Words > The 7 Major Differences between British and American Spelling

The 7 Major Differences between British and American Spelling

Better get a translator.

Brits and Americans may speak the same language, but sometimes, that doesn’t seem like the case, especially in terms of spelling. Do we "analyze" or "analyse" the spelling differences that each country favors (or is it "favours")? Extra letters, preference for "S" instead of "Z," completely different words altogether ("gaol" instead of "jail")... it’s a lot to remember. Patriotic early Americans (especially lexicographer Noah Webster) wanted their own unique spellings that differed from those in England, but such changes created long-lasting headaches. Read on to learn six of the most common ways in which US and UK spellings differ, and about some spelling differences you might not have known.

1. Brits use an "S" where Americans use a "Z" or a "C."

  • analyse / analyze
  • colonize / colonise
  • criticise / criticize
  • energise / energize
  • epitomise / epitomize
  • evangelise / evangelize
  • computerize / computerise
  • jeopardise / jeopardize
  • materialise / materialize
  • realise / realize
  • satirise / satirize
  • modernise / modernize
  • ostracise / ostracize
  • paralyse / paralyze
  • patronise / patronize
  • practises / practices
  • defence / defense
  • offense / offence
  • cosy / cozy

2. Brits use "-RE" at the end of words, while Americans use "-ER."

  • theatre / theater
  • centre / center
  • lustre / luster
  • meagre / meager
  • spectre / specter
  • sombre / somber

3. Brits use a "U" where Americans don't.

  • labour / labor
  • behaviour / behavior
  • colour / color
  • honour / honor
  • favour / favor
  • neighbour / neighbor
  • rancour / rancor
  • splendor / splendour

4. Brits use an extra "L" where Americans don't.

  • councillor / councilor
  • jeweller / jeweler
  • labelled / labeled
  • marvellous / marvelous
  • counselling / counseling

5. Brits still use "AE," a ligature from Old and early Middle English, while Americans just use "E."

  • aeon / eon
  • haematology / hematology
  • aeroplane / airplane
  • anaemia / anemia
  • chimaera / chimera
  • encyclopaedia / encyclopedia
  • mediaeval / medieval
  • leukaemia / leukemia

6. Brits keep an "E" before the suffix "-ment."

  • judgement / judgment
  • acknowledgement / acknowledgment
  • arguement / argument

7. Brits and Americans also have some miscellaneous spelling differences.

  • gaol / jail
  • liquorice / licorice
  • kerb / curb

One general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that British English uses more complex spellings (thank you, Old English!), while American English is more simplified. How do you keep these spelling differences straight?

Complete English Grammar Rules is available for purchase as Paperback and Kindle eBook.
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