Oxford spelling

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Oxford spelling (or Oxford English Dictionary spelling) is the spelling used by Oxford University Press (OUP), including in its Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and other publishers who are "etymology conscious", according to Merriam-Webster.[1] Oxford spelling is best known for its preference for the suffix -ize rather than -ise. Apart from OUP, British dictionary publishers that use it include Cassell, Collins, and Longman.[2] However, Oxford University itself does not follow the OUP/OED spelling and recommends -ise for use by own staff in its style guide.[3] In digital documents, Oxford spelling may be indicated by the language tag en-GB-oed.

Defining features[edit]

Oxford spelling can be recognized by its use of the suffix ‑ize instead of -ise: organization, privatize and recognizable instead of organisation, privatise and recognisable. The spelling affects about 200 verbs, and is favoured on etymological grounds, in that -ize corresponds more closely to the Greek root, -izo, of most -ize verbs.[4] The suffix -ize has been in use in the UK since the 15th century,[5] and is the spelling variation used in American English. The belief that -ize is an exclusively American variant is incorrect.[5][6] The OED lists the -ise form of words separately, as "a frequent spelling of -IZE...". The OED explains its use of -ise as follows:

This practice probably began first in French; in modern French the suffix has become -iser, alike in words from Greek, as baptiser, évangéliser, organiser, and those formed after them from Latin, as civiliser, cicatriser, humaniser.

Hence, some have used the spelling -ise in English, as in French, for all these words, and some prefer -ise in words formed in French or English from Latin elements, retaining -ize for those formed < Greek elements.

But the suffix itself, whatever the element to which it is added, is in its origin the Greek -ιζειν, Latin -izāre; and, as the pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English the special French spelling should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and phonetic. In this Dictionary the termination is uniformly written -ize. (In the Greek -ιζ-, the i was short, so originally in Latin, but the double consonant z (= dz, ts) made the syllable long; when the z became a simple consonant, /-idz/ became īz, whence English /-aɪz/.)

The use of -ize instead of -ise does not affect the spelling of words in British English that end in -yse, such as analyse, paralyse and catalyse, which come from the Greek verb λύω, lyo, not from an -izo verb.


Oxford spelling is the official or de facto spelling standard used in style guides of the international organizations that belong to the United Nations System.[7][8] For example, this includes the World Health Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, the International Labour Organization and UNESCO. UN treaties and declarations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Other international organizations that adhere to this standard include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO),[8] the World Trade Organization (WTO),[8] the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO),[8] the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),[8] the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC),[8] Interpol,[8] the International Committee of the Red Cross,[8] the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF),[8] Amnesty International,[8] and the World Economic Forum.[8]

Oxford spelling is also used in a number of academic publications. For example, the London-based scientific journal Nature uses it.

However, Oxford spelling is not necessarily followed by the staff of the University of Oxford. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, the university website has recommended the use of "s" rather than "z" spellings for its public relations material.[9][10]

Several major newspapers and magazines in the UK use -ise rather than the Oxford-style -ize spellings. The Times had been using -ize until the early 1990s, when it decided to switch to the -ise spelling,[11] although The Times Literary Supplement has continued to use Oxford spelling.

Language tag comparison[edit]

The following table summarizes a few general spelling differences between the four major spelling systems. Note: en-GB simply stands for British English; it is not specified whether -ize or -ise should be used. The language tag en-GB-oed, however, requires the consistent use of -ize and -ization.

en-GB en-GB-oed en-CA en-US
analyse analyse analyze,
analyse [12]
behaviour behaviour behaviour,
behavior [13]
centre centre centre center
defence defence defence defense
globalization   globalization   globalization  
realise realize realize realize
traveller traveller traveller traveler
catalogue catalogue catalogue catalog
program (computer code)
program (computer code)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "ize", Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage. Merriam-Webster, 1994, p. 568.
  2. ^ McArthur, Tom (ed.). "The -ize and -ise group", Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 124.
  3. ^ "University of Oxford Style Guide: Word usage and spelling". Retrieved 2013-07-14. [dead link]
  4. ^ Ritter, R.M. New Hart's Rules. Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 43.
    • That it affects around 200 verbs, see Upward, Christopher and Davidson, George. "The suffix -IZE/-ISE", The History of English Spelling. John Wiley & Sons, 2011, p. 220.
  5. ^ a b "-ize or -ise?". Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "Are spellings like 'privatize' and 'organize' Americanisms?". AskOxford. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-07-14. 
  7. ^ United Nations Editorial Manual Online, United Nations.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Which Spelling Standard in English? 'Oxford Spelling', Pompeu Fabra University.
  9. ^ "Spelling", University of Oxford Branding Toolkit.
  10. ^ "Word usage and Spellings" and "Oxford University Style Guide", University of Oxford Public Affairs Directorate, 19 December 2012 (accessed 19 October 2013).
  11. ^ "Questions answered, January 13, 2004". Times Online. (Internet Archive)
  12. ^ The spelling "analyse" is listed first, ahead of "analyze", by The Winston Canadian Dictionary, Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada, Toronto, 1960, 1974.
  13. ^ The termination -or was formerly endorsed by the Gage Canadian Dictionary.


  • The Oxford English Dictionary (1st ed.)
  • The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd ed. (20 vols.)
  • The Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford: Oxford University Press (latest edition: on WWW)
  • United Nations Editorial Manual, New York: United Nations Publications, 1983

Further reading[edit]