British English – American English: Spelling


Video credit: in30.tv, “English in 30 Seconds: Common American and British Spelling Differences” October 28, 2009, via YouTube.

Dear All,
The previous post was focused on the differences between BrE and AmE in terms of pronunciation. The present post focuses on some key spelling differences. First of all, it is worth mentioning that two important books which influenced the differences in the modern spelling systems are: (1) “A Dictionary of the English Language” (1755) complied by Samuel Johnson and (2) “An American Dictionary of the English Language” (1828) compiled by Noah Webster. While the first book allowed standardizing the spelling of English in general, the second book was aiming at simplifying spelling based on the phonetic principle and also at elaborating a distinctive norm for the American variety of the English language. Thus, these books contributed to the establishment of two distinctive spelling systems.

The short video above concentrates on four major spelling differences: suffixes -our-/-or-*, endings -re/-er, endings -ce/-se, and -ll-/-l- (doubling or non-doubling of the letter “l”). In this post I am going to discuss these differences and other differences in more detail.

First of all, I would like to discuss differences in the spelling of certain suffixes and endings. As I have mentioned, AmE tends to simplify spelling of certain words in accordance with the phonetic principle. Put it simply, words are more likely to be spelled as they are pronounced in AmE than in BrE.  The latter (BrE) tends to preserve the original forms of the suffixes and endings borrowed from Greek and Latin. Let’s start with the key suffixes and endings which borrowed from Greek. So, these suffixes and endings are:
-ise/-ize
– isation/-ization
-yse/-yze
-ogue/-og
-ae-/-e- (these may be a part of the root of a word)
-oe-/-e- (these may be a part of the root of a word)

Here are some examples:
organise – organize (OD, 2014; CDO, 2014; MW, 2014; ABBY Lingvo, 2014)**
realise – realize
recognise – recognize
acclimatisation – acclimatization
dramatisation – dramatization
catalyse – catalyze
electrolise – electrolize
paralyse – paralyze
analogue – analog***
catalogue – catalog
dialogue – dialog
anaemia – anemia
encyclopaedia – encyclopedia
orthopaedic – orthopedic
diarrhoea – diarrhea
manoeuvre – maneuvre

The suffixes and endings of Latin origin that have different spelling in BrE and AmE are:
-our/-or
-re/-er
-ce/-se****

For example:
colour – color
flavour – flavor
humour – humor
centre – center
fibre – fiber
metre – meter
defence – defense
licence (noun) – license (noun, verb)
practice (noun) – practise (noun, verb)

Another important difference between BrE and AmE is in spelling of words containing the final letter “l“. In BrE, the words ending in “-l” double this letter when suffixes or endings (e.g. -ed; -er, -ing, etc.) are added, whereas in AmE a single letter “-l” is retained regardless of added suffixes or endings. For example:
travelling – traveling (also traveled etc.)
labelling – labeling (also labeled etc.)
signalling – signaling (also signaled etc.)

Abbreviations are another interesting area in which BrE and AmE spellings do not always coincide. Most common cases are:
Mr – Mr.
Mrs – Mrs.
Dr – Dr.
Jr – Jr.
St – St.
Ave – Ave.
L – l (litre)
mL – ml (millilitre)

In addition to the spelling differences discussed above, BrE and AmE have also other, miscellaneous differences which cannot be categorized. These differences include the following examples:
cheque – check
cosy – cozy
dyke – dike
grey – gray
hearken – harken
liquorice – licorice
mould – mold
plough – plow
sceptic – skeptic
storey – story (level of a building)
tyre – tire

To sum up, AmE has evolved its own spelling system based on the phonetic principle. This allowed to simplify spelling of certain words especially of Greek (-ise/-ize, – isation/-ization, -yse/-yze, -ogue/-og, -ae-/-e-, -oe-/-e-) and Latin (-our/-or, -re/-er, -ce/-se) origin. In addition to this, AmE does not double the final letter “l” when suffixes or endings are added. Besides this, the norm concerning spelling of some abbreviations is different in BrE as compared to AmE. Finally, there are other miscellaneous spelling differences between BrE and AmE.

