British Vs. American English Spelling — Understanding the Basics

The spellings of British and American words differ, but when…

The spellings of British and American words differ, but when it comes to which one is from where we’re confused. There is a well-known saying “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language.” It highlights that the language is the same, but there are subtle differences that separate one from the other. Both British and Americans are sometimes taken off guard by the variances in the spellings. So,how do you spell in US English or UK English? Let’s explore!

Why Do UK and US English Differ?

Although the differences between the British and the Americans seem minor, they are significant. The main difference is that British English retains the spelling of terms borrowed from other languages, primarily French and German.

However, American English spellings are mainly determined by how words are pronounced.

A person holding a ballpoint pen writing on a notebook
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

8 Spelling Differences in British & American English

Most of the time, British and Americans understand each other. However, there are still a few significant differences between UK and US English, which can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Following are eight main spelling differences between UK and US English.

-Ae- Vs -E- and -Oe- Vs -E-

British English words which were derived from the Ancient Greek, have the double vowels -ae- or -oe-, while the American English words are just spelled with an -e-. Most of these words are technical or medical terms

  • Anaemia vs Anemia
  • Leukaemia vs Leukemia
  • Diarrhoea vs Diarrhea

-Our Vs -Or

This is one of the classic differences between British and American English spellings resulting from the French influence. All British words ending in -our are spelled with -or- in American English.

  • Behaviour vs Behavior
  • Colour vs Color
  • Flavour vs Flavor

-Ence Vs -Ense

Nouns that end with -ence are used by British English, while American English prefers the spelling with -ense at the end.

  • Defence vs defense
  • Offence vs Offense
  • Pretence vs Pretense

-Re Vs -Er

Similar to words ending in -our, words spelled with -re at the end originated from French spellings, which are accepted in UK English. However, the Americans replace the -re with -er to better reflect the pronunciation.

  • Fibre vs Fiber
  • Centre vs Center
  • Metre vs Meter

Words Ending in “l”

Some verbs ending in “l” have the “l” in British English doubled before adding a suffix or ending. However, the American spellings don’t double the “l” in any case.

  • Travelled vs Traveled
  • Fuelling vs Fueling

Words Ending in –E

Words ending with a silent -e in both American and British English are stemmed from Old English. US English prefers to drop the silent -e while UK English prefers to keep it.

Also, there are words with an -e at the end derived from French loanwords where the consonant before the final -e is doubled. The British words retain the -e at the end, while Americans tend to omit the consonant and the final -e from the spellings.

  • Glycerine vs Glycerin
  • Annexe vs Annex
  • Gramme vs Gram
  • Programme vs program

-Ize Vs -Ise

Some verbs in British English can be spelled with either -ize or -ise at the end. However, they are always spelled with -ize in American English.

  • Apologise vs Apologize
  • Recognise vs Recognize
  • Organise vs Organize

-Yse Vs -Yze

Words ending in -yse are only acceptable in UK English, while the US English words are always spelled with -yze.

  • Paralyse vs. Paralyze
  • Analyse vs. Analyze
  • Catalyse vs. Catalyze

To Wrap Up

The spelling of words in British or American English can sometimes seem confusing. But in the end, it just comes down to what is comfortable for the writer and the intended audience. This article discusses some common differences between UK and US English to help you spell the word correctly based on requirements.

Frequently asked questions

Why do British add u to words?

This plugin offers the answer. An Old Bailey court in London ruled the 17th century that -our endings were correct British spelling. Britain accepted that the U is kept in situations where English suffixes or suffixesses of Greek or Latin origins are attached.

Why is it hard to understand British English?

Scotland can be particularly difficult to understand places with stronger accents, such as those in Scotland. People often use language or words they commonly use in their local community, which may be confusing to non-native speakers of English in general.

Which English accent is easiest to understand?

The most popular English accent of all is the American accent. Over 350 million North Americans (including Canadians, that is), this is the easiest accent for most people to understand, whether native speakers or non-native speakers.

How do you spell apologize in UK?

The standard American English spelling is Apologize. This is the standard English spelling for apology.

Why do British use s instead of z?

Likewise, Americans use Z’s because of nineteenth-century dictionaries, while British people use S’s to assert their national identity.

Does Canada use British spelling?

Canadian and American English are most commonly confused by spelling – after all, Canadians use British spelling, right? Canadian spelling combines British and American rules and includes some domestic idiosyncrasies.

How do the British spell definitely?

What is the difference between British and American spelling?

The main difference is that British English retains the spelling of words it has absorbed from other languages, mainly French and German. Even so, American English spellings are mostly based on how the word sounds when spoken.

Does British English use S or Z?

‘S’ is used in the UK for words spelled with the letter s, and ‘Z’ for words written with the alphabet z, or zee as some might say!

Which English accent is hardest to understand?

British accents are several, very distinct. Certainly, India’s accent is one of the most difficult to understand.

Is it GREY or gray?

Having a black and white spelling is not the only thing that is problematic. This color is used in both black and white spellings. The color grey is more prevalent in American English, whereas the color grey dominates British English.

Why does American spelling have differences to British spelling?

It is most often because British English has tended to preserve the spelling of words absorbed from other languages (e.g. American English adapts spelling to reflect how words actually sound when they are spoken.

Why do British spell color colour?

Color and color is the spelling used in the United States. The English-speaking countries use colour. Color is named after the Latin word color (unsurprisingly). Anglo-Norman colour was introduced in Middle English, which was a version of Old French colour.

Why did America drop the U in colour?

In addition, he dropped the letter H from words like colour and honour – which fell under French influence in England – to make them color and honor instead. By doing the same to words ending in -ise, he made them -ize, since he believed American English spelling should reflect the way it was said.

Is American or British English easier to understand?

The reason for learners’ preference to American English is that it has fewer regional accents and dialects than British English, and thus is easier to understand and use.

British Vs. American English Spelling — Understanding the Basics

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

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