British Vs. American English Spelling — Understanding the Basics

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.

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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.

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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