American Vs. British English: Spelling Differences

Jun 4, 2020 | VOCABULARY

An easy tip to distinguish AmE from BrE is that American spelling is fairly shorter and more straightforward. This is because AmE tends to simplify spelling of certain words in accordance with the phonetic principle. Simply put, words are more likely to be spelled as they are pronounced in AmE than in BrE. The latter (BrE) tends to preserve the original forms of the suffixes (endings) borrowed from Greek and Latin.

Below is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers the major spelling differences between AmE and BrE.

  1. Most words containing or ending with -our in BrE contain or end in -or in AmE.
    Examples:

    favorite favourite
    behavior behaviour
    color colour
    endeavor endeavour
    flavor flavour
    honor honour
    humor humour
    neighbor neighbour
  1. Words ending with -re in BrE usually end with -er in AmE.
    Examples:

    center centre
    fiber fibre
    meager meagre
    meter metre
    theater theatre
  1. -z -s is another area in which AmE and BrE spellings do not coincide.
    Examples:

    cozy cosy
    analyze analyse
    apologize apologise
    authorize authorise
    capitalize capitalise
    civilize civilise
    memorize memorise
    realize realise
  1. The suffix -ce in BrE is written as -se in AmE.
    Examples:

    license* (noun) licence (noun)
    defense defence
    offense offence

    Exception:

    practice** (verb) practise (verb)

    * The verb form is spelled the same in both AmE and BrE. However, when the word is used as a noun, the different spellings come into play. In AmE, the noun is spelled the same as the verb – license. But in BrE, the noun is spelled licence.

    ** Practice is always right in AmE, regardless of its role (verb or noun) in the sentence. In BrE, however, the noun form is practice while its verb form is practise.

  1. Most words that have ‘a’ directly followed by an ‘e’ in BrE are spelled without the ‘a’ in AmE. The ‘o’ is likewise omitted in AmE.
    Examples:

    anesthesia anaesthesia
    orthopedics orthopaedics
    diarrhea diarrhoea
    maneuver manoeuvre
  1. Another difference between BrE and AmE is in spelling of words comprising the final letter ‘l’. In BrE, words ending in ‘l’ always double this letter when suffixes (e.g., -ed, -ing, -er, -or) are added. Meanwhile, in AmE a single letter ‘l’ is retained regardless of added suffixes. Note that this is applicable for only words whose stress in on the first syllable.
    Examples:

    canceled cancelled
    dialing dialling
    marvelous marvellous
    traveler traveller
    counselor counsellor
    snorkeling snorkelling

    For words whose stress is on the second syllable, the final ‘l’ is doubled in AmE.

    appall appal
    distill distil
    instill instil
    enroll enrol
    enthrall enthral
    fulfill fulfil
    installment instalment
  1. In addition to the spelling dissimilarities discussed above, BrE and AmE have other miscellaneous differences which cannot be categorized.
    Examples:

    acknowledgment acknowledgement
    judgment judgement
    program programme
    jewelry jewellery
    math maths
    catalog catalogue
    check cheque
    mom mum
    mold mould
    adapter adaptor
    aluminum aluminium
    artifact artefact
    gray grey
    tire tyre
    inquiry enquiry
    naught nought
    disk disc
    percent per cent
    plow plough
    skeptic sceptic
    sulfur sulphur
    story (level of a building) storey

Reference

Divided by a common language: A guide to British and American English (Christopher Davies)

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