It is worth mentioning, however, that due to the development of digital technologies (e.g. websites, Skype, email), progress and affordability of transportation, and intercultural exchanges (e.g. movies, popular music, literature) the spelling systems of BrE and AmE tend to merge. This trend may be observed on the Web and instant messaging. For example, when people from different countries exchange ideas about a certain video, they may easily pick up or use (on the occasion) any spelling norm or a mixture of them. This trend of merging norms is not exclusive to the spelling system; it is also applicable to pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

See similar posts:

  1. British English – American English: Pronunciation
  2. British English – American English: Education (vocabulary)
  3. British English – American English: Transportation (vocabulary)
  4. British English – American English: Clothes (vocabulary)
  5. British English – American English: Food (vocabulary)
  6. British English – American English: Miscellaneous (vocabulary)
  7. British English – American English: Units of measurement (vocabulary)
  8. British English – American English: Idioms (vocabulary)
  9. British English – American English: Verbs (grammar)
  10. British English – American English: Nouns (grammar)
  11. British English – American English: Prepositions (grammar)

References
ABBYY Lingvo (2014). Retrieved January 29, 2014 from, http://www.lingvo-online.ru/en
Cambridge Dictionaries Online (CDO) (2014). Retrieved January 29, 2014 from, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/
Merriam-Webster (MW) (2014). Retrieved January 29, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/
Oxford Dictionaries (OD) (2014). Retrieved January 29, 2014, from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/

*Bold type is used for AmE spelling.
**These dictionaries have been consulted here and further in this post.
***AmE has preserved -gue spelling in the following words: tongue, vague, and league.
****BrE and AmE spellings are identical in the follwoing examples: advice (noun), advise (verb); device (noun), devise (verb). In these examples, -ce is used for the noun form, while -se is used for the verb form.

Iaroslav

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21 Comments

  1. cel pintat de vermell

    Hi. I have a question. The word “organise” has a Latin origin, “organizare” (Collins.) Why is it then written with “s” instead of “z” in BrE? Thank you.

    • Hi!
      Here is what Pocket Fowler’s Modern English Usage says “the -ize ending, which corresponds to the Greek verbal ending -izo (whether or not the particular verb existed in Greek in the same form), has come to English in many cases via Latin and French sources, and in French the spelling has been adapted to -ise. A key word showing the line of descent is baptize, which answers to Gk βαπτίζω and Latin baptizo; the French have opted for baptiser, and a large proportion of English writers and publishers have followed suit by writing the word as baptise. People are generally aware of the choice, but often mistakenly regard the -ize ending as an Americanism; and they find it especially hard to countenance in words which do not have corresponding nouns in -ation but other forms in which the letter s features, such as criticize (criticism), hypnotize (hypnosis), and emphasize (emphasis)” (Allen & Fowler, 2008, p. 375).

      References
      Allen, R. E., & Fowler, H. W. (2008). Pocket Fowler’s modern English usage/edited by Robert Allen. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

      • cel pintat de vermell

        Hmm. I see. Thanks!

      • You are welcome!

  2. celpintatdevermell

    Hello again 🙂

    So, I found this word “subtractor” also spelled as “subtracter”, and I wonder if maybe one of these spelling is more British/American than the other, or one is the original form. Does this happen with other er/or-ending words?

    Ngram Viewer says this http://goo.gl/VDujMc

    • Hi celpintatdevermell,
      Thank you for your question! I am glad that you have mentioned the Ngram Viewer because we are going to need it in order to answer the question.

      So, according to the linguistic research tool above, the following pair “sustracter, substractor” in both BrE and AmE has been competing in terms of the frequency of usage. Presently, however, the “substractor” form is used more frequently than the other form. I have also checked this pair in Cambridge dictionary and MS Word to find only that neither software is familiar with these terms.

      Another pair of words with an alternate ending is “adviser, advisor”. Presently, the “adviser” form is shown to be dominant in both BrE and AmE. Both forms are reflected in Cambridge dictionary in BrE and AmE with the “adviser” form being the preferred form. MS Word does not correct either spelling in either variant.

      These two examples, are certainly not enough to draw a finite conclusion in general, but with respect to these two examples it is possible to conclude that the differences in the frequently of usage between -er/-or is due to the epoch we are exploring rather than the variants we are examining (BrE and AmE). Indeed, certain spellings are used more frequently in BrE than in AmE, but no such conclusion can be drawn with respect to -er/-or.

Trackbacks

  1. British English – American English: Pronunciation | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  2. British English – American English: Education (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  3. British English – American English: Verbs (grammar) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  4. British English – American English: Prepositions (grammar) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  5. British English – American English: Pronunciation | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  6. British English – American English: Education (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  7. British English – American English: Transportation (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  8. British English – American English: Clothes (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  9. British English – American English: Prepositions (grammar) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  10. British English – American English: Nouns (grammar) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  11. British English – American English: Verbs (grammar) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  12. British English – American English: Units of measurement (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  13. British English – American English: Idioms (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  14. British English – American English: Miscellaneous (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS
  15. British English – American English: Food (vocabulary) | BLOG|ON|LINGUISTICS

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