British and American Spellings (Variations and Examples)

British and American Spellings (Variations and Examples)

There is an old saying that America and Britain are “two nations divided by a common language.” Most Britons do not believe Americans speak English; rather, they believe they speak American. Between British English and American English, there are variations when it comes to pronunciation, spelling, vocabulary and grammar. But this does not significantly affect communication. This post, British and American Spellings (Variations and Examples), takes a look at the issues of spellings as far as these two nations are concerned.

British and American Spellings: Differences in Vocabulary

The most striking variation between British and American English is the vocabulary. Many common words have different lexical representation in both languages. Most of the times, Britons and Americans rely on the context of the expression to deduce the meanings of words. Some of the areas where variations in vocabulary occur include collective nouns, verbs (auxiliary and past tense) and other aspects in which words conveying same ideas are totally different.

Collective Nouns

In reference to collective nouns, American English refers to them as singular entities while in British English, they could be either singular or plural. For example:

  • The team is playing tonight. (American)
  • The team is/are playing tonight. (British)

Auxiliary Verbs

Another difference in grammar is the use of auxiliary verbs. The British English uses ‘shall’ to express futurity, but American English uses ‘will’ instead. In asking a question, British English would use ‘shall’ for example:

  • Shall we eat now?

In American English, such question would come as:

  • Should we eat now?

To express lack of obligation, American English makes use of the non-modal auxiliary ‘do’ with negation and followed by ‘need’ as in:

  • You do not need to go home tonight.

But British English does not use the primary auxiliary ‘do’ and ‘need’ is contracted, as in:

  • You needn’t go home tonight.

Verbs in Past Tense

There are differences in the past tense verbs of both British and American English. This also applies to the past forms of some irregular verbs. For example:

American

  • Learn – learned
  • Dream – dreamed
  • Burn – burned
  • Leaned – leaned

British

  • Learn – learned/learnt
  • Dream – dreamt
  • Burn – burnt
  • Leaned – leant

American English uses the ‘–ed’ ending while British English uses the ‘–t’ ending for some verbs. In some past participle forms, American English uses ‘–en’, while British English uses ‘–t’. For example:

  • American (Got – gotten)
  • British (Got – got)

British and American Spellings (Variations and Examples)

American English favours simplicity in its spelling convention. It also pronounces words the way they sound avoiding double letters and supposed convoluted spellings which is characteristic of the British English because it retains the spellings of words that came into it via trans-lingual borrowing. We need to be conscious of these spelling differences between British and American English to avoid confusion and mix up. It is also important to maintain consistency in whichever version of the English one chooses to use.

Noah Webster championed the effort to simplify American spellings. He succeeded to a great measure but could not completely change all the British spellings to American spellings.

-OR for –OUR

Words ending in ‘-our’ as characteristic of the British spelling convention, have their realisations as ‘-or’ In American spelling convention as we can see in the examples of words below:

  • Armor vs armour
  • Armory vs armoury
  • Behaviour vs behaviour
  • Candor vs candour
  • Clamor vs clamour
  • Color vs colour
  • Demeanor vs demeanour
  • Endeavour vs endeavour
  • Favorite vs favourite
  • Flavor vs flavour
  • Glamor vs glamour
  • Harbor vs harbour
  • Honor vs honour
  • Humor vs humour
  • Labor vs labour
  • Neighbor vs neighbour
  • Odor vs odour
  • Rancor vs rancour
  • Rigor vs rigour
  • Rumor vs rumour
  • Savior vs saviour
  • Savor vs savour
  • Savory vs savoury
  • Splendour vs splendour
  • Valor vs valour
  • Vapour vs vapour
  • Vigor vs vapour

-ER for –RE

In British English, words ending in ‘-re’ have different endings in American English. The ‘-re’ becomes ‘-er’ as we can see in the examples below:

  • Amphitheatre vs amphitheater
  • Calibre vs caliber
  • Centre vs center
  • Centimetre vs centimeter
  • Fibre vs fiber
  • Kilometre vs kilometer
  • Litre vs liter
  • Louvre vs louver
  • Lustre vs luster
  • Manoeuvre vs maneuver
  • Meagre vs meager
  • Metre vs meter
  • Millimetre vs millimeter
  • Sabre vs saber
  • Sceptre vs scepter
  • Sombre vs somber
  • Spectre vs specter
  • Theatre vs theater

-IZE or ZE for –ISE or SE

Words ending in ‘-ise’ or ‘-se’ in British spelling convention have their realisations as ‘-ize’ or ‘-ze’ in American spellings. See the following examples:

  • Analyse vs analyze
  • Apologise vs apologize
  • Appetiser vs appetizer
  • Authorise vs authorize
  • Breathalyser vs breathalyzer
  • Capitalise vs capitalize
  • Characterise vs characterize
  • Civilise vs civilize
  • Colonise vs colonize
  • Criticise vs criticize
  • Dramatise vs dramatize
  • Emphasise vs emphasize
  • Equalise vs emphasize
  • Memorise vs memorize
  • Mobilise vs mobilize
  • Naturalise vs naturalize
  • Organise vs organize
  • Paralyse vs paralyze
  • Popularise vs popularize
  • Realise vs realize
  • Recognise vs recognize
  • Satirise vs satirize
  • Standardise vs standardize
  • Symbolise vs symbolize
  • Vaporise vs vaporize

-OG for –OGUE

American English clips off the ‘-ue’ in British words ending in ‘-ogue’ as the examples below show:

  • Analogue vs analog
  • Catalogue vs catalog
  • Dialogue vs dialog
  • Epilogue vs epilog
  • Homologue vs homolog
  • Monologue vs monolog
  • Prologue vs prolog
  • Travelogue vs travelog

-SE for –CE

Here the first sets of words are British while the second sets are spellings characteristic of American English…

  • Defence vs defense
  • Licence vs license
  • Offence vs offense
  • Pretence vs pretense
  • Vice vs vise

-AE for-E/-OE for –E

Americans substitute words with ‘-ae’/‘-oe’ in British spellings for ‘-e’ in their own spellings. See the examples below. The words on the left side are British spellings while the ones on the right side are American spellings.

  • Anaemia vs anemia
  • Anaesthesia vs anesthesia
  • Caesarean vs cesarean
  • Diarrhoea vs diarrhea
  • Encyclopaedia vs encyclopedia
  • Foetus vs fetus
  • Gynaecology vs gynecology
  • Haemorrhage vs hemorrhage
  • Leukaemia vs leukemia
  • Manoeuvre vs maneuver
  • Mementoes vs mementos
  • Oestrogen vs estrogen
  • Paediatric vs pediatric
  • Paediatrics vs paediatrics
  • Palaeontology vs paleontology

Single Consonant for Double Consonant

In American English, a verb that ends in ‘l’ does not take another ‘l’ in its past tense or past participle form but this happens in British English. In addition some words have ‘-ll’ in them as opposed to American single ‘-l’

  • Beveled vs Bevelled
  • Canceled vs Cancelled
  • Counselor vs counsellor
  • Equaled vs equalled
  • Fueled vs fuelled
  • Fueling vs fuelling
  • Grovelling vs grovelling
  • Jeweller vs jeweller
  • jewelry or jewellery vs jewellry or jewellery
  • Leveled vs levelled
  • Libeled vs libelled
  • Marvellous vs marvellous
  • Modeling vs modelling
  • Paneled vs panelled
  • Pedaling vs Pedalling
  • Quarreling vs quarrelling
  • Reveled vs revelled
  • Traveled vs Travelled
  • Woolen vs Woollen

Conversely, some words in British English which have single ‘-l’ in them have ‘-ll’ in their American counterparts. Such words include:

  • Appal vs appall
  • Distil vs distill
  • Enrol vs enroll
  • Enthral vs enthrall
  • Fulfil vs fulfill
  • Instil vs instill
  • Skilful vs skillful
  • Wilful vs willful

British and American Spellings: Differences in Vocabulary

Other words, which do not follow any particular structural pattern, are also spelled differently. This is vocabulary variation.  Such words include the list below. Words on the left side are British vocabulary while words on the right side are American words:

  • A barrister vs an attorney
  • A flat tyre vs a flat
  • A graduate vs an alumnus
  • At home vs home
  • Autumn vs fall
  • Bin vs trash can
  • Biscuits vs cookies/cracker
  • Braces vs suspenders
  • Carburettor vs carburetor
  • Cheque vs check
  • Chequebook vs checkbook
  • condom vs rubber
  • Constable vs patrolman
  • Crash vs wreck
  • Crossroads vs intersection
  • Draughts vs checkers
  • Dummy vs pacifier
  • Dustmen vs garbage collectors
  • Electric cooker vs electric stove
  • Film vs movie
  • Flat vs apartment
  • Got vs gotten
  • Has just gone home vs just went home
  • High street vs main street
  • Hoardings vs billboards
  • Jacket potato vs baked potato
  • Jewellery vs jewelry
  • Loo vs restroom (bathroom)
  • Motorway vs expressway
  • Mould vs mold
  • Oil-pan vs sump
  • Omelette vs omelet
  • Optician vs optometrist
  • Phone box vs phone booth
  • Ploughing vs plowing
  • Post vs mail

British and American Spellings: Differences in Vocabulary (P-Z)

  • Practise vs practice
  • Programme vs program
  • Pub vs bar
  • Pyjamas vs pajamas
  • Railway vs railroad
  • Return tickets vs round-trip
  • Rubber vs eraser
  • Rubbish vs trash
  • Runner/string bean vs string bean
  • Shop vs store
  • Silencer vs muffler
  • Soccer vs football
  • Spark plugs vs sparking plugs
  • Speciality vs specialty
  • Tap vs faucet
  • Telly vs TV (television)
  • The Plough vs the Big dipper
  • Tights vs panty-hose
  • Timetable vs schedule
  • Tin vs can
  • Torch vs flashlight
  • Transmission shaft vs drive shaft
  • Tyre vs tire
  • Underground vs subway
  • Unleaded petrol vs unleaded gas
  • Valves vs tubes
  • Windscreen vs windshield
  • Zip vs zipper

British and American Spellings: More Vocabulary Variations

Still on British and American words which refer to the same concept but often spelled differently, the Oxford Dictionary provides additional list of such words as given below. Words on the left side are British vocabulary while words on the right side are American words:

  • Action replay vs instant replay
  • Aeroplane vs airplane
  • Agony aunt vs advice columnist
  • Allen key vs Allen wrench
  • Aluminium vs aluminum
  • Aniseed vs anise
  • Anticlockwise vs counterclockwise
  • Articulated lorry vs tractor-trailer
  • Asymmetric bars vs uneven bars
  • Aubergine vs eggplant
  • Baking tray vs cookie sheet
  • Bank holiday vs legal holiday
  • Beetroot vs beet(s)
  • Black economy vs underground economy
  • Blanket bath vs sponge bath
  • Block of flats vs apartment building
  • Boiler suit vs coveralls
  • Bonnet (of a car) vs hood
  • Boob tube vs tube top
  • Boot (of a car) vs trunk
  • Bottom drawer vs hope chest
  • Bowls vs lawn bowling
  • Brawn (the food) vs headcheese
  • Breakdown van vs tow truck
  • Breeze block vs cinder block
  • Bridging loan vs bridge loan
  • Bumbag vs fanny pack
  • Candyfloss vs cotton candy
  • Car park vs parking lot
  • Casualty vs emergency room
  • Catapult vs slingshot
  • Central reservation vs median strip
  • Chemist vs drugstore /pharmacy
  • Chips vs French fries
  • Cinema vs movie theater; the movies
  • Cling film vs plastic wrap
  • Common seal vs harbor seal
  • Consumer durables vs durable goods
  • Cornflour vs cornstarch
  • Cos (lettuce) vs Romaine
  • Cot vs crib
  • Cot death vs crib death
  • Cotton bud vs cotton swab
  • Cotton wool vs absorbent cotton
  • Council estate vs (housing) project
  • Courgette vs zucchini
  • Court card vs face card
  • Crash barrier vs guardrail

More Vocabulary Differences

  • Crisps vs chips; potato chips
  • Crocodile clip vs alligator clip
  • Cross-ply vs bias-ply
  • Crotchet (music) vs quarter note
  • Current account vs checking account
  • Danger money vs hazard pay
  • Demister (in a car) vs defroster
  • Dialling tone vs dial tone
  • Diamante vs rhinestone
  • Double cream vs heavy cream
  • Drawing pin vs thumbtack
  • Dressing gown vs robe; bathrobe
  • Drink-driving vs drunk driving
  • Drinks cupboard vs liquor cabinet
  • Drinks party vs cocktail party
  • Driving licence vs driver’s license
  • Dual carriageway vs divided highway
  • Dust sheet vs drop cloth
  • Dustbin vs garbage can
  • Earth (electrical) vs ground
  • Engaged (of a phone) vs busy
  • Estate agent vs real estate agent, realtor
  • Estate car vs station wagon
  • Ex-directory vs unlisted
  • Faith school vs parochial school
  • Financial year vs fiscal year
  • Fire brigade/service vs fire company/department
  • First floor vs second floor
  • Fish finger vs fish stick
  • Fitted carpet vs wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Flannel vs washcloth
  • Flexitime vs flextime
  • Flick knife vs switchblade
  • Flyover vs overpass
  • Football vs soccer
  • Footway vs sidewalk
  • Fringe (hair) vs bangs
  • Full stop (punctuation) vs period
  • Garden vs yard; lawn
  • Gearing (finance) vs leverage
  • Gear lever vs gearshift
  • Goods train vs freight train
  • Greaseproof paper vs wax paper/waxed paper
  • Green fingers vs green thumb
  • Grill (noun) vs broiler
  • Grill (verb) vs broil
  • Ground floor vs first floor
  • Groundsman vs groundskeeper
  • Hairslide vs barrette
  • Hatstand vs hatrack
  • Hen night vs bachelorette party
  • Hire purchase vs installment plan
  • Hob vs stovetop
  • Holdall vs carryall
  • Holiday vs vacation
  • Holidaymaker vs vacationer
  • Homely vs homey

Additional Vocabulary Variations

  • Hosepipe vs (garden) hose
  • In hospital vs in the hospital
  • Hot flush vs hot flash
  • Housing estate vs housing development
  • Hundreds and thousands vs sprinkles (for ice cream)
  • Ice lolly vs Popsicle (trademark)
  • Icing sugar vs confectioners’ sugar
  • Indicator (on a car) vs turn signal/blinker
  • Inside leg vs inseam
  • Jelly babies vs jelly beans
  • Joe Bloggs vs Joe Blow
  • Joe Public vs John Q. Public
  • Jumble sale vs rummage sale
  • Jump lead vs jumper cable
  • Jumper/pullover vs sweater
  • Junior school vs elementary school
  • Kennel vs doghouse
  • Ladybird vs ladybug
  • A lettuce vs a head of lettuce
  • Level crossing vs grade crossing
  • Lift vs elevator
  • Lolly vs lollipop
  • Lollipop lady (or man) vs crossing guard
  • Loose cover vs slipcover
  • Lorry vs truck
  • Loudhailer vs bullhorn
  • Low loader vs flatbed truck
  • Lucky dip vs grab bag
  • Luggage van vs baggage car
  • Maize vs corn
  • Mangetout vs snow pea
  • Market garden vs truck farm
  • Marshalling yard vs railroad yard
  • Maths vs math
  • Metalled road vs paved road
  • Milometer vs odometer
  • Minim (music) vs half note
  • Mobile phone vs cell phone
  • Monkey tricks vs monkeyshines
  • Mum/mummy vs mom/mommy
  • Nappy vs diaper
  • Needlecord vs pinwale
  • Newsreader vs newscaster
  • Noughts and crosses vs tic-tac-toe
  • Number plate vs license plate
  • Off-licence vs liquor store; package store
  • Opencast mining vs open-pit mining
  • Ordinary share vs common stock
  • Oven glove vs oven mitt
  • Paddling pool vs wading pool
  • Paracetamol vs acetaminophen
  • Parting (in hair) vs part
  • Patience vs solitaire
  • Pavement vs sidewalk
  • Pay packet vs pay envelope

