NOTES ON SPELLING VARIATIONS

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re/er

There's a note on this usage in the alt.english.usage FAQ


ll/l

There's a note on doubling the final letter in the alt.english.usage FAQ


-our

Note the change with different suffixes e.g.
   humour
   humourless
   humorist
   humorous


æ/œ

æ is replaced by ae or e. œ is replaced by oe or e. There does seem to be an American/British split in regard to ae or e, although there's other factors in there as well. The use of oe or e seems less clear cut.


Alright/all right

Although some might like to consider this a misspelling or a indication of the poor standard of today's education system, alright has been in common use for over a century and it's not likely to go away. Sorry.

For more discussion on alright, have a look at:
Merriam-Webster
American Heritage« Dictionary
alt.usage.english website
Random House


Aluminium/aluminum

Originally named aluminum by its discoverer in 1812.

For more details, see World Wide Words .


Ambience/ambiance

The OED says "the French form ambiance is used in Art for the arrangement of accessories to support the main effect of a piece.


Artefact/artifact

World Wide Words has an article on this.


Axe/ax

From the OED, "the spelling ax is better on every ground of etymology, phonology, and analogy, than axe, which became prevalent during the 19th century; but it's now disused in Britain."


Barbecue/barbeque

As far as I can tell, this is a misspelling that has come into popular use, based on the sound of the word. Maybe from Bar-B-Q.


Chequer/checker

Strictly speaking, chequer is the 'correct' British form for the game that's played on a black & white board, and for anything using that pattern (i.e. chequered tiles). However, I see checker used more often. OED says 'checker' is 'historically better'. Something that checks (i.e. spell checker) is always ck.


Collectable/collectible

From Macquarie Dictionary: The suffix -able is the form used with words of non-Latin origin (as in knowable, readable) but Latin words borrowed into English come with either -able or -ible depending on the stem of the root word in Latin. As a result there is some confusion and many such derivations show variation in form.


Compleat/complete

In some ways, compleat is an archaic spelling of complete. Although an alternate meaning for compleat is discussed in this article on the World Wide Words site.


Conjurer/conjuror

The spelling conjurer came into use in the 14th century; whereas conjuror appeared a couple of centuries later, from the Anglo-French word, says the OED. conjurour


Connexion/connection

According to the OED, connexion is the original spelling, supported by the verb connex. In the 17th century, connex was displaced by connect and connexion followed the same path, to be replaced by connection.


Deflexion/deflection

Deflexion was in use in the 17th & 18th century. I assume it followed a similar path to connex/connexion


Disc/disk

Disk is used in the US and was the earlier form used in Britain, which has since been replaced by disc. However, disk is used in the context of computers (e.g. hard disk).

To confuse the matter, CDs are 'compact discs'. More on this at Random House and Common Errors In English .


Dispatch/despatch

This one isn't clear cut. Some sources list despatch as the British varient, but dispatch is more widely used and is the original spelling.

Online Etymology Dictionary on despatch says "18c. variant of dispatch, apparently the result of an error in the printing of Johnson's dictionary".



Enrol/enroll

Chiefly British use: enrol, enrolment, enrolled
Chiefly US use: enrol, enrollment, enrolled.

The final consonant is not doubled when the suffix is -ment (I would like a proper cite for that). Fulfil/fulfill is another example of this.



Gaol/jail

From the OED, the official British spelling is gaol but either spelling is acceptable in literary & journalistic fields. In the US, jail is used at all times.


Gramme/gram

Gram is the preferred scientific word. Gramme is hardly ever used, at least that I've seen (and my word processor's spell checker doesn't recognise it).


Grey/gray

From the OED "as the word is both etymologically and phonetically one, it is indespicable to treat its graphic forms as differing in signification."


Inclose/enclose

"The majority of recent dictionaries give inclose as the typical form", says the OED. However, the online version of Merriam-Webster & the American Heritage Dictionary list 'inclose' as the variant and have the full entry under 'enclose'. Macquarie has no entry for inclose. That aside, the OED goes on to say that "the preponderance of usage (in England at least), as well as etymological proprietary, is in favour of enclose. The statutes providing for the enclosure of land sue the spelling inclose." I assume the "etymological proprietary" is due to encless being the possible 14th century spelling.


Inquire/enquire

According to the OED, modern dictionaries give inquire as the standard form but "enquire is still frequently used, especially in the sense 'to ask a question'." As an explanation for the difference, "in English the stem vowel conformed to the classical Latin in the 15th century," although Scottish retained the French form . "The prefix began also to be conformed to Latin in the 14-15th century, but the half-latinized enquire still subsists beside inquire."

enquere is another, albeit obsolete, variant spelling.


