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British vs. US Spellings

Updated September 7, 2022 – I traveled (travelled?) around the Big Island of Hawaii the last two weeks and found that–even at Volcanoes National Park–I could not escape thinking about writing. This spelling grabbed my attention on the Sulphur Banks trail:

A sign that discuss British vs. US spellings: "Is it sulfur or sulphur? Both are correct. Sulphur Banks, as named by visitors in the early 1800's, is spelled according to British usage. Sulfur is the spelling used in the United States.


Why deal with spelling in a national park? Because on the Sulphur Banks trail, the park needed to explain the nature of sulfur.

When you think about whether to use U.S., British, or Canadian spellings, think about your audience. When I offer classes in nearby Vancouver, British Columbia, I always update spellings, and I consider using the word brackets for what I normally call parentheses

This Oxford dictionaries page can help you with the basics, and this list covers most spelling differences–although not sulphur and sulfur. For Canada, a gray area (or grey?) when it comes to choosing between U.S. or British spelling, I consult The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling guide.

Here is a quick guide on the British vs. US Spellings

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

colour color
flavour flavor
humour humor
labour labor
neighbour neighbor


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

apologize or apologise Apologize
organize or organise Organize
recognize or recognise Recognize


British English verbs ending in ‘yse’ are always spelled ‘yze’ in American English:

analyse analyze
breathalyse breathalyze
paralyse paralyze


In British spelling, verbs that end in a vowel plus “l” double the “l,” while American English does not:

travel travel
travelled traveled
travelling traveling
traveller traveler


Words in British English that are spelled with the double vowels ae or oe are usually spelled with an e in American English: however, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, the word archaeology is spelled in the same way as British English, but archeology would be acceptable in America but is considered incorrect in the UK.

leukaemia leukemia
manoeuvre maneuver
oestrogen estrogen
paediatric pediatric


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

defence defense
licence license
offence offense
pretence pretense


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

analogue analog or analogue
catalogue catalog or catalogue
dialogue dialog or dialogue


One word is always spelled the same way: the Hawaiian word and feeling of aloha. 

Syntax Training


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

5 comments on “British vs. US Spellings”

  • As I was learning English in London, I was taught I should be consistent in my writing: if you start with BE, carry on with BE! Not so easy, I must say.

    No one cares if my English is perfect at work, but I like it to be as good as possible, for myself. That’s one reason why I’m following your blog.

    Thanks to you, now I have a great link to help me pick the better option, when in doubt! Problem is, sometimes I don’t even have a doubt. For instance, I’ve just learnt there’s gray and grey!

    Anyway, I love English, be it American or British, and I’m grateful for all your articles, I always learn something new and useful.

  • Lynn,

    I am always grateful for your articles. I get sharpened in my writing with every other article I read from you.

    Keep it up.


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