American and British Spelling Differences

Spelling differences in 35 categories
1-5: Greek (classic) & Latin spellings simplified
  1. -e-/-oe-
  2. -e-/-ae-
  3. -r-/-rh-
  4. /-ph-
  5. -yze/-yse
6-11: Old/Middle English simplified
  1. -f-/-ph-
  2. -ed/-t
  3. other past tense forms
  4. -f-/-gh-
  5. -i-/-y-
  6. /-st
12-21: French spellings simplified
  1. -er/-re
  2. -or/-our
  3. -o-/-ou-
  4. -m/-mme
  5. -ck/-que
  1. -g/-gue
  2. -ction/-xion
  3. -ize/-ise
  4. -a-/-au-
  5. -se/-ce
22-31: Pronunciation simplifications
  1. -er/-or
  2. -e/-ee
  3. -g-/-gg-
  4. -ll-/-l-
  5. -l-/-ll-
  6. -p-/-pp-
  7. -s-/-ss-
  8. -t-/-tt-
  9. -g-/-ge-
  10. in-/en-
32-35: spaces, diacritics, punctuation, miscellaneous
  1. spaces
  2. diacritics
  3. punctuation
  4. miscellaneous

Here is a list of 492 American and British words that are spelt differently.

I (mostly) used two dictionaries to cross check the words, chosen as the best to reflect contemporary usage of generally used words. These are the standard collegiate or desk dictionaries that contain typically up to about 200,000 definitions:

I’ve not included historical words (compleat). I’ve only included words where there are differences (no compelled); I’ve not listed common spelling errors (complection). I have included some, but not a differing variant which seems too infrequent or disputable to note (such as advertise or advisor or arguement). I do list what appear to be the same frequency, since you might expect otherwise (encyclopedia, encyclopaedia), although they were probably once different. And I’ve not included words like accessorize because although W10 lists -ise as a British variant, the COD doesn’t list it. I’ve ignored hyphenation differences as they vary so much, and include only a token of space, diacritic and punctuation differences.

I originally compiled this from a list of over 180 words sent to me by Dan Tilque, the news:alt.usage.english FAQ, and many other various sources.

I had previously used (WII) Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1988 (also about 200,000 definitions) for the American side, but revamped the list using W10.

Ideally, there would simply be a unique spelling for each side, but often they both figure to some extent on both sides. Dictionaries list variants in a variety of ways:

and sometimes word2, however it is designated, is parenthesised.

I have inferred from the dictionaries the following two levels of variants, and indicate them as follows:

word1, word2 word1 is the equal or more usual variant
word1 (word2) word2 is a much less frequent variant than word1

The dictionaries tend to agree generally but sometimes differ in the details. For instance, both COD and WII say spelled or spelt (W10 says spelt is chiefly British). Whereas, COD says oenology, indicating enology is the American, but WII say it’s oenology, and that enology is a variant. W10 says enology, and that oenology is a variant.

Many spelling differences are the result of simplifying obsolete spellings that in many cases are vestiges of other languages, such as French, Latin or Greek. This practice, more common in American, was one of Webster’s stated aims. American much more readily drops hyphens and spaces in compound words (lemongrass), and in these compounds the variations between American and British seem innumerable. (Does anal-retentive have a hyphen?)

A special note about ize/ise spellings.

When I look at UK literature (personal letters, magazines, postings, books, etc.) I find in actuality the -ise form is used.

COD generally lists the -ize form as the regular spelling, with -ise form as the variant. The reason is that the -ize form in the UK is not only accepted but, seemingly in the case of COD, the recommended form.

Since the -ise form is the one used by the natives, I presume that the -ise form is the actually accepted and current spelling in the UK, whereas the -ize word is an acceptable but less often used variant.

Feedback:

Please send any additions. Also any ideas for better categorising a group or word (for instance, where should omelette and glamour go?). Furthermore, if you feel strongly that a variant is more (or less) frequent than indicated, holler (regional differences notwithstanding).

