This article about differences in British and American spelling was updated by the Great British Mag content team on 20 September, 2019
When it comes to the differences between British English and American English spellings, even Brits get caught out occasionally.
The main difference is that British English keeps the spelling of words it has absorbed from other languages, mainly French and German. American English is more phonetic, meaning that the spelling more often mimics the way the words sound when they are spoken.
(This is not to say that American English is completely phonetic. It is still English, after all, and the spelling typically remains complicated.)
English was introduced to what is now America in the 17th century by British settlers. Since then the language has evolved and has been influenced by the many waves of immigration to the USA.
The spellings of British English words were largely codified in 1755 by Samuel Johnson, who wrote what is generally agreed to be one of the most famous dictionaries in the world. It took Johnson just over eight years with the six helpers to curate the 40,000 words that appeared in A Dictionary of the English Language.
Similarly in America, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language was first printed in 1806. It popularised phonetic American English spellings such as color instead of colour.
The author was Noah Webster, who followed up the original dictionary in 1828 with his American Dictionary of the English Language which had over 70,000 words.
Here are some of the main differences in the spellings explained with examples.
British English words ending in ‘our’ usually end in ‘or’ in American English:
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:
|apologize or apologise||Apologize|
|organize or organise||Organize|
|recognize or recognise||Recognize|
Verbs in British English that end in ‘yse’ are always spelled ‘yze’ in American English:
In British spelling ‘L’ is doubled in verbs ending in a vowel plus ‘L’. In American English, the ‘L’ is not doubled:
British English words that are spelled with the double vowels ae or oe tend to be just spelled with an e in American English.
There are exceptions to the rule; for example both British and American English accept “archaeology” as correct. In American English “archeology” is also acceptable, whilst in British English it is not.
Some nouns that end with ‘ence’ in British English are spelled ‘ense in American English:’
Some nouns that end with ‘ogue’ in British English end with either ‘og’ or ‘ogue in American English:
|analogue||analog or analogue|
|catalogue||catalog or catalogue|
|dialogue||dialog or dialogue|