Wikipedia:Manual of Style/Spelling

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The following is a handy reference for editors, listing various common spelling differences between national varieties of English.

Please note: If you are not familiar with a spelling, please do some research before changing it – it may be your misunderstanding rather than a mistake, especially in the case of American and British English spelling differences.

English spelling comparison chart[edit]

This table gives the accepted spellings (following government guidelines and major dictionaries). It is by no means exhaustive, but rather an overview. When two variants appear in the same cell, the one listed first is more widely used. (For example, in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and Ireland, ageing is more common than aging; in Canada and the US, aging is more common.)

The spelling systems of unlisted Commonwealth countries, such as India, Pakistan and Singapore, are generally close to the British spelling system, with possibly a few local differences. Some non-Commonwealth English-speaking countries, such as the Philippines, Burundi, Liberia, have spelling systems closer to American spelling.

With some exceptions, boxes in green show use of British spellings and those in violet show use of US spellings. Boxes in pink indicate that both spellings are used.

UK & Ireland[1] South Africa[2] New Zealand[3] Australia[4] Canada[5] United States[6][7]
acknowledgement acknowledgement acknowledgement acknowledgement, acknowledgment acknowledgement, acknowledgment acknowledgment
aeroplane aeroplane aeroplane aeroplane airplane airplane
ageing, aging ageing, aging ageing, aging aging, ageing aging, ageing aging, ageing
all right all right all right alright, all right all right alright, all right
aluminium aluminium aluminium aluminium aluminum aluminum
authorise, authorize authorise, authorize authorise authorise, authorize authorize authorize
analyse analyse analyse analyse analyze analyze
artefact artefact artefact artefact, artifact artifact artifact
cancelled cancelled cancelled cancelled cancelled canceled
catalogue catalogue catalogue catalogue catalogue catalog, catalogue
centre centre centre centre centre center
civilisation, civilization civilisation, civilization civilisation civilisation, civilization civilization civilization
colour colour colour colour colour color
co-operation co-operation co-operation cooperation, co-operation co-operation, cooperation cooperation
defence defence defence defence defence defense
dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue dialogue, dialog (conversation)
dialog (text)
diarrhoea diarrhoea diarrhoea diarrhoea, diarrhea diarrhea diarrhea
encyclopaedia encyclopaedia encyclopaedia encyclopedia encyclopedia encyclopedia
empanel, impanel empanel, impanel empanel, impanel impanel, empanel impanel, empanel impanel, empanel
foetus, fetus foetus foetus fetus, foetus fetus fetus
fulfil fulfil fulfil fulfil(l) fulfill fulfill
jail, gaol jail, gaol jail jail jail jail
grey grey grey grey grey gray, grey
honour honour honour honour honour honor
instalment instalment instalment instalment instalment, installment installment
judgement, judgment judgement, judgment judgement judgement, judgment judgment, judgement judgment
kerb (roadside)
curb (restrain)
kerb (roadside)
curb (restrain)
kerb (roadside)
curb (restrain)
kerb (roadside)
curb (restrain)
curb curb
labour labour labour labour[8] labour labor
licence (n.),
license (v.)
licence (n.),
license (v.)
licence (n.),
license (v.)
licence (n.),
license (v.)
licence (n.),
license (v.)
license (n. and v.)
liquorice liquorice liquorice licorice licorice licorice
manoeuvre manoeuvre manoeuvre manoeuvre manoeuvre maneuver
meagre meagre meagre meagre meagre meager
mould mould mould mould mould mold
organisation, organization organisation, organization organisation organisation, organization organization organization
plough plough plough plough plow plow
practice (n.),
practise (v.)
practice (n.),
practise (v.)
practice (n.),
practise (v.)
practice (n.),
practise (v.)
practice (n.),
practise (v.)
practice (n. and v.)
computer program,
training programme
computer program,
training programme
computer program,
training programme
computer program,
training program,
theatre program
computer program,
training program
computer program,
training program
pyjamas pyjamas pyjamas pyjamas pyjamas, pajamas pajamas
routeing, routing routeing, routing routeing, routing routing routing routing
sceptic sceptic sceptic sceptic skeptic skeptic
sombre sombre sombre sombre sombre somber
sulphur sulphur sulphur sulfur, sulphur sulfur, sulphur sulfur
theatre theatre theatre theatre theatre theater, theatre
travelling travelling travelling travelling travelling traveling, travelling
tyre tyre tyre tyre tire tire
veranda veranda verandah verandah veranda veranda
(fault and tool)
(fault and tool)
(fault and tool)
(fault and tool)
vice (fault)
vise (tool)
vice (fault)
vise (tool)
vigour vigour vigour vigour vigour vigor
yoghurt, yogurt, yoghourt yoghurt, yogurt yoghurt yoghurt yogourt, yogurt, yoghurt, yoghourt yogurt
UK & Ireland South Africa New Zealand Australia Canada United States
See Notes for explanations of the references above.