    (1-5) Greek (classic) & Latin spellings simplified

  1. -e-/-oe-
  2. American British
    amoeba (ameba) amoeba
    diarrhea diarrhoea
    edema oedema
    enology, oenology oenology
    esophagus (oesophagus) oesophagus
    estrogen (oestrogen) oestrogen
    estrus (oestrus) oestrus
    fetal (foetal) foetal
    fetid, foetid fetid, foetid
    fetor fetor, foetor
    fetus (foetus) foetus
    gonorrhea gonorrhoea
    homeopath homoeopath
    homeostasis homoeostasis
    maneuver, -verability, -vering manoeuvre, -vrability, -vring (-vreing)
    menorrhea menorrhoea
    penology penology (poenology?)

  3. -e-/-ae-
  4. American British
    eon, aeon aeon, eon
    aesthete, esthete aesthete
    aesthetic, esthetic aesthetic
    anemia anaemia
    anemic anaemic
    anesthetic, -thesia, -thetist anaesthetic, -thesia, -thetist
    archaeology, archeology archaeology
    cesarean (caesarean) cesarian (caesarian) caesarean, caesarian
    cesium caesium
    diaeresis, dieresis diaeresis
    encyclopedia, encyclopaedia encyclopedia, encyclopaedia
    ether ether (aether)
    fecal (faecal) faecal
    feces (faeces) faeces
    gynecology gynaecology
    hemo- haemo-
    hemoglobin haemoglobin
    hemolysis haemolysis
    hemophilia haemophilia
    hemorrhage haemorrhage
    hemorrhoid haemorrhoid
    leukemia leukaemia
    medieval, mediaeval medieval, mediaeval
    orthopedics, orthopaedics orthopaedics
    paean (pean) paean
    paleobotany palaeobotany
    Paleocene Palaeocene
    paleoclimatology palaeoclimatology
    paleogeography palaeogeography
    paleography palaeography
    paleolithic palaeolithic
    paleomagnetism palaeomagnetism
    paleontology palaeontology
    Paleozoic Palaeozoic
    pedagogy paedagogy
    pederast pederast, paederast
    pediatrician paediatrician
    pediatric paediatric
    pediatrics paediatrics
    pedophile paedophile
    pedophilia paedophilia
    primeval primeval (primaeval)
    syneresis, synaeresis synaeresis
    synesthesia, synaesthesia synaesthesia

  5. -r-/-rh-
  6. American British
    eurythmy, eurhythmy eurhythmy

  7. silent -ph-
  8. American British
    apothegm apophthegm

  9. -lyze/-lyse
  10. American British
    analyze analyse
    autolyze autolyse
    catalyze catalyse
    dialyze dialyse
    electrolyze electrolyse
    hemolyze haemolyse
    hydrolyze hydrolyse
    paralyze paralyse
    photolyze photolyse
    plasmolyze plasmolyse
    psychoanalyze psychoanalyse
    pyrolyze, pyrolize pyrolyse

    (6-11) Old/Middle English simplified

  11. -f-/-ph-
  12. American British
    bisulfate bisulphate
    disulfide disulphide
    sulfate sulphate
    sulfide sulphide
    sulfur, sulphur sulphur
    sulfurous, sulphurous sulphurous
    trisulfate trisulphate

  13. -ed/-t
  14. American British
    burned, burnt burnt, burned
    dreamed, dreamt dreamt, dreamed
    knelt, kneeled knelt (kneeled)
    leaned leaned, leant
    leaped, leapt leaped, leapt
    learned learned, learnt
    skinned skinned [skint]
    smelled, smelt smelt, smelled
    spelled spelt, spelled
    spilled, spilt spilt, spilled
    spoiled, spoilt spoilt, spoiled

  15. other past tense verb forms
  16. American British
    alighted (alit) alighted (alit)
    fit fit, fitted
    forecast forecast, forecasted
    gotten, got got
    knit knitted
    lit, alighted lit, lighted
    wed wedded

