American versus British English Spelling

If you’re someone learning English, the differences in spelling may be confusing, especially if you look at American versus British English spelling. The order of certain letters can be different depending on which variation is spoken, or there can even be some extra letters (like those extra Us. I’m lookin’ at you, Brits).


English wasn’t standardized until the mid to late 18th century, so for a good while there, people spelled words all sorts of ways. In the States, we have a tendency to prefer to spell things the way they sound – thanks to Noah Webster. Some of the most common differences in spelling are –o/ -ou, -ize/ -ise, and -er/ -re.


Here are 7 words with their American and British English spellings (with American spellings first) to give you an idea of the differences in our shared language:




I can’t say why, but I always thought the British spelling of programme with its extra m and e always looked fancier. Sometimes, certain words in British English have an extra consonant. In this case, programme comes from French modern use, though the British would use the spelling for program for anything computer related. Don’t let it throw you, though! You’ll soon figure out which is which.





The –ize / –ise ending is a pretty typical US / UK spelling identifier. However, this difference goes on the list of how the British evolved the English language – not the Americans! (This is a topic for another blog!)


The –ize ending has been used since around the 15th century, while –ise only made its first appearance in the UK in the 18th century! As Kate Burridge points out in her book, Blooming English, this suffix comes from the Greek –izein, so using the former version is not only more historically accurate, but is also written closer to how it sounds.





There are many words in American English that use the suffix -or instead of –our, for example, honor, color, behavior, and humor. This –or ending is taken from the original Latin word, whereas –our comes from the French influence on the Latin word. So, did the Americans “take out” the U, or did the British “add” it? I’ll let you decide.




The -er versus -re spelling can be very confusing… even for a native speaker. Centre originates in Old French, though Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope all used center in their writing. There are so many examples of how inconsistent this ending is in both spelling and pronunciation, but here are a few words that are spelled the same in both the US and the UK: massacre, mother, December, genre, and oyster.




There are a few random words have different American and British English spellings, and curb/kerb is one of them. Curb comes from Latin, and kerb comes from…English. In the 1660s, someone just decided to spell curb differently and voilà: kurb.


Practice / Practise


Unlike the words advice and advise where the change in letter results in a different word completely, practice and practise mean the same thing. Similar to -ize/-ise, the Brits have taken the French influenced spelling and the Americans have taken on the original Latin version.





This is another where I sometimes use the British spelling instead. There are certain words, like traveling/travelling or focusing/ focussing that are spelled with a double consonant in British English. It can even be confusing for Americans! This really is a huge topic so if you are interested, I recommend starting here.  My advice: just be consistent with your doublings.


Good luck with your spellings! There’s never really a dull moment when learning English, is there?



Do you have any other favo(u)rite American versus British English spelling differences? Share them with us in the comments below!


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Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and finds it hard to be loyal to just one English!  

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