Differences Between British and American Spelling: Usage Style Guidelines

Americans have definitely revolutionized the way they spell; it makes me doubtful as to whether they are lazy, ignorant, or improvement-thirsty. They drop 'u' from 'colour', 'favourite', and 'honour'; 'e' from 'judgement'; and totally remodel words like 'plough', 'cheque', and 'encyclopaedia' to help their pronunciation. Which version do you think is appropriate? The original but difficult-to-spell British or the easy lazy American?

Here Are a List of Words With Their American and British Spellings Separated

British SpellingAmerican Spelling
aeroplaneairplane
aestheticsesthetics
ageingaging
aluminiumaluminum
analogueanalog
analyseanalyze
annexeannex
archaeologyarcheology
armourarmor
artefactartifact
axeax
behaviourbehavior
cataloguecatalog
catalysecatalyze
centrecenter
chequecheck
colourcolor
cosycozy
counsellingcounseling
defencedefense
demagoguedemagog
dependantdependent
dialoguedialog
diarrhoeadiarrhea
discdisk
doughnutdonut
draughtdraft
encyclopaediaencyclopedia
endeavourendeavor
enquiryinquiry
ensureinsure
equallingequaling
favouritefavorite
flavourflavor
foetusfetus
haemophiliahemophilia
harbourharbor
honourhonor
humourhumor
jewelleryjewelry
judgementjudgment
licencelicense
leukaemialeukemia
lustreluster
metremeter
memorisememorize
manoeuvremaneuver
meagremeager
monologuemonolog
neighbourneighbor
ochreocher
oesophagusesophagus
offenceoffense
organiseorganize
paediatricspediatrics
paralyseparalyze
pedagoguepedagog
per centpercent
phoneyphony
ploughplow
programmeprogram
pyjamaspajamas
quarrellingquarreling
recogniserecognize
rumourrumor
spectrespecter
storeystory
synagoguesynagog
theatretheater
tranquilisetranquilize
travellingtraveling
tyretire

That was quite a comprehensive list, and it almost covers all types of spelling variations, such as:

—ise to —ize
—ence to —ense
—our to —or
—ogue to —og
—yse to —yze
—re to —er

Also, some words change when they are conjugated as in examples of 'counseling' and 'equaling'.

Why I Hate the American Spelling

Here are obvious examples: 'esophagus', 'esthetics', 'fetus', etc. These words make me feel that American spelling is a 5-year-old kid's spelling. In fact, 'fetus' doesn't match with its pronunciation of 'feetus'; it definitely looks like 'bet us'. Who other than a kid would spell like that. 'Esophagus' definitely is a kid's version.

The word 'tire' really tires me, while looking up its versatility. What I hate the most are the words with many different meanings. In this case, I am definitely with the British. They have 'tyre', which is very distinct and easy-to-use. I will suggest you use 'tyre' for the wheel and 'tire' for fatigue.

'Story' for 'storey' is another apology. I will definitely stick with 'storey' when I mean the floor of a building, but for American users, I feel that I have to use 'story' [See my suggestions below].

If you take the example of 'per cent' vs. 'percent', I am with 'per cent'. 'Percent' definitely looks to me like a lazy man's approach.

When I consider 'aluminum', 'pajamas', 'jewelry' etc., I hate American spelling more than ever. In these words, they not only misinterpreted the spelling, but also the entire pronunciations.

The ultimate thing that I hate about Americans is their 'donut'. It definitely looks like 'donot' to me at the passing look. Therefore, I may really shy away. But it seems Americans have great respect for the term 'doughnut'.

Besides these obvious misappropriations, there are quite a few useless spelling 'improvements'. Examples like artifact, enquiry, defense, offense, etc.

Why I Love American Spelling?

Though there are obvious problems in American's way of spelling, there are definite improvements, I welcome with outstretched hands. The first one is that comfy term, 'cozy'. Definitely, the British version is less comfortable. How good I feel when I lie down in couch and rumble 'cooozzzyyy'.

Then, through 'program', 'plow', 'analog', 'synagog', hemophilia, etc., Americans have really helped pronunciation and spelling.