  17. -f-/-gh- and -ow/-ough
  18. American British
    draft, -fty draught, -ghty (only air current, drawing of liquid)
    draftsman draughtsman, draftsman (one who makes drawings)
    plow (plough), -man, -share plough, -man, -share
    snowplow snowplough

  19. -i-/-y-
  20. American British
    dryly (drily) drily (dryly)
    gypsy, gipsy gypsy, gipsy
    jibe (gybe) gybe (nautical)
    siphon, syphon siphon (syphon)
    tire tyre (on vehicles only)
    tyke, tike tyke (tike)
    tyro tiro (tyro)

  21. /-st
  22. American British
    amid, amidst amid, amidst
    among (amongst) among, amongst
    while while, whilst

    (12-21) French spellings simplified

  23. -er/-re
  24. American British
    accoutre, accouter accoutre
    accouterment, accoutrement accoutrement
    amphitheater amphitheatre
    caliber (calibre) calibre
    center centre
    centerboard centreboard
    centerfold centrefold
    centering centring, centreing
    fiber (fibre) fibre
    fiberboard (fibreboard) fibreboard
    fiberglass (fibreglass) fibreglass
    goiter goitre
    liter (litre) litre
    louver (louvre) louvre, louver
    luster (lustre) lustre (brilliance)
    maneuver, -verability, -vering manoeuvre, -vrability, -vring (-vreing)
    meager (meagre) meagre
    meter metre (unit of measurement)
    miter (mitre) mitre
    niter nitre
    ocher (ochre) ochre
    philter (philtre) philtre
    reconnoiter (reconnoitre) reconnoitre
    saber (sabre) sabre
    saltpeter saltpetre
    scepter sceptre
    sepulchre (sepulcher) sepulchre
    somber (sombre) sombre
    specter (spectre) spectre
    theater (theatre) theatre
    titer (titre) titre

  25. -or/-our
  26. American British
    arbor arbour
    ardor ardour
    armor armour
    armorer armourer
    armory armoury
    behavior behaviour
    behavioral behavioural
    candor candour
    clamor clamour
    clangor clangour
    color colour (and all derivative words)
    demeanor demeanour
    dolor dolour (literary)
    enamor enamour
    endeavor endeavour
    favor favour
    favorite favourite
    favoritism favouritism
    fervor fervour
    flavor flavour
    glamor, glamour glamour
    harbor harbour
    honor honour
    humor humour
    labor labour
    misdemeanor misdemeanour
    neighbor neighbour
    neighborhood neighbourhood
    neighborly neighbourly
    odor odour
    parlor parlour
    pavior, paviour pavior or paviour
    rancor rancour
    rigor rigour
    rumor rumour
    savior, saviour saviour
    savor, savour savour
    savory, savoury savoury
    splendor splendour
    succor succour
    tumor tumour
    valor valour
    vapor vapour
    vigor vigour

  27. -o-/-ou-
  28. American British
    bolt bolt (boult) (metal pin)
    citrus citrous (adj)
    font font, fount
    mold, mould mould (rot and form)
    molding, moulding moulding (ornamental wood or stone)
    molt (moult) moult
    Romanian, Rumanian, Roumanian Romanian, Rumanian
    ruble, rouble rouble, ruble
    smolder, smoulder smoulder

  29. -m/-mme
  30. American British
    gram gram (gramme)
    kilogram kilogram (kilogramme)
    program, programme programme (verb)
    program programme (noun)
    program program (programme) (computer)
    programmed, programed programmed
    programmer, programer programmer
    programming, programing programming

  31. -ck/-que
  32. American British
    check cheque (banking only)
    checker chequer, checker (pattern)

  33. -g/-gue
  34. American British
    analogue or analog analogue
    catalog, catalogue catalogue
    dialogue, dialog dialogue
    demagogue, demagog, -goged, -goging demagogue, -gogued, -goguing
    epilogue, epilog epilogue
    homologue, homolog homologue
    monologue, monolog monologue
    pedagogue, pedagog pedagogue
    prologue, prolog prologue
    renege renege (renegue)
    synagogue, synagog synagogue
    travelogue, travelog travelogue

