Spelling: Alternative spelling

Just like humour and humor, and centre and center, a number of other words vary in their British and American spellings. How different are British and American spelling and how should you choose which spelling to learn?

The number of spelling differences between British and American English amount to less than 1% of the overall vocabulary of contemporary English. It’s not something that we need to be terribly worried about, but it is always something that we must bear in mind.

If you are living, studying, or working in the UK, and particularly if you are a teacher or student using the UK National Curriculum (NC), you should choose the British standard. If you are teaching English as a foreign language in a non-English-speaking country, the decision may not seem so easy. First, check with your school to find out which form is most suitable for you. Second, if your students are considering studying in the US or UK, consider helping them learn that country’s spelling norms now.

Rest assured, neither norm is ‘wrong’, and neither will get you into trouble. The most important thing is to be consistent.

Spellings in Englicious are based upon the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), long a definitive reference for acceptable usage.

Throughout this site, we comment on the content and nature of the UK National Curriculum. One issue is that the final NC documents do not spell some words consistently. One prominent example is the occurrence of both civilisation and civilization at different points in the curriculum. Which spelling are teachers to teach? The NC isn't clear, and the editors of the NC haven't been consistent themselves. The OED now accepts as standard British English the z in words ending with −ize or −ization, and this site follows suit. In this case, some writers continue to prefer an s, as in −ise or −isation. With this and other possible variants, we would simply point out that if you follow the rules here, you’ll be practising (or, in the US, practicing) a reliable and respectable system supported by a significant linguistic authority.

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