British English Vs American English Spelling

The United Kingdom and the United States of America might both be English-speaking countries but there are actually many words which are spelled differently in each place.  In this blog article, we will look at 25 words that are spelt differently in British English vs American English.

A historic basis

Some experts say that the reason for this is that the British English tends to keep the spelling of words which have derived from other languages, like French and German.  While American English tends to opt for spelling based on how the word is pronounced.

25 common words

In this blog, I will cover 25 words which are spelled differently in British English vs American English and discuss the differences. Interestingly, many of the American spellings of these words are becoming more and more accepted into British English. Why do you think that could be?  Tell us in the comments.

The -OUR vs. – OR ending

A pattern we often see in British English vs American English spelling is that ‘OUR’ endings in the UK are shortened to ‘OR’ endings in the US.  A top Google search term is ‘Colour or Color’ – so there’s definitely some confusion out there. 

Quite simply, British English spells COLOUR with a U, but American English does not – COLOR.

Similarly, on the question of behaviour or behavior, the British spell BEHAVIOUR with a U, but in American English they drop the ‘U’.  So in the US, the word with the same meaning is spelt BEHAVIOR.

Another example of that same rule is ‘flavour’. In the UK, Brits spell it FLAVOUR, but in the US it is spelt FLAVOR.

Interestingly with this pattern, most of these words originated in Latin, which did have the ‘OR’ ending. However, these translated into OUR endings once those words were used in the French language. The English language then borrowed those words from French, keeping the OUR endings until eventually, American English simplified the endings back to the OR form.

Another example is the word neighbour, which is NEIGHBOUR in the UK and NEIGHBOR in the US.

And humour, which is HUMOUR in British English and HUMOR in American English.

The -RE vs. -ER ending

Let’s move on to a new pattern and that’s the ‘RE’ British English ending which often turns into an ‘ER’ ending in American English. Again, this is a result of English words originating in the French language but has been changed to better suit American pronunciation.

The first example of this would be ‘theatre’. In British English, that would be spelt THEATRE, notice that -RE ending. However, in American English the R and the E get switched around to make the spelling THEATER.

And the same thing happens to the word ‘metre’. In British English it’s spelt METRE’, but to better suit American pronunciation, that becomes METER in the US.

Another example is ‘litre’.  In British English it is spelt it LITRE, but over in the US it is LITER.

Next we have ‘centre’. In the UK it is spelt ‘CENTRE’. That’s because it comes from the Latin word ‘centrum’, meaning stationary point, so the British kept that ‘R’ in its place next to the ’T’ and just added an ‘E’ on the end, but in the US it’s spelt CENTER.

And lastly on our list for R-E to E-R endings (there are more but this list can’t go on forever) is: ‘Fibre’.  In British English that’s FIBRE and in American English… I hope you’re guessing where this is going… it’s FIBER.

The dropped E ending

I think we’re getting the hang of -ER Vs. -RE that one now so let’s move over to a new pattern which is words that have an ‘e’ ending in British English but that ‘e’ is dropped in American English. The British English version often also has a double consonant but the American spelling has dropped that second consonant and the ‘E’ as well.

The first example of this is: ‘programme’. In British English that’s spelt PROGRAMME, which in American English it’s PROGRAM. There are some circumstances, however, such as when it’s used in a computing context, that it’s widely accepted to use the American spelling in British English too.

Another one of these is the word ‘tonne’. In British English that’s spelt TONNE, but in American English it’s simply TON.

Many of these examples are becoming accepted into British English spelling too, probably due to the ease and simplicity of spelling it this way. ‘Tonne’ is a prime example of that, and so is this next one: ‘Gram’. In British English, ‘gramme’ is traditionally spelt GRAMME, but it’s far more commonly written using the American spelling, which is GRAM.  It’s so common in fact, that it may supprise some Brits that it’s actually the US version.

Another word which follows part of this rule is ‘annexe’. In the UK, that’s traditionally spelt with an ‘E’ on the end, so that’s ANNEXE but in the US, that ‘E’ is dropped and it becomes ‘ANNEX’, which again, is commonly accepted in UK spellings nowadays too.  Particularly in business presentations.

And lastly for this pattern, we have the word ‘judgement’. If we remove the ‘-ment’ suffix, this ‘E’ pattern still applies. In British English, we spell it JUDGEMENT, but in American English, they drop the ‘E’ and it becomes JUDGMENT.

The CE vs. SE ending.

Another pattern is that words which end in C-E in British English often end in S-E in American English.

We can see that in the word ‘defence’ which is spelt DEFENCE in British English and then for the American spelling, you can just switch the C to an S so it’s written DEFENSE.

Another word which follows this pattern is licence. In the UK it’s spelt ‘LICENCE’, but in the US it spelt ‘LICENSE’.

‘Offence’ is spelt OFFENCE in the UK, but OFFENSE in the US and lastly, the word ‘pretence’ is spelt PRETENCE in the UK, but PRETENSE in the US.

Single vs. double consonants

The last pattern we’re going to look at today is when single consonants in British English become double consonants in American English.

In British English, the word ‘enrol’ is spelt ENROL, but in American English, an extra ‘L’ is added on the end.

Similarly, ‘fulfil’ is spelt FULFIL in the UK, but in the US, they add an extra L – FULFILL

Another example of this rule is in the word ‘instalment’. In British English, we spell it INSTALMENT, so that ‘L’ in the middle of the word is singular, but in American English, they use a double ‘L’ so it’s written INSTALLMENT.

The same rule applies to the word ‘skilful’. In the UK it’s written SKILFUL, but in the US they double up on the ‘L’ in the middle of the word, maybe to reflect the root word ‘skill’. SKILLFUL is how they spell ‘skilful’ in the US.

Double vs. single consonants

So we’ve had a few examples of word a singular consonant in British English becomes a double consonant in American English, but… to add complexity to the confusion, there are also words where that pattern is flipped and the UK word has a double consonant but a US word uses a singular consonant!

One example of this is the word ‘counsellor’, which is written with a double ‘L’ in British English: COUNSELLOR; but a single ‘L’ in American English: COUNSELOR.

And the last of the 25 words on our list follows that pattern too: ‘Dishevelled’. In British English it’s spelt DISHEVELLED, but in American English they remove one of the ‘L’s and spell it DISHEVELED.

British English vs American English spelling

So there we have 25 words which are spelled differently in British English vs American English but there are so many more that I didn’t have time for in this list!

If you would like to hear how these are all pronounced, you can hear me articulate them all on the video posted below.

Can you think of any I haven’t mentioned? Hop over to my YouTube channel to join the debate or leave a comment below. 

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