Spelling differences between British and American English

The spelling difference between British and American English is the most evident difference on paper. The primary distinction is that British English retains the spelling of terms borrowed from other languages, primarily French and German. While American English spellings are primarily determined by how a word sounds when spoken.

The spellings of British English words were cemented by Samuel Johnson in what is considered to be one of the most famous dictionaries in the world. It took Johnson, and six helpers, just over eight years to curate the 40,000 words that appeared in ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’, which was published in 1755.

Similarly in America ‘A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language’ was first printed in 1806 and popularised the American English spellings that were being used instead of the British English spellings of words, such as ‘color’ instead of ‘colour.

The author was Noah Webster who followed up the original dictionary in 1828 with his ‘An American Dictionary of the English Language’ which had over 70,000 words.
Samuel Johnson, the author of one of the world’s most famous dictionaries, established the spelling of British English terms. The 40,000 words in ‘A Dictionary of the English Language,’ published in 1755, took Johnson and six assistants just over eight years to compile.

Below we have listed the main spelling differences that exist between British and American English.

British English words ending in ‘our’ usually end in ‘or’ in American English:

These French influenced words have more spelling differences between British and American English. Nearly all of these words originally come from Latin.

British American
arbourarbor
ardourarbor
armourarmor
behaviourbehavior
clangourclangor
candourcandor
clamourclamor
colourcolor
demeanourdemeanor
endeavourendeavor
favourfavor
flavourflavor
harbourhabor
honourhonor
humourhumor
labourlabor
neighbourneighbor
odourodor
parlourparlor
rancourrancor
rigourrigor
rumourrumor
savioursavior
savoursavor
splendoursplendor
tumourtumor
valourvalor
vigourvigor

British English words that end in -re often end in -er in American English:

The –re spelling originally comes from French.

British American
calibrecaliber
centrecenter
fibrefiber
litreliter
lustreluster
meagremeager
metremeter
sabresaber
sceptrescepter
sepulchresepulcher
sombresomber
theatretheater

Verbs in British English that can be spelled with either ‘ize’ or ‘ise’ at the end are always spelled with ‘ize’ at the end in American English:

British American
apologize or apologiseapologize
organize or organiseorganize
recognize or recogniserecognize

Verbs in British English that end in ‘yse’ are always spelled ‘yze’ in American English:

British American
analyseanalyze
breathalysebreathalyze
paralyseparalyze

Words have an -ae- or -oe- in British English but only -e- in US English:

These types of words mostly come from Ancient Greek. Most of these words are scientific, medical, or technical words. Although there are exceptions to the rule.  For example archaeology is spelt in the same way as British English but archeology would be acceptable in America but is incorrect in the UK.

British EnglishAmerican English
aeoneon
aestheticesthetic
anaemiaanemia
anaesthesiaanesthesia
diarrhoeadiarrhea
gonorrhoeagonorrhea
gynaecologistgynecologist
leukaemialeukemia
manoeuvremaneuver
oestrogenestrogen
paediatricianpediatrician

Some nouns that end with ‘ence’ in British English are spelled ‘ense in American English:

British American
defencedefense
licencelicense
offenceoffense
pretencepretense

Some British english words ends with a ‘silent’ -e. American english omit the -e:

Where both American and British English have this, in words such as namemake, or have, it comes from an Old English inflection. 

BritishAmerican
axeax
annexeannex
judgementjudgment
glycerineglycerin
grammegram
grille(noun)grill
programmeprogram
tonneton

Some nouns that end with ‘ogue’ in British English end with either ‘og’ or ‘ogue in American English:

BritishAmerican
analogueanalog or analogue
cataloguecatalog or catalogue
dialoguedialog or dialogue

In British spelling ‘L’ is doubled in verbs ending in a vowel plus ‘L’. In American English, the ‘L’ is not doubled:

BritishAmerican
fuelledfueled
fuellingfueling
traveltravel
travelledtraveled
travellingtraveling
travellertraveler

Other differences between UK and USA english spellings:

BritishAmerican
aeroplaneairplane
artefactartifact
BritishAmerican
cheque(banking)check
chequerboardcheckerboard
chequeredcheckered
cosycozy
doughnutdonut
draughtdraft
gaoljail
greygray
jewelleryjewelry
kerb(noun)curb
ploughplow
scepticalskeptical
sulphursulfur

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