You may often see a word written in two ways in English writing. With this, you may wonder if the spellings indicate different meanings or if one spelling pertains to a certain writing style. In this article, we will talk more about the differences and usage of defense and defence.
Differences Between Defense And Defence
In short, the correct spelling depends on whether you’re using British English or American English. Defence is the preferred spelling for British English, and defense is the preferred spelling for American English.
- British/UK/Canada/Australia: defence
- American/United States: defense
The different spellings do not affect the meaning.
Similarly, defence and defense mean the same thing. In essence, the only difference between them is in one letter, and most of that boils down to the locations in which they are used geographically.
It is customary to write “defense” in American spelling, and it is rare to find it spelled the other way. For instance, an American may write a sentence such as:
- In my defense, I thought that the snacks were free!
- The soccer team played good defense and kept their opponent scoreless.
Here are some additional examples from professional writers:
“Those powers expired with key provisions of the Patriot Act at 12.01am on Monday amid a showdown between defense hawks and civil liberties advocates.”–The Guardian, 2013.
“Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office issued a statement saying: “As is our duty, our office will provide for a vigorous defense of the state’s duly enacted laws.”–The Guardian, 2015.
In contrast, the British spelling calls for the word to be spelled as defence. For instance, someone spelling in this style would write:
- In my defence, I thought that the crumpets were free!
- The Minister of National Defence explained the military operation.
For more examples, have a look at the sentences below:
The Guardian, 2011:
However, a South Korean defence official said separately that North Korea could develop a fully operational submarine with ballistic missiles within two or three years.
The Guardian, 2014:
The defence ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were meeting on Thursday and the situation in the Baltic sea would be the “number one topic of the meeting”, Siemoniak said.
Other Forms of the Word
This spelling distinction also carries over in other forms of the word, such as defenseless, defenseman, or defenselessly, where Americans usually keep the spelling with the “s.” At the same time, Brits usually opt for the spelling with a “c.” When a suffix with an -i is added (such as -ive or –ible), both writing styles usually keep the spelling with an “s.”
Here are some example sentences showing the spelling when a suffix with an -i is added:
- The coach loved him as a player because he kept the best defensive position
- The jury opted in favor of the defendant because he made the most defensible arguments
In American English, defense can also be used as a verb. Some styles may disagree, but you can get away with this usage in most informal situations. This is a common use when talking about sports. For instance, an American may say something along the lines of:
- The chess player defenses against his opponent’s attacks
- The football team defenses against the opposing frontline me
The Origin of Defence/Defense
The Online Etymology Dictionary explains that the word defence comes from the 14th century meaning “action of guarding or shielding from attack or injury; act of defending by fighting; a fortified place of refuge.”
The roots of the word come from Old French and Latin. The Old French word of defens would make its way into Old English and become defense, in addition to the alternate spelling defence.
Outside of sports, when you pronounce either word (defense or defence) you stress the second syllable.
- defense/defence = duh-fents
You’ll sometimes hear sports commentators in America pronounce the word while stressing the first syllable.
- defense = DEE-fense