American English vs British English: 10 Spelling Differences that are Confusing to English Students

May 19, 2017
19 May 2017,
 Off

The differences between American English and British English cause confusion among many English learners. Not only do these two versions of English have different words that mean the same thing, they also spell the same words differently. That’s right, how you spell a word may just depend on if you learned American English or British English. Keep in mind that not all words follow these spelling rules. Always double check your written work to make sure you’re using the correct spelling! Here are 10 prime examples of spelling differences between these two versions of English.

 

‘er’ versus ‘re’

 

Generally, if a word ends in -er in American English, you’ll end the word -re in British English.

 

American English British English
TheaterTheatre
CenterCentre
LusterLustre

 

However, not all er/re words follow this rule. Many Romantic and Germanic derived words used in British English have endings of -er. For example, the following words are spelled the same in both American English and British English: anger, river, mother, and water. There is no clear way to tell which words will take the -re or -er ending in British English. However, take comfort in knowing that if you see a word ending in -er, it’s most likely the American spelling.

 

‘e’ versus no ‘e’

 

To ‘e’ or not to ‘e’, that is the question. Knowing when to use an ‘e’ is still an issue of complexity that many native speakers struggle with. In general, British English will utilize ‘e’s in some words that American English won’t.

 

American EnglishBritish English
AgingAgeing
SizableSizeable

 

 

‘a’ versus ‘e’

 

Furthermore, some word in British English place an ‘e’ in the word while the American English equivalent will place an ‘a’ in the word.

 

American EnglishBritish English
GrayGrey

 

A simple way to remember this is ‘grey’ has an ‘e’ for England (A country that speaks British English) and ‘gray’ has an ‘a’ for America.

 

Double Consonants

 

Many words in British English will have double consonants where the American version will only have one. This is especially true of doubling up the ‘l’ consonant.

American EnglishBritish English
LabeledLabelled
JewelryJewellery

 

 

‘e’ versus ‘ae’/ ‘oe’ 

 

In many British words you may see an ‘ae’ or ‘oe’ combination. In American words, the first vowel is dropped and only the ‘e’ is kept. This seems to be especially true for health related vocabulary words.

 

American English British English
EstrogenOestrogen
PediatricPaediatric

 

Looking for an Advanced English Course that focuses on Real English, Accent Training and Fluency?

Sign up for Trial Lesson

Spoken English Trial Lesson

ize’ versus ‘ise’ endings

 

How you end a word may also depend on what version of English you use. Many British words end in ‘ise’, while the American equivalent will end in ‘ize’.

American EnglishBritish English
RealizeRealise
SymbolizeSymoblise

 

 

Random spelling differences

 

There is no rhyme or reason to why these words are spelled differently depending on the version of English you use. However, it’s best not to get too caught up in learning all the different spellings. Just be aware that some identical words in meaning will be spelt entirely differently depending on the version of English you’re using.

American EnglishBritish English
CozyCosy
TireTyre
CurbKerb

 

As you can see, unlike previous examples, these words are almost entirely different! They look like they could be two completely separate words!

 

‘og’ versus ‘ogue’

 

Where you see an ‘ogue’ in British words, you’ll simply remove the ‘ue’ and keep the ‘og’ for the American equivalent.

 

American EnglishBritish English
AnalogAnalogue
CatalogCatalogue

 

However, you’ll still see words like ‘catalogue’ or ‘dialogue’ in some American media and books.

 

‘or’ versus ‘our’

 

Many British words that have ‘our’ in the word will drop the ‘u’ in the American version.

American EnglishBritish English
ColorColour
FavoriteFavourite

 

If you know some basic American history you’ll recall that America was once under British rule, until they left to become their own country. Use this knowledge to your advantage to help you remember this spelling rule. Think of this humorous fictional exchange between the two countries:

Britain: “Why won’t you listen to us anymore?”

America: “We want to leave u out of our decisions!”

 

Keeping this classic English grammar joke in mind will help you recall the no ‘u’ rule for Americanized words.

 

-ence versus -ense endings

 

The British English version of some words will have -c

e endings while the American English version will have -se endings.

American EnglishBritish English
DefenseDefence
OffenseOffence

Overall, the differences between American English and British English are small and insignificant. However, as you now know, some changes can make the words look entirely different from each other. There is no need to master both versions of English. Stick to learning one version of English, but be aware they do have differences! Good luck!

 

Related articles:

Interested in learning more about vocabulary differences between American English and British English? Check this excellent guide.

Looking for more free resources on American English and British English? Here is one more great blog post we have.