More Variations

  • Pedestrian crossing vs crosswalk
  • Peg vs clothespin
  • Pelmet vs valance
  • Petrol vs gas; gasoline
  • Physiotherapy vs physical therapy
  • Pinafore dress vs jumper
  • Plain chocolate vs dark chocolate
  • Plain flour vs all-purpose flour
  • Polo neck vs turtleneck
  • Positive discrimination vs reverse discrimination
  • Postal vote vs absentee ballot
  • Postbox vs mailbox
  • Postcode vs zip code
  • Potato crisp vs potato chip
  • Power point vs electrical outlet
  • Pram vs baby carriage; stroller
  • Press stud vs snap
  • Press-up vs pushup
  • Private soldier vs GI
  • Public school vs private school
  • Public transport vs public transportation
  • Punchbag vs punching bag
  • Pushchair vs stroller
  • Pylon vs utility pole
  • Quantity surveyor vs estimator
  • Quaver (music) vs eighth note
  • Queue vs line
  • Racing car vs race car
  • Railway vs railroad
  • Real tennis vs court tennis
  • Recorded delivery vs certified mail
  • Registration plate vs license plate
  • Remould (tyre) vs retread
  • Reverse the charges vs call collect
  • Reversing lights vs back-up lights
  • Right-angled triangle vs right triangle
  • Ring road vs beltway
  • Roundabout (at a fair) vs carousel
  • Roundabout (in road) vs traffic circle
  • Rowing boat vs rowboat
  • Sailing boat vs sailboat
  • Saloon (car) vs sedan
  • Sandpit vs sandbox
  • Sandwich cake vs layer cake
  • Sanitary towel vs sanitary napkin
  • Self-rising flour vs self-rising flour
  • Semibreve (music) vs whole note
  • Semitone (music) vs half step
  • Share option vs stock option
  • Shopping trolley vs shopping cart
  • Show house/home vs model home
  • Silverside vs rump roast
  • Skeleton in the cupboard vs skeleton in the closet
  • Skimmed milk vs skim milk
  • Skipping rope vs jump rope

Still on Variations in Vocabulary

  • Skirting board vs baseboard
  • Sledge vs sled
  • Sleeper vs railroad tie
  • Sleeping partner vs silent partner
  • Slowcoach vs slowpoke
  • Snakes and ladders vs chutes and ladders
  • Solicitor vs lawyer
  • Soya/soya bean vs soy/soybean
  • Splashback vs backsplash
  • Spring onion vs scallion
  • Stag night vs bachelor party
  • Stanley knife vs utility knife
  • Starter vs appetizer
  • State school vs public school
  • Storm in a teacup vs tempest in a teapot
  • Surtitle vs supertitle
  • Swede vs rutabaga
  • Sweet vs candy
  • Takeaway (food) vs takeout; to go
  • Taxi rank vs taxi stand
  • Tea towel vs dish towel
  • Terrace house vs row house
  • Tick vs check mark
  • Ticket tout vs scalper
  • Timber vs lumber
  • Titbit vs tidbit
  • Toffee apple vs candy apple or caramel apple
  • Touch wood vs knock on wood
  • Trade union vs labor union
  • Trading estate vs industrial park
  • Trainers vs sneakers
  • Transport café vs truck stop
  • Trolley vs shopping cart
  • Twelve-bore vs twelve-gauge
  • Underground vs subway
  • Vacuum flask vs thermos bottle
  • Verge (of a road) vs shoulder
  • Vest vs undershirt
  • Veterinary surgeon vs veterinarian
  • Wagon (on a train) vs car
  • Waistcoat vs vest
  • Walking frame vs walker
  • Wardrobe vs closet
  • Water ice vs Italian ice
  • Weatherboard vs clapboard
  • White coffee vs coffee with cream
  • White spirit vs mineral spirits
  • Wholemeal bread vs wholewheat bread
  • Windcheater vs windbreaker
  • Wing (of a car) vs fender
  • Worktop vs countertop
  • Zebra crossing vs crosswalk
  • Zed (letter Z) vs zee

Concluding Remarks

It is important to understand the spelling conventions of both British and American English to know what to write depending on either context. Students taking examinations like GRE (see Top GRE Words) must be conscious of American spellings. But in all, whichever spelling convention one chooses to adhere to, consistency is very important.

References

Fakoya A. Practise Your English. Lagos: Mularpek Corporate Services

You can check some images representing the different vocabulary of the two languages provided by the US State Department.

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