Other spelling differences[edit]

Throughout this section, the variants here regarded as "British" are also used in Australia (in most cases), as well as in other Commonwealth countries and in Ireland. Canadian spelling combines British and American.

Preferred variants[edit]

In both British English and American English, many words have variant spellings, but most of the time one variant is preferred over the other. In dictionaries, the preferred spelling is listed first among the headwords of an entry. Examples follow:

  • acknowledgement vs acknowledgment: acknowledgement is preferred in British English,[9] acknowledgment in American English.
  • judgement vs judgment: judgement is preferred in British English (except in the sense of a judge's decision, in which case judgment is preferred), judgment in American English.
  • per cent vs percent: per cent is preferred in British English, percent in American English.
  • dialogue vs dialog: In a non-technical context, the spelling dialogue is preferred in American English. In Webster's dictionary, dialogue is given first, and Chambers also indicates dialog is less used in North America.[10]
  • catalogue vs catalog: Webster's treats this case differently, as does Chambers[11]catalog is the preferred spelling in American English.
  • glamour vs glamor: The spelling glamour is preferred in both British and American English. (Glamourous is sometimes found in American English, but is usually considered incorrect in British English, where glamorous is the only accepted form.)
  • foetus vs fetus: In American English, foetus is never used. In British English, usage is divided. In academic literature, fetus is preferred.
  • aluminium vs aluminum: aluminum is the prevalent spelling throughout North America; however, in scientific literature aluminium should be used, as recommended by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, or IUPAC. (The two spellings also have different pronunciations.)
  • sulphur vs sulfur: sulphur is the prevalent spelling outside North America; however, in scientific literature sulfur should be used, as recommended by IUPAC. (see Sulfur#Spelling and etymology)
  • caesium vs cesium: cesium is the prevalent spelling throughout North America; however, in scientific literature caesium should be used, as recommended by IUPAC.

Archaic spelling[edit]

Older sources use many archaic variants (such as shew for show), which are not to be used outside quotations except in special circumstances (for example, quire may be used instead of choir in architectural contexts).

When archaic spelling is used in the title of a work, modernize the spelling in the text of the article but retain the original spelling in the references. For example, the text of an article might read "Thomas Ady attacked the Demonology of King James..." while the citation should read Daemonologie, In Forme of a Dialogie, Diuided into three Bookes. By James Rx, 1597....". Adding a <!-- comment --> may help prevent well-meaning editors from correcting the spelling "mistakes".

As per WP:Manual of Style § Quotations, archaic glyphs should be modernized, including within quotations and titles (e.g., æ→ae, œ→oe, ſ→s, and ye→the). Archaic spellings (including capitalization, punctuation, and emphasis that would be non-standard today) are retained in quotations, and we rarely need to provide any translations into Modern English if the source material is Elizabethan or later. For Middle English, treat it on a case-by-case basis, but always provide translation for Old English.

Different spellings, different meanings[edit]

Several words change their meaning when spelt differently.

  • cheque – check: to check is to ensure; outside the US, a bill of exchange drawn on a bank payable on demand is a cheque.
  • kerb – curb: In British English, kerb is the edge of the road or pavement (UK) where kerbstones can be found. In the US, it is spelled curb, and may be attached to a sidewalk. To curb is to limit or control in either dialect.
  • disc – disk: Outside of computing, in British English the usual spelling is disc (meaning a thin flat circular object); in American English disk and disc are normally interchangeable. However, in computing (in both British & American English), disk usually refers to magnetic disks, as in hard disk drives, dating back to the first magnetic disks used by US-developed mainframe computers. Disc usually refers to optical discs, beginning with the Compact Disc (developed outside the US) and continuing with DVD (the last "D" of the acronym usually meaning disc regardless of its uncertain etymology), Blu-ray Disc, and even defunct formats such as HD DVD.
  • draught – draft: In the UK draft is a preliminary version of a document, while draught is a drink or a current of air; all are usually spelled draft in the US, but draught has been making a comeback in reference to beverages.
  • enquiry – inquiry: for most British writers, an enquiry is a request for information, but an inquiry is a formal investigation.
  • ensure – insure: To ensure is to make sure. In British English, to insure is to take out an insurance policy. In American English, to insure is sometimes used instead of to ensure.[12][13]
  • judgement – judgment: In Australian and British law, a judge's decision in a case is always spelt judgment. On the other hand, the forming of opinion or conclusion by an ordinary person is usually spelt judgement.
  • metre – meter: in most countries other than the US, metre is the metric unit of length, and meter is a measuring device; in these dialects metre is also the rhythm of a line of verse, but the word as part of the technical name of a given metre (pentameter, hexameter, etc.) is spelled -meter.
  • programme – program: In British English, the spelling program can be used for computer program. In all other cases, programme is invariably used.
  • storey – story: a story is a tale; outside of the US, upper floors of buildings are spelt storey.[14]
  • theatre – theater: Many uses of either spelling can be found in American English. Both theater and theatre are commonly used among theatre professionals. The spelling theatre can be seen in names like the Kodak Theatre and AMC Theatres. However, the spelling theater is used for the various venues at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and all major American newspapers, such as The New York Times's theater section[15] to refer to both the dramatic arts as well as to the buildings where performances take place. The Columbia University Guide to Standard American English states that theater is used except in proper names.[16]
  • tyre – tire: In American and Canadian English, tire is used to refer to fatigue and the inflated rim of a wheel. In British and other forms of English, tire means "to fatigue" and tyre is the inflated rim of a wheel.