When we speak about words requiring some strength like 'analyze', 'organize', etc., I would rather stick with 'z' to 's'.

I love American spelling a lot due to 'maneuver'. When I first saw this term in the British version, I almost choked and fainted at the magnitude of a term that is simply said 'menoover'. Though I can spell it accurately, it was a real trouble to learn and retain it. Then came its American version, which was definitely easier. Just as that, words like 'haemophilia' and 'diarrhoea' are improved in American versions.

Some Usage Style Suggestions

I don't follow British English, and I don't follow American English. What I follow and suggest my readers to follow is an intelligible mix of both these versions.

For instance, the word 'disc' shouldn't be used as an alternative for 'disk'. For a circular solid object, I would use 'disc', and for magnetic storage devices, 'disk'. Similar to that, use 'storey' for building floors and 'story' for tales. The same goes for 'tyre' vs. 'tire'.

I would suggest that you do away with words like 'diarrhoea', 'donut', 'haemophilia', 'phony', 'esthetics', 'esophagus', etc. My personal preference between —se and —ze is —ze.

Since most of the popular word processors are from the US, they support by default US spelling versions. Hence, when you use MS Word and type in any of the British spelling, it will show you an error. For you to find the appropriate spelling, change the language of the software to British English (UK English) or International English, or add the un-supported words to the dictionary, so that they are no longer flagged as error.

Mix and match these spelling versions and find out the ones that you like the most. Make adjustments related to where most of your readers are from (whether British, American, or World). And one last tip: I prefer 'arse' to 'ass'.

[Edit: Thanks to the reader Paul Mellows for pointing out an obvious mistake. It's fixed now. By the way, arguement is a common misspelling for argument.

Other clarifications: We never say that the word 'check' doesn't exist in British English. It does. We have included here only the AmE spelling of the word 'cheque' in Banking communication.

Tyre vs. Tire: The word 'tyre' is common in AmE these days. But originally, it was 'tire' for the padding they use for wheels in vehicles. It is still used in that meaning. I have suggested that Americans use 'tyre' for the purpose and 'tire' for fatigue.]

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

6 Opinions:

  1. Following on my sticking of my foot in my mouth regarding got vs. gotten, here is a subject in which I can shine with a little less tarnish.

    For spelling, I have to admit that I do some of the same. As an American writing for Americans--for the most part--I use the American spellings, with the exception of colors (the different colors themselves, not the actual word) and the word theatre. It looks so much classier in the British spelling, as do grey, ochre, and a few others. Probably hearkens to my bohemian background. So while I stick with American (save my few intentional exceptions), I'm perfectly comfortable with most British spellings, however, owing to a stint in Australia. I think that's the key: making a conscious choice about your spelling. Spelling mistakes mark a poor writer, spelling decisions a good.

    I would, however, caution any readers about accepting this list at face value. For example, most American dictionaries list "dialogue" as the preferred spelling, though "dialog" is acceptable (likely as an Americanism that never fully caught on, even in America, that is preserved only for dignity's sake). Monologue is the same but analog is not. Also, I've never seen "archeology;" the local university has an "archaeology" emphasis, however. What's the result? American spelling is inconsistent, but it's how I choose to go--at least, how I endeavor to choose to go.

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  2. I 'd be a much better speller if I was british, lol most of the words I misspell would be correct

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  3. Hi Peter, thanks for your valuable comment. Yes, dialogue, and certain others like synagogue, doughnut, demagogue, etc., are there in American English as well. That's a good indication. And yes, archaeology is better spelling for the word.

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  4. I am a proofreader and red hot on the correct usage of English spelling but am in a quandary when it comes to proofreading articles for the American market, especially differentiating between 'program' and 'programme'. I see 'program' as strictly relating to computers and any other type of programme spelt the correct (or should I say, English) way. As for anything of a Greek or Latin origin I wouldn't dream of corrupting the spelling; we may 'borrow' words from other languages but do we have the right to alter their spelling?

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  5. Thank you for sharing this nice post. I agree their is a problem to writing because of British and American spelling differences.

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  6. when I write to my friends, and family in the U.K (I am English), spell chk always marks my spelling as wrong as I spell as I was taught so my English family and friends think I have lost my mind and education.

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