Spelling Differences Between British and American English

The might of the United States in spheres of technology, entertainment, trade and economy has ensured that people all over the world want to be well versed in American English. American English refers to several aspects of the language – the accent, grammar and sentence constructions; even certain words, idioms and colloquial usage that have diverged from British English. Today we look at some of the major spelling differences in American and British English.

Use of ‘or’ and ‘our’

One of the most commonly noted differences between American and British spelling is the use of ‘or’ and ‘our’ to spell words.

  • British: colour, favourite, harbour, honour, labour, splendor, vigour, etc.
  • American: color, favorite, harbor, honor, labor, splendor, vigor, etc.

Use of ‘s’ and ‘z’

Whereas British English will spell certain words with an ‘s’, Americans will spell these with a ‘z’. However some British spellers will also use the z in many cases.

  • British: analyse, colonise, realise, popularize, etc.
  • American: analyze, colonize, realize, popularize, etc.

Use of ‘e’ instead of ‘ae’ and ‘oe’

When the British speak of the female hormone they spell it ‘oestrogen’; whereas Americans will spell it ‘estrogen’. Here are some more examples:

  • British: anaemia, diarrhoea, foetus, gynaecology, lukaemia, etc.
  • American: anemia, diarrhea, fetus, gynecology, leukemia, etc.

Use of ‘er’ and ‘re’

The British spell words ending in the ‘er’ sound with the ‘e’ after the’ r’ whereas Americans spell it the way it sounds.

  • British: theatre, metre, fibre, spectre, litre, calibre, etc.
  • American: theater, meter, fiber, specter, liter, caliber, etc.

Use of Single and double ‘l’

This can get confusing at times. Some British words use a single ‘l’ whereas American words use ‘ll’.

  • British: appal, enrol, distil, enthrall, etc.
  • American: appal, enrol, distil, enthrall, etc.

And it does not end there. The reverse is true in other usages.

  • British: cancelled, traveller, marvellous, modelling, jewellery, woollen, etc.
  • American: canceled, traveler, marvelous, modeling, jewelry / jewelery, woolen, etc.

Use of ‘s’ and ‘c’

This is yet another noticeable difference. However don’t confuse it with the differences in the noun and verb forms of words like ‘advise’ and ‘advice’. We are talking about something different:

  • British: defence, licence, pretence, etc.
  • American: defense, license, pretense, etc.

While this is not a comprehensive list, these are some of the main differences. The rule of thumb is that the Americans favor brevity so that it is ‘catalog’, ‘program’, ‘draft’, ‘mold’ and ‘mustache’ rather than the British ‘catalogue’, ‘programme’, ‘draught, ‘mould’ and ‘moustache’.

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