International organizations[edit]

There are three major English spelling standards used by international organizations and publishers:

British English with "-ise"[edit]

Spellings: centre, programme, labour, defence, organisation; recognise, advise, devise, advertise, and analyse
Language tag (a code identifying the language used): en-GB.

Examples of organizations adhering to this standard: European Union (EU), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Commonwealth Secretariat (Commonwealth of Nations), African Union (AU), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), International Olympic Committee (IOC), UK Armed Forces and Ministry of Defence, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The UK government does not seem to have an official position on spelling, though it often uses this variant in communications.

Major publications: BBC, The Economist, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Lancet, New Scientist, The Times.

British English with "-ize" (Oxford spelling)[edit]

Spellings: centre, programme, labour, defence, organization; recognize, but: advise, devise, advertise, and analyse
Language tag: en-GB-oxendict

Oxford spelling is based on the Oxford English Dictionary,[17] and followed by Collins[18] and Cassell's[19] dictionaries, whereas Chambers lists both ‑ize and ‑ise for British English.[20] The Concise Oxford English Dictionary notes that "the form ize has been in use in English since the 16th century. The alternative spelling ise (reflecting a French influence) is in common use, especially in British English".[21]

Examples of organizations adhering to this standard: United Nations organizations (UN, WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF, ITU, ILO, etc.), World Trade Organization (WTO), International Organization for Standardization (ISO), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Amnesty International, World Economic Forum, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Major publications: Encyclopædia Britannica (despite being an American publication since 1911), Nature, The Times Literary Supplement.

American English[edit]

Spellings: center, program, labor, defense, organization; recognize, but: advise, devise, advertise, and analyze
Language tag: en-US

Examples of organizations adhering to this standard: International Monetary Fund, World Bank, Organization of American States, NAFTA Secretariat.

Major publications: International New York Times, Newsweek, The New York Times, Science, Scientific American, Time, The Wall Street Journal.

Tools and reference articles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chambers 2003; There are two British English spelling standards, with different requirements for -ise and -ize suffixes; see International organizations above.
  2. ^ South African Concise Oxford Dictionary. Cape Town: Oxford University Press Southern Africa. 2002. ISBN 0195718046.
  3. ^ The New Zealand Oxford Paperback Dictionary. Auckland, N.Z: Oxford University Press. 1998. ISBN 0195584104.
  4. ^ Yallop, C., ed. (2005). Macquarie Dictionary (4th ed.). North Ryde, N.S.W: Macquarie University. ISBN 1-876429-14-3.
  5. ^ Barber, Katherine, ed. (2004). Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2nd ed.). Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press. p. xiii. ISBN 0-19-541816-6. The main headword represents the most common form in Canadian usage.
  6. ^ Chambers 1998, p. xx.
  7. ^ Merriam–Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.). Springfield, Mass: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 2003. ISBN 0-87779-809-5.
  8. ^ Except in the name Australian Labor Party.
  9. ^ Chambers 1998, p. 13; Oxford Advanced 1974, p. 8; while Collins 1997, p. 898 lists 'acknowledgement' as the only entry.
  10. ^ Chambers 1998, p. 445.
  11. ^ Chambers 1998, p. 255.
  12. ^ Learning English | BBC World Service
  13. ^ Peters, p. 285: But in North American English insure covers both meanings, and ensure is simply a variant spelling. (Emphasis as original.)
  14. ^ Peters, Pam (2004). "storey or story". The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 517. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  15. ^ "Theater section". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  16. ^ Wilson, Kenneth G. (1993). "theater, theatre". The Columbia Guide to Standard American English. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 435.
  17. ^ Oxford Advanced 1974, pp. viii, 29, 228, 477, 602, 678, 715; and Oxford Illustrated 1976.
  18. ^ Collins 1997.
  19. ^ Cassell 1985.
  20. ^ Chambers 1998, p. xx.
  21. ^ Allen, Robert, ed. (1990). "Definition of -ize". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (8th ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-861243-5.


External links[edit]