  35. -ction/-xion
  36. American British
    connection connection, connexion
    deflection deflection, deflexion
    flexion (flection) flexion
    genuflection genuflection, genuflexion
    inflection inflection, inflexion
    reflection reflection, reflexion
    retroflection retroflexion

  37. -ize/-ise
  38. American British
    advertise (-ize listed as Brit. var. in W10) advertise
    aggrandize aggrandize, aggrandise
    Americanize Americanise, Americanize
    apologize apologise, apologize
    appetizer, -zing appetiser, -sing, appetizer, -zing
    apprise apprise (to inform)
    apprize apprize (archaic) (appraise, esteem)
    atomize atomise, atomize
    burglarize burgle, burglarise, burglarize
    capitalize capitalise, capitalize
    categorize categorize, categorise
    characterize characterise, characterize
    civilize civilise, civilize
    civilization civilisation, civilization
    colonize colonize, colonise
    computerize computerise, computerize
    criticize criticize, criticise
    dramatize dramatise, dramatize
    economize economise, economize
    empathize (-ise listed as Brit. var. in W10) empathize
    emphasize emphasize, emphasise
    equalize equalise, equalize
    extemporize extemporize, extemporise
    finalize finalize, finalise
    gizmo (gismo) gismo, gizmo
    glamorize, glamourize glamorise, glamorize, glamourise, glamourize
    harmonize harmonise, harmonize
    hospitalize hospitalise, hospitalize
    initialize initialise, initialize
    liberalize liberalize, liberalise
    merchandise (merchandize) merchandise
    memorize memorise, memorize
    memorialize memorialise, memorialize
    mobilize mobilise, mobilize
    monopolize monopolise, monopolize
    motorize motorise, motorize
    naturalize naturalise, naturalize
    normalize normalize, normalise
    organize organise organize
    oxidize oxidise, oxidize
    parameterize or parametrize parametrize, parametrise
    parenthesize parenthesize, parenthesise
    pasteurize pasteurise, pasteurize
    polarize polarise, polarize
    popularize popularise, popularize
    pulverize pulverise, pulverize
    realize realise, realize
    recognize recognise, recognize
    romanize romanise, romanize
    satirize satirise, satirize
    stabilize stabilize, stabilise
    standardize standardise standardize
    surprise (surprize) surprise
    symbolize symbolise, symbolize
    sympathize sympathise, sympathize
    tantalize tantalize, tantalise
    utilize utilise, utilize
    vaporize vaporise, vaporize (yep! not vapourise)

  39. -a-/-au-
  40. American British
    balk baulk (balk)
    cauldron (caldron) cauldron (caldron)
    calk (caulk) calk, calkin (metal shoe grip)
    caulk (calk) caulk (goop to stop up boat leaks)
    gauge (gage) gauge

  41. -se/-ce
  42. American British
    defense defence
    license, licence license (verb)
    license, licence licence (noun)
    offense, offence offence
    practice, practise practise, practice (noun)
    practice, practise practise (verb)
    pretense, pretence pretence
    vise vice (tool for holding work)

    (22-31) Pronunciation simplifications

  43. -er/-or
  44. American British
    adapter, adaptor adaptor, adapter
    adviser, advisor adviser (advisor disputed)
    propeller, propellor propeller

  45. -e/-ee
  46. American British
    employee, employe employee

  47. -g-/-gg-
  48. American British
    fagot, faggot faggot (bundle of sticks)
    fagoting, faggoting faggoting (embroidery)
    wagon wagon, waggon

  49. -ll-/-l-
  50. American British
    appall, appal appal
    distill, distil distil
    enroll, enrol enrol
    enrollment enrolment
    enthrall, enthral enthral
    fulfill, fulfil fulfil
    fulfillment fulfilment
    install (instal) install, instal
    installment, instalment instalment
    instill, instil instil
    skillful skilful
    thralldom or thraldom thraldom (thralldom)
    willful, wilful wilful

