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Twin English Centres Blog

An overview of some of the differences between British and American spellings

British vs American English spellings

Learning English as a second language can sometimes be difficult, with different word orders, grammar and the absence of masculine and feminine words such as those that we see in French, Spanish, Punjabi and Italian as well as the additional neuter words that you will find in German, Greek and Dutch. Just to make things even more difficult for English language students, there is also another aspect of learning English that is totally puzzling – spelling!

We live in an age where most of us are exposed to various cultures, whether this is through TV, film, music, books and, of course, the Internet. In some ways, this makes learning a language easier, but in other ways, can cause confusion. Arguably one of the biggest issues that learners face is whether they choose the British-English or American-English spelling of a word.

But what are the differences between the two versions of English?

Of course, the majority of the rules and spellings that apply to British English also apply to American-English, such as word order. It’s just the odd rule; letter or that tends to cause problems.

Below are some of the random rules of British vs American spelling:

What’s the rule? Example spelling (British English) Example spelling (American English) Explanation
Is that an ‘S’ or a ‘Z’? Organise Organize Just to make things even more complicated, there are some words in the UK where both spellings are correct but on the whole, in the UK we favour the letter ‘S’.
We like the letter ‘C’ more Offence Offense Whilst we favour the letter ‘S’ over the letter ‘Z’, it seems that in British English, we like the letter ‘C’ even more than we like the letter ’S’. You know, just to make things interesting.
Americans don’t like the letter ‘U’ neighbour neighbor It seems that it’s not just letter substitutions that we have between British and American English. Stateside also sees the complete removal of a letter from a word, in this case, the letter ‘U’.
Double vowels are our friend Archaeological archeological In British English, many words are derived from French and this is clear through their spelling. In American English, words are mostly spelt as they sound, avoiding the use of silent letters which, admittedly, does make spelling somewhat easier.
Is that an ‘re’ or a ‘er’ Theatre Theater You can be forgiven for getting this one wrong. There are so many crossovers with this spelling rule that it’s hard to know which one is he right one. Plus, there are exceptions to the British vs American rule that it’s hard to decide which ending to use.
It’s not Q, it’s C Liquorice Licorice Now, ‘qu’ always tends to cause difficulty, so in American English it’s been completely omitted from certain words. In British English, we sometimes use the American English spelling, but the meaning of the word is something entirely different. A ‘cheque’ in the UK is a method of payment, the same way that a ‘check’ is in the USA, whereas ‘check’ in the UK means to examine something.
We love a good vowel Dialogue Dialog The shorter spelling ‘dialog’ is commonly used throughout America whereas the longer ‘dialogue’ is used in the UK when referring to a conversation. In the UK, we only adopt the American spelling when referring to a pop-up window on a computer screen.