The grammar geeks among you will know that I am a confused blogger! I am British although I lived in Australia and New Zealand for 11 years, plus I write for a mainly American audience.
So I find my spelling is probably a mix of the cultures, which means I get some grumpy emails sometimes about my spelling! Today's guest post is from Oliver Randall, who looks at some of the differences between British and American English spellings.
If your job involves writing in almost any capacity, you’ve probably fallen foul of a UK/US spelling mix-up at some point.
Maybe you write for an international audience, only to have people showing up in the comments, decrying the ‘Americanisation’ of English.
Maybe you handed in a draft to a publisher that gave the overwhelming impression you can’t spell, simply because Microsoft Word reverted to its default spell-check setting.
Or possibly you just want to make sure you’re absolutely on top of your writing game.
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Below we’ve compiled a list of common English/American spelling mistakes according to type, so you need never again lay anchor in the ‘harbor’ when you mean to do so in the ‘harbour’, or ‘apologize’ when you should ‘apologise’. Of course, you may still make mistakes, but at least now you’ll do so consistently.
‘ou’ or ‘o’?
As in: colour/color
This is probably the most common cause of English/American confusion: does a word require an ‘ou’, or will a simple ‘o’ suffice? Simply: Brits use ‘ou’ while the Yanks simplify it to ‘o’. And before any Oxford-type starts guffawing at Americans for having to do things simply, bear in mind that the original ‘o’ spelling is correct in Latin.
The switched ‘re’
As in: theatre/theater
Another common mistake is the ‘re’ at the end of certain English words. While it makes more sense to spell ‘centre’ how it sounds (‘center’), history has favoured the ‘re’ spelling, especially in ‘theatre’. In fact, ‘theatre’ is a viable spelling even if writing for an American audience, just to complicate things further.
‘ise’ or ‘ize’?
As in: realise/realize
While ‘ise’ is only used in English, the Oxford English Dictionary informs us that ‘ize’ can be used in either country. Which begs the question, why use ‘ise’ at all? Well, some Brits prefer ‘ise’, it’s a simple as that. If you’re writing for a UK audience you might as well cover yourself and drop ‘ize’, just in case.
‘yse’ or ‘yze’?
As in: analyse/analyze
Although it sounds like the ‘ise’/’ize’ dilemma, ‘yse’/’yze’ differentiates itself by being geographically specific. Refuse a ‘breathalyzer’ from an English bobby and you’ll be laughed out the station. In this one you can see where both sides are coming from: analysis does end in ‘s’, but its plural is pronounced with a ‘z’. Whoever you think is right, the use of these two variations is happily clear-cut.
The extra ‘L’
As in: traveller/traveler
Like many dropped or added consonants, this variation seems primarily designed to confuse you. Suffice to say, there is no reason for that extra ‘l’ to be there, except it just sort of looks right. Americans, ever to the point, do away with it entirely.
The missing vowel
As in: oestrogen/estrogen
There’s no hard and fast rule here. Often, Americans simply dispose of a useless vowel, especially one situated right beside an ‘e’. But then you get a word like ‘archaeology’, which can be spelt the same both sides of the Atlantic. Why that ‘a’ hasn’t been culled is anyone’s guess, but follow your instincts and spell it ‘archeology’ and you’ll come across as a buffoon, however unfair that may seem.
‘Ence’ or ‘Ense’?
As in: offence/offense
Is the best form of attack ‘defence’ or ‘defense’? The ‘ence/ense’ ending is another common mistake, but luckily no weird rules apply. Simply put ‘ence’ in England and ‘ense’ in America. Easy.
The ‘ogue’ debate
As in: analogue/analog
Now this is a contentious one. Despite a simple ‘log’ being acceptable in the States, ‘logue’ is not only also accepted, but far more widely used. Remember the ‘ise/ize’ debate from above, where one version was used everywhere, but the other only in Britain? This is the American version. As before, cover yourself by putting ‘log’ when dealing with an American audience. Better that than making a bad impression on your Stateside editor.
Grammar geeks may also enjoy this interview with the author of ‘The Joy of English'
Do you have any particular spelling or grammar niggles? Please do leave a comment below and join the conversation.
About the Author
Oliver Randall is a content strategist and blogger for UK printing service Print Express. Outside of the workplace he enjoys scriptwriting and coffee, which usually results in very little sleep.
Image: BigstockPhoto.com Alphabet