Differences between British and American spelling

Even though many people would claim that the English that most people use today is neither British nor American, we still find it appropriate to say some words about differences between British and American spelling here.

Even though British English and American English are generally very similar in all respects when it comes to writing, there are a number of more or less well-known spelling differences which we ought to be aware of. As writers, we had better decide whether we want our texts to look more British or more American, and then adapt our spelling and vocabulary choices accordingly (by the way, the AWELU website is intended to represent British English, just like the English version of the Lund University website generally does).

The generalisations below were made at askoxford.com, but since this site no longer exists, the only reference we can provide is the following:

Please note that when it comes to spelling differences, we often have to talk about tendencies, rather than strict rules, that is, every rule/generalisation about British and American spelling mentioned below need not apply to all words. This is explicitly pointed out in the rules, but such hedges are often neglected, unfortunately.

 

  • British English words that end in -re (e.g. centre, fibre, theatre) often end in -er in American English (center, fiber, theater).

  • British English words that end in -our (e.g. colour, humour) usually end with -or in American English (color, humor).

  • Verbs in British English that can be spelled with either -ize or -ise at the end (e.g. recognize/recognise) are always spelled with -ize in American English.

  • Verbs in British English that end in -yse (e.g. analyse) are always spelled -yze in American English (analyze).  
  • In British spelling, verbs ending in a vowel plus l double the l when adding endings that begin with a vowel (e.g. travel, travelled, traveller). In American English the l is not doubled (travel, traveled, traveler).

  • British English words that are spelled with the double vowels ae or oe (e.g. archaeology, manoeuvre) are just spelled with an e in American English (archeology, maneuver).

  • Some nouns that end with -ence in British English (e.g. licence, defence) are spelled -ense in American English (license, defense).

  • Some nouns that end with -ogue in British English (e.g. dialogue) end with -og in American English (dialog).