American and British spelling

There are several main areas in which American and British spelling are different. The differences are often due to the fact that British English has tended to keep the spelling of words it has absorbed from other languages (e.g., French) while American English has adapted the spelling to reflect the way that the words actually sound when they're spoken. 

 

Words ending in -er/–re

American English words that end in -er often end in -re in British English:

US

British

center

centre

fiber

fibre

liter

litre

meter

metre

theater or theatre

theatre

Note that in American English, theater is the standard spelling, but the -re spelling is also commonly used, especially in proper names (the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre).

 

Words ending in -or/-our 

American English words ending in -or often end in -our in British English:

US

British

color

colour

flavor

flavour

humor

humour

labor

labour

neighbor

neighbour

 

Words ending in -ize/-ise

Verbs in British English that can be spelled with either -ize or -ise at the end are always spelled with -ize at the end in American English:

US

British

apologize

apologize or apologise

organize

organize or organise

recognize

recognize or recognise

 

Words ending in -yze/-yse

Verbs in American English that end in -yze are always spelled -yse in British English:

US

 

British

analyze

analyse

breathalyze

breathalyse

paralyze

paralyse

 

Words ending in a vowel plus l

In British spelling, for verbs ending in a vowel plus l, double the l when adding endings that begin with a vowel. In American English, the l is doubled only when the stress is at the end of the word. Otherwise the l is not doubled:

US

British

travel

travel

traveled

travelled

traveling

travelling

traveler

traveller

fuel

fuel

fueled

fuelled

fueling

fuelling

patrol

patrol

patrolled

patrolled

patrolling

patrolling

 

Words spelled with -oe/-ae

British English words that are spelled with the double vowels ae or oe are usually spelled with just an e in American English:

US

British

leukemia

leukaemia

maneuver

manoeuvre

estrogen

oestrogen

pediatric

paediatric

Note that in American English, certain terms, such as archaeology, keep the ae spelling as standard, although the spelling with just the e (e.g., archeology) is usually acceptable as well.

 

Nouns ending with -ense/–ence

Several nouns that end with -ense in American English are spelled with -ence in British English:

US

British

defense

defence

license

licence

offense

offence

pretense

pretence

 

Nouns ending with -og/–ogue

Some nouns that end with -ogue in British English end with either -og or -ogue in American English:

US

British

analog or analogue

analogue

catalog or catalogue

catalogue

dialog or dialogue

dialogue

The distinctions here are not hard and fast. The spelling analogue is acceptable but not common in American English; catalog has become the US norm, but catalogue is not uncommon; dialogue continues to be preferred over dialog.

Aside from spelling differences, many items and practices have different names in American and British English. To explore further, see British and American and terms.


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