why (or is it y?) is that? Why can’t a language just naturally progress as time passes?

    I think a language should not be tampered with unless there is a popular movement to make a change here or there. It will change naturally as new words and terms appear due to new trends, new technology or new literature appears.

    May Shakespeare rest in peace!

    • Thank you, Johnny, for the very interesting comment. I agree with you, a language should not be tampered with. I think the changes that came about in the spellings were gradual … with time, like you said.

  3. I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks about this and finds it fascinating …

  4. There were a few words in this article that I don’t want to say are “wrong” but that I do not personally use as an American. For example, I have never used “dialog” before but always use “dialogue”. And most American’s use “theater” and “theatre” for different meanings (at least in my experience). “Theater” is like a movie theater whereas “theatre” means an actual stage play. Finally, I have never seen kidnapping with only one “p” before.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kelly. What I have mentioned in the post is generally true, but as with most English language/grammar rules, there are always exceptions. Besides, in today’s global world, all spellings are used everywhere.

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