  51. -l-/-ll-
  52. American British
    barreled, -ling, barelled, -lling barelled, -lling
    calisthenics callisthenics (calisthenics)
    caliper calliper
    canceled, -ling or cancelled -lling cancelled, -lling
    chili, chile, chilli chilli, chili
    councillor or councilor councillor
    counseled, -ling, counselled, -lling counselled, -lling
    counselor, counsellor counsellor
    deviled, -ling, devilled, -lling devilled, -lling
    disheveled, -ling or dishevelled, -lling dishevelled, -lling
    equaled, -ling, equalled, -lling equalled, -lling
    excelling (exceling) excelling
    fueled, -ling, fuelled, -lling fuelled, -lling
    groveled, -ling, -ler, grovelled, -lling, -ller grovelled, -lling, -ller
    hosteler or hosteller hosteller
    hosteled, -ling or hostelled, -lling hostelled, -lling
    jeweler, jeweller jeweller
    jewelry jewellery (jewelry) (note -el-, -elle-)
    labeled, -ling, labelled, -lling labelled, -lling
    leveled, -ling, levelled, -lling levelled, -lling
    leveler, leveller leveller
    libeled, -ling, libelled, -lling libelled, -lling
    libelous, libellous libellous
    marvelous or marvellous marvellous
    marveled, -ling or marvelled, -lling marvelled, -lling
    medalist, medallist medallist
    metaled, -ling, metalled, -lling metalled, -lling
    modeled, -ling or modelled -lling modelled, -lling
    modeler modeller
    paneled, -ling or panelled, -lling panelled, -lling
    panelist panellist
    propelled (propeled) propelled
    pupilage or pupillage pupillage (pupilage)
    quarreled, -ling, quarrelled, -lling quarrelled, -lling
    quarreler, quarreller quarreller
    rappeled, -ling, rappelled, -lling rappelled, rappelling
    rebelling (rebeling) rebelling
    reveled, -ling, revelled, -lling revelled, -lling
    scalawag (scallywag) scallywag (scalawag)
    signaled, -ling, signalled, -lling signalled, -lling
    traveled, -ling, travelled, -lling travelled, -lling
    traveler, traveller traveller
    troweled, -ling, trowelled, -lling trowelled, -lling
    woolen or woollen woollen
    woolly, wooly woolly (adj)
    woolly, woolie, wooly (pl. -llies, -lies) woolly (pl. -llies) (noun)

  53. -p-/-pp-
  54. American British
    kidnapped, kidnaped kidnapped
    kidnapper, -pping, kidnaper, -ping kidnapper, -pping
    worshiped, -ping, worshipped, -pping worshipped, -pping
    worshiper, worshipper worshipper

  55. -s-/-ss-
  56. American British
    biased, -sing, biassed, -ssing biased, -sing, biassed, -ssing
    buses, busses buses (omnibus)
    buses, busses buses, busses (computer)
    focused, -sing, focussed, -ssing focused, -sing or focussed, -ssing

  57. -t-/-tt-
  58. American British
    benefited, -ting, benefitted ,-tting benefited, -ting
    carburetor carburettor (carburetter)
    cigarette, cigaret cigarette
    clarinetist, clarinettist clarinettist
    garrote, -ted, -ting or garotte, -tted, -tting garrotte (garotte)
    net net (nett) (of money, result, etc)
    omelette, omelet omelette, omelet
    sulfureted sulphuretted

  59. -g-/-ge-
  60. American British
    abridgment, abridgement abridgement (abridgment)
    acknowledgment, acknowledgement acknowledgement (acknowledgment)
    aging, ageing ageing, aging
    fledgling fledgling, fledgeling
    judgment, judgement judgement (judgment)
    misjudgment misjudgement (misjudgment)
    routing routeing

