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.
- Most words containing or ending with -our in BrE contain or end in -or in AmE.
favorite favourite behavior behaviour color colour endeavor endeavour flavor flavour honor honour humor humour neighbor neighbour
- Words ending with -re in BrE usually end with -er in AmE.
center centre fiber fibre meager meagre meter metre theater theatre
- -z -s is another area in which AmE and BrE spellings do not coincide.
cozy cosy analyze analyse apologize apologise authorize authorise capitalize capitalise civilize civilise memorize memorise realize realise
- The suffix -ce in BrE is written as -se in AmE.
license* (noun) licence (noun) defense defence offense offence
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.
- 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.
anesthesia anaesthesia orthopedics orthopaedics diarrhea diarrhoea maneuver manoeuvre
- 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.
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
- In addition to the spelling dissimilarities discussed above, BrE and AmE have other miscellaneous differences which cannot be categorized.
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
Divided by a common language: A guide to British and American English (Christopher Davies)