Insure/ensure

It's an interesting pair, because sometimes insure & ensure have different meanings, and sometimes they can be interchanged.

Again from the OED, insure was originally used in all senses; now it's established as the spelling that involves getting insurance, and is 'fairly common' in some other senses.


Kerb/curb

When referring to the stone/paving that separates walkway from roadway, the British spelling is usually kerb, so the OED says.

From Macquarie Dictionary , kerb is a line of joined stones or the like at the edge of a street, wall, etc. or the fender of a hearth oráthe framework round the top of a well". It's also used for the equivalent the verb (to furnish with, or protect by a kerb). However, if if it means restraining or enclosing (something) than it is curb.

Licence/license

UK & Australian usage: licence is the noun, license is the verb. US usage: license is always used. Origin note from Compact Oxford English Dictionary : the spelling -se arose by analogy with pairs such as practice, practise


Manikin/mannikin

Manikin & mannikin are defined as either a little man or an anatomical model of the human body. Macquarie Dictionary includes manakin in this entry. American Heritage & Merriam-Webster include mannequin (a clothes model) as a definition under mannikin or manikin, but Macquarie and (Compact) Oxford don't. Cambridge Dictionary has it as a variant of manikin in the US.

Mannikin or manakin is also a small, finch-like bird.


Manoeuvre/maneuver

This one gets hits twice. First with the œ becoming either oe or e, then the er/re variation.


Metre/meter

Note that meter is used for a devices that measures i.e. gas meter or parking meter.


Moustache/mustache

Present British usage is the French spelling 'moustache' but in earlier times, mustache was used, as it is in the US today.


Nett/net

Nett is a British variant sometimes used in the sense of 'remaining after all deduction' i.e. nett income. One of the local supermarket chains has it on their price scanner to show the price after sales tax is added. Other than that, it doesn't seem a very popular alternative.


Naught/nought

Naught meaning nothing (as in "All my work went for naught) and nought meaning the 0 (zero). In US English, naught covers both meanings. And there there's ought & aught...


Plough/plow

According to the OED, plough was in use in England in 1700.


Practise/practice

In UK English, practise is used for the verb. See Compact Oxford English Dictionary and Common Errors in English .


Prophecy/prophesy

Another example of a different spelling now commonly used for the verb form. Two entries from the OED:

The variant spelling prophesy is found as late as 1709, but is now confined to the vb (verb).

The modern differentiation of prophesy vb and prophecy sb was not established till after 1700, and has no etymological basis, prophesy being at first a mere spelling variant in both sb and vb .


Programme/program

Programme is the preferred British spelling, says the OED, but program is used in the context of computers.


Quay/key

Key was in use in the 18th C, but was replaced by quay, although the pronunciation was maintained. Why was it changed?


Sceptic/skeptic

Skeptic was the earlier form used in Britain, but present day usage is sceptic. Whereas the old form remained in use in the US.


Serjeant/sergeant

The OED says both forms were used interchangeably in the 19th C but current usage is for serjeant to be used for a member of the legal profession, and sergeant in all other cases.


Sulphur/sulfur

In regard to the chemical, Macquarie Dictionary says: Traditionally sulphur is British spelling and sulfur American, but in technical and scientific writing sulfur is now standard throughout the world.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary has this usage note: The spelling sulfur predominates in U.S. technical usage, while both sulfur and sulphur are common in general usage. British usage tends to favor sulphur for all applications. The same pattern is seen in most of the words derived from sulfur.


Supercede/supersede

Supercede is sometimes listed as a variant, for example , but more often it is considered an error.


Tyre/tire

Again from the OED: Tyre is a variant spelling of tire used in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the 17th century tire became the settled spelling but in the 19th century tyre was revived in Britain to refer to pneumatic tyres.


Whisky/whiskey

Whiskey is the product from Ireland or America, otherwise it is whisky. I believe -y is the official spelling in the US, but -ey is commonly used on the product, but I don't have a proper cite for that. Derives from the Gaelic usquebaugh .


LINKS

I started this list because I could find no other site that did the same thing. These days, there are many of them, which is why I don't keep my list as up-to-date.

The page on Wikipedia is useful because it goes into some detail. The American Language , by H.L. Mencken has a page on spelling that is of interest because it's from 1921 so it includes some words that are no longer (commonly) used. Two useful sites for finding out what and why are World Wide Words and Common Errors in English .


Main reference: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed.
Other references: online editions of American Heritage, Cambridge International, Macquarie, Merriam-Webster and anything else that looks interesting.


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