The spelling differences between British and American English are enough to make young kids giggle or pretentiously use the British spelling in their essays to spite teachers. But why are the same words spelled differently in British vs American English?
The major difference can be attributed to the British preference to keep the spelling of the words it absorbs from other languages (primarily French and German) the same. American English bases the spelling of its words on the pronunciation of that word when spoken.
English was first introduced to modern day America during the 17th century upon the arrival of British settlers. Since then, it has evolved and changed due to immigration waves to the USA.
Samuel Johnson, along with six helpers, cemented the spelling of British English words in one of the first English dictionaries which was published in 1755. In 1806, an American English dictionary was published to popularize the American spelling of words such as favorite vs. favourite. Noah Webster then published another version of the American dictionary in 1828 with over 70,000 words that resulted in these differences in spelling.
Main Differences Between British vs American English Spellings
1. American English words that end in “or” usually end with “our” in British English. Also, words incorporating “our” within it in British is also modified by “or” in the American version.
- Colour vs. color
- Flavour vs. flavor
- Humour vs. humor
- Favourite vs. favorite
2. Verbs that in British language can end in “ise” or “ize” will always be spelled with “ize” in American English.
- Apologise or apologize
3. Similarly, those ending in “yse” for British are changed to “yze” in American
- Analyse vs analyze
- Paralyse vs paralyze
4. Still on verbs, for British spelling, where “L” is preceded by a vowel, it is doubled when subsequent words are added after it such as to change the tense. This is not the case in American English.
- Travelled vs. traveled
- Cancelled vs. canceled
5. British words spelled with double vowels “oe” or “ae” are changed to just the letter “e” in place of the double vowels in American words. There are some exceptions to this rule, nonetheless. Such an exception is the word archaeology.
- Leukaemia vs leukemia
- Manoeuvre vs maneuver
6. American words often change the “ence” in British words to “ense”
- Defence vs defense
- Licence vs license
7. Some nouns ending in “ogue” for the Brits are allowed to end with either “ogue” or “og” for the Americans.
- Analogue vs analog
- Catalogue vs catalog
There are some other minor differences in spellings with these being the major. Regardless, the languages are essentially similar and the meaning of the words are the same. For example, there is no difference in saying favourite vs favorite.
What other differences exist?
There are many words that are spelled differently in British vs American English and would take a long time to write here. Instead, you can watch this great YouTube video highlighting key differences: