Offence or Offense: What’s the Correct Spelling?

Curious whether “offense” or “offence” is the right spelling? Well, both are correct. You use “offense” when you are in the United States and the word “offence” in the United Kingdom. Learn why in this article. 

What is Offense?

“Offense,” a noun that starts with the letter O, has three different meanings. Depending on context and usage, it can mean a crime or an illegal act. For instance, lawbreakers like thieves can face imprisonment. 

In sports, the word “offense” is the team that has the ball. One perfect example is when the home basketball team is in possession of the ball, whereas the opponent is in “defense.” 

Another definition of this word is when you take “offense” when somebody says hurtful or rude. 

“Offense” is the standard spelling in American English. 

Examples

  • The offense of driving while impaired carries jail time and the loss of a driver’s license.
  •  Most residents took offense when somebody displayed the Confederate flag in the town square.
  • Wearing clothing with profane language is an offense against the school’s dress code.
  • For the offense of insubordination, a soldier faces a dishonorable discharge.
  • The team’s offense drove the ball 68 yards in five plays for the touchdown.

What is Offence?

From violation to causing displeasure and resentment, “offence” carries the same meaning as “offense” and is simply the British English counterpart. For instance, Crown Prosecutors in Great Britain pursue those accused of “offences” such as assault, domestic violence, and robbery.

Fun Fact: Most countries outside the United States prefer “offence” to “offense.” Canada, New Zealand, and Australia use “offence” in their bodies of criminal law.

What’s the Difference Between Offence and Offense? 

Photo showing the difference of "offense" and "offence"

There’s no significant difference between the two words aside from the different spellings. The distinction lies in using “c” rather than “s” to spell the word. Neither spelling is erroneous. 

The origin of “offense” is from the Latin “offensa,” which means “a striking or grating against anything.” Interestingly, the Old French version goes by “ofense” and refers to a wrong, insult, or infraction. 

Thanks to the Norman Conquest of 1066, Latin and Old French heavily influenced the vocabulary of English from 1066 to nearly 1500. This period saw the Old French “ofense” become the Middle English “offence.” 

“Offense” appeared in old dictionaries near the end of the Middle English period. Many English speakers imported “offense” to America.

Trick to Remembering the Spelling

If you are contemplating using “offence” or “offense” in your writing, always remember to use the spelling with the letter S if you or your audience are in the United States. Only use the “offence” spelling for UK English. 

Alternatively, you can always use the synonym of the word offense. In legal discourse, use the word “crimes” or “violations” and name them – e.g., robbery, trespass, assault, tax fraud, or impaired driving. 

Conclusion

Both “offense” and “offence” have correct spellings – offense for US English and “offence for UK English. Keep in mind that whichever spelling of the word you choose, you will convey the ideas of crime, violations, sin, and breach of good taste and manners. 


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