  61. in-/en-
  62. American British
    encase (incase) encase (incase)
    enclose (inclose) enclose (inclose)
    endorse (indorse) endorse (indorse)
    ensure, insure ensure (make sure)
    inquire, enquire enquire, inquire
    inquiry, enquiry enquiry, inquiry
    inure, enure inure, enure

    (32-35) spaces, diacritics, punctuation, miscellaneous

  63. spaces
  64. American British
    alright all right
    anymore any more
    cooperate cooperate, co-operate
    lemongrass lemon grass
    onto on to

  65. diacritics
  66. American British
    café, cafe café, cafe
    elite élite
    entree, entrée entrée
    fete, fête fête
    matinee, matinée matinée
    naive, naïve naïve, naive
    role (rôle) role, rôle

  67. punctuation
  68. American British
    B.S. BSc
    Dr. Dr
    jct, junc jct, jctn, junc
    Jr. Jnr, Jr
    M.S. MSc
    Ph.D. PhD
    Sr. Snr, Sr

  69. miscellaneous
  70. American British
    adze, adz adze
    airplane aeroplane
    aluminum aluminium
    artifact artefact, artifact
    ass (arse) arse
    ax, axe axe
    bail out bale out, bail out
    baloney (boloney) boloney, baloney
    battle-ax battleaxe
    behoove behove
    boric (boracic) boracic, boric
    borscht or borsch bortsch (also borsch)
    Briticism Briticism, Britishism
    cantaloupe, cantaloup cantaloup (cantaloupe)
    carcass carcass, carcase
    chamomile (camomile) camomile, chamomile
    clerestory, clearstory clerestory
    cozy, cosy cosy
    crayfish, crawfish crayfish (crawfish)
    curb kerb (edging of road only)
    czar, tsar, tzar tsar, czar
    dependent, dependant dependant (noun)
    disc, disk disc (phono record, CD, CD-ROM, disc harrow, Frisbee)
    disk, disc disk (computing)
    disk disc (other meanings)
    dissension, dissention dissension
    doodad doodah
    donut, doughnut doughnut
    flaky (flakey) flaky
    flotation (floatation) flotation, floatation
    furor furore
    gray, grey grey
    jail jail, gaol
    jailbird jailbird, gaolbird
    jailbreak jailbreak, gaolbreak
    jailer jailer, gaoler
    karat (carat) carat (gold)
    ketchup, catsup (catchup) ketchup (catchup)
    kumquat kumquat (cumquat)
    largesse or largess largesse (largess)
    lens, lense lens
    licorice liquorice (licorice)
    meow (miaow) miaow (meow)
    mollusk or mollusc mollusc
    mustache, moustache moustache
    naught, nought nought (digit 0)
    night, nite night
    nursling nursling, nurseling
    pajamas pyjamas
    peddler, pedlar pedlar
    persnickety (pernickety) pernickety
    pickaninny, picaninny piccaninny
    polyethylene polythene, polyethylene, polyethene
    premise, premiss premise, premiss
    propellant, propellent propellant (n)
    propellant, propellent propellent (adj)
    reverie, revery reverie
    Romansh, Romansch Romansh, Rumansh
    sanatorium, sanitarium or sanitorium sanatorium
    scion (cion) scion
    sissy sissy (cissy)
    skeptic, -al, -ism, sceptic, -al, -ism sceptic, -al, -ism
    specialty speciality
    story, -ries, storey, -reys storey, -reys (story, -ries) (floor of buildings only)
    swab (archaic: swob) swab, swob
    swap swap, swop
    though, tho though, tho’
    through, thru through
    tidbit, titbit titbit
    tonight, tonite tonight
    vial, phial phial, vial
    whiskey, whisky whisky (generic name)
    whiskey whiskey (Irish & American kinds)
    whiskeys, whiskies whiskeys, whiskies
    whisky whisky (Scottish kinds)

Last updated 31 December 1969 © Jeremy Smith 2014