British vs American English: striking spelling differences and exceptions

As expected, British and American English have different styles of spelling words that have the same meaning, but a letter or more could make the difference.

These are the differences we should not forget:

*Generally, -tre is British while –ter is American.


British American
theatre theater
centre center
sceptre scepter
fibre fiber
litre liter
metre meter
calibre caliber


*Words in British English with -our are written as -or in American English.


 British  American
 honour  honor
 favour  favor
 saviour  savior
 parlour  parlor
 neighbour  neighbor
 colour  color
 humour  humor

Exception: glamour, from Scot.

In American English, glamour is used instead of glamor because it is considered the correct form.


*In British English, words ending in l take another l when adding endings that begin with a vowel, but the single l is maintained in American English.


 British   American
 levelled  leveled
 travelling  traveling
 fuelled  fueled
channelled channeled
 ravelling  raveling
 marvelled marveled
cancelled canceled

Exceptions: propelled, rebelled, revealed/revealing and civilian are used in both British and American English.


*In British English, –yse is the standard, but Americans use -yze. However, -ise and -ize are acceptable in British English, but it is –ize in American English.

 British  American
analyse/analyze analyze
paralyse/paralyze  paralyze
recognise/recognize recognize
apologise/apologize apologize
finalise/finalize finalize


*In British English, some words ending in -ence are spelt –ense in American English.


 British   American
 pretence pretense
 licence license
 defence defense
 offence offense


* Words with -oe and -ae in British English are spelt with only -e in American English.

 British American 
paediatrics pediatrics
manoeuvre maneuver
oestrogen estrogen
leukaemia leukemia

Exceptions: Americans use both archaeology and archeology.


* Words ending in -ogue in British English are spelt with either -og or -ogue in American English.

British  American 
catalogue catalog/catalogue
analogue analog/analogue
dialogue dialog/dialogue
travelogue travelog/travelogue

The words listed above are generally used with -ogue in both British and American English, although catalog is widely used in the US.

In addition, vivid differences between these two varieties include:


*In general speech, British English uses some words that are not common in American English. For example, the auxiliary verb shall is more common in British English to express the future.


  1. Shall we talk to them today? (British)
  2. Should we talk to them today? (American)


*Also, question tags are more common in British English than American; the latter uses them less often.


* And, have got is used often in British English, while Americans prefer have.


  1. Have you got blue ink? (British)
  2. Do you have blue ink?  (American)


* Finally, speakers of British English use the present perfect tense more than their American counterparts.


Br: Have you served the guests yet?

US: Did you serve the guests yet?

Br: I’ve already spoken.

US: I already spoke.

Summarily, British and American English are almost utterly disparate (different in every way). If you however remember the basics of the aforementioned points, understanding the differences would be simpler.

Also read: British vs American English: vocabulary, tense and preference


4 thoughts on “British vs American English: striking spelling differences and exceptions

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: