top of page

Episodio 73: Diferencias Ortográficas entre el Inglés Americano, Canadiense y Británico (en Inglés)

El episodio de hoy será en inglés, ya que no me siento bien esta semana y no estoy seguro de poder traducirlo también. Por favor, disculpa por cualquier inconveniente y agradezco su comprensión.

Did you know that English spelling - that crazy jumble of illogical rules on top of a thousand exceptions - is even more discombobulated than you thought? That's because how you spell many words also depends on where you are. Are you trying to reach an American audience? Then you need to follow American English. Are you hoping to attract the attention of the British? Then you need to use British English. These are the two main variants when it comes to English orthography. But there is a middle variant: Canadian English, a happy hybrid of the two! But never fear - today's episode will explain why these differences exist and will break down the main spelling differences for your ease and understanding! And then we will begin our new cultural tip on the country of Lesotho!


La Historia

Basically, English during the 11th century was at a particularly low point due to the Norman Conquest of England (1066 AD). At this time, French became the court language, and so the French scribes would write English words based on French spelling rules. Outside of this, English had no standard, so across the English-speaking world, spelling was different depending on local preferences. Take into consideration the Great Vowel Shift between the 14th and 18th centuries, in which how English was pronounced shifted, albeit spelling didn't (hence why many words we use today don't actually look the way they sound), and the orthographical confusion gets even worse! (We talked about the "The Great Vowel Shift", or "El Gran Cambio de Vocales", a while ago in Episodio 35: Los 10 Sonidos de O-U-G-H.)

Then, in 1755, the British got a huge help in standardizing their language from Samuel Johnson, who published A Dictionary of the English Language. It took him eight years and six helpers to put together this 40,000-word book, where they used the most common spellings (rather than the most logical). This book was soon the main spelling reference for England.

Fast forward to 1806, 23 years after the end of the American Revolution, and we have Noah Webster printing A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language. This book focused on the American spellings of words and had about 5,000 more words than Johnson's dictionary, and separated u and v, as well as i and j. At the age of 70, Webster printed his An American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828. This 2-volume book had around 70,000 words, with 30,000-40,000 new definitions never printed in a dictionary at this point.

Webster is one of the key reasons why we have American vs. British spellings. His dictionaries fit in well with the patriotic feelings at the time, of America creating her own identity separate from that of Britain. Webster also wanted to reform and simplify English spelling, basing a word's spelling on how it was spoken vs. how it was traditionally written. Some of these changes stuck, such as changing "-yse" in words like "analyse" to "-yze", or "analyze", and dropping the "u" from words like "colour". Others, like his attempts to spell "women" as "wimmen" and "daughter" as "dawter" were ridiculed and ignored. While Webster died believing he was a failed lexicographer (his dictionaries did not sell so well), his publishers Charles and George Merriam bought the rights from his estate and continued modifying the dictionary, ultimately triumphing and creating the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which is currently seen as the official reference for American English spelling and usage. (Unless you play Scrabble; then it's the [Merriam-Webster] Scrabble Dictionary. But I digress. :D)

So where does Canada come in on all of this? Well, in 1890, the first Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald maintained that British spelling should be the standard in Canada. Despite this, America has had a huge influence on Canada, thus eroding the dedication to mainly British English and creating a unique hybrid of both.

Las Diferencias Claves

The following table outlines the key differences between American and British English, with notes on which usage Canada follows.

Spelling Rule



"-our" vs. "-or"

For many words, Americans drop the "u".

There are some exceptions where American and British English either both keep the "u" or drop it, such as in actor, alligator, and vendor, and in detour and glamour. British English will also drop the "u" for some words when you add specific suffixes, such as "-ous" with humorous or laborious. If you want to do a deep dive on that, check out The Free Dictionary's in-depth article here.

*Canadians follow the British way here.

  • color

  • labor

  • honor

  • humor

  • colour

  • labour

  • honour

  • humour

"-ence" vs. "-ense"

There are only 4 words that have this difference.

*Please note that in British and Canadian spellings, they actually differentiate between the noun and verb form of license and practice via spellings. So if you use the "-ce" ending, you are referring to a noun, but the "-se" ending is for verbs. So I would say, "I have practice at 7.", but "I practise the piano every day." Or "I have my licence in my wallet.", but "The government has licensed them to sell liquor."

  • defense

  • license

  • offense

  • pretense

  • defence

  • licence

  • offence

  • pretence

"-re" vs. "-er"

​American English uses "-er", whereas British English uses "-re". There are exceptions to the British spelling, as many words also end in -er, like finger, golfer, and water. The "-re" ending is a remnant of past French spellings for these words. There are also words in both English variants that always end in "-re", generally when it follows a hard "c", such as euchre, massacre, or ogre. But this is also true of foreign loan words, like genre and macabre.

*Canada tends to follow the British way for scientific writing, although some areas accept the American way as well.

  • center

  • fiber

  • somber​

  • centre

  • fibre

  • sombre

"-ise" vs. "-ize"

The British spelling uses the "-ise" ending, although there are some verbs in both usages that use "-ize", such as capsize, size, and seize. On the flipside, there are several words (most of them existing French verbs) that use "-ise" even in the American usage, like advertise, despise, disguise, exercise, surprise, and revise.

*Canada uses the American usage here.

  • localize

  • organize

  • apologize​

  • baptize

  • localise

  • organise

  • apologise​

  • baptise

"-lyse" vs. "-lyze"

This suffix follows the same rule as "-ise" and "-ize"; the British spelling uses an "s", whereas the English spelling uses a "z". ​

*Canada uses the American usage here, also.

  • analyze

  • catalyze

  • electrolyze

  • hydrolyze

  • paralyze

  • analyse

  • catalyse

  • electrolyse

  • hydrolyse

  • paralyse

Doubling L or Not

Have you ever wondered how to tell if a word should have two "L"s or one when you add a suffix to it? (For example, it is traveled or travelled?) Well, a good rule of thumb in American English is to add an extra "L" if the basic word is stressed on the last syllable. So compel becomes compelled, and rebel becomes rebelling, but travel is traveled and signal is signaling. In British English, you almost always add a second "L", as it doubles whenever there is a vowel before the "L". So travel would be travelled and signal would be signalling. There are a few verbs in American English that have two "L"s where British English doesn't, such as apall and instill, and while both variants spell skill and will with two "L"s, when you add "-ful" to them, the British lose an "L" (so that it is wilful and skilful).

*Canada generally uses the British usage, but when writing to a Canadian audience, I would still check with the regional rules to be sure.

  • ​barreling

  • canceled

  • fueling

  • rivaled

  • traveling

  • signaled

  • enroll

  • fulfill

  • willful

  • skillful

  • ​barrelling

  • cancelled

  • fuelling

  • rivalled

  • travelling

  • signalled

  • enrol

  • fulfil

  • wilful

  • skilful

"e" vs. "ae" or "oe"

For many Latin-based words in English, the ligatures, or special characters that denote a diphthong, æ and œ are now just two separate letters, "ae" and "oe". British English still has them, but American English has kept only the "e". So words like pediatric and esophagus in British English would be paediatric and oesophagus (as an American, those words look super weird to me!).

There are a few words that maintain the diphthongs in both English variants, such as amoeba, phoenix, archaeology, and aesthetic. There are also words in both that use just the "e", like in chimera, demon, fetid, enigma, and medieval. And in both English variants, direct Latin words are pluralised with "-ae", such as algae, amoebae, and placentae.

*Canada tends to use the British spelling, but it can also depend on the context. The "lay press" uses the American spelling, whereas medical and scientific writings will use the British method (and this can be true in America as well).

  • anesthesia

  • encyclopedia

  • eon

  • hemoglobin

  • hemophilia

  • hemorrhage

  • leukemia

  • orthopedic

  • paleontology

  • apnea

  • celiac

  • esophagus

  • estrogen

  • fetus

  • maneuver

  • anaesthesia

  • encyclopaedia

  • aeon

  • haemoglobin

  • haemophilia

  • haemorrhage

  • leukaemia

  • orthopaedic

  • palaeontology

  • apnoea

  • coeliac

  • oesophagus

  • oestrogen

  • foetus

  • manoeuvre

"-og" vs. "-ogue"

There are four words where American and British English differ on this, with British English using the longer "-ogue" ending. While some resources claim that this is generally the case, that's not quite true. Technically, either spelling would be correct for words like monolog or epilog in American English, but those look really weird to me. (So I would argue no, they're not correct, no matter what Merriam-Webster says, lol!) But most such words in American English still end in "-ogue", like rogue, synagogue, or prologue. Why we differ on these four words, I have no idea!

*Canada follows the British usage here.

  • analog

  • catalog

  • dialog

  • homolog

  • analogue

  • catalogue

  • dialogue

  • homologue

Random Words

There are also words that, for one reason or another, are spelled differently in American English vs. British English, and Canadian English will sometimes follow one and sometimes the other. If you find yourself needing to write to different audiences (I did in my previous job), I recommend keeping a growing list of these words.

  • check

  • aluminum

  • aging

  • gray (a = American, if you need to remember)

  • tire

  • curb

  • mom

  • program

  • cheque

  • aluminium

  • ageing

  • grey

  • tyre

  • kerb

  • mum

  • programme

*This is not a definitive list, so always check the spelling if you're not sure. Or, better yet, have an editor from that region double-check for you!

Diccionarios Autorizados por País

Here are some good dictionaries you can use as references as well:

For American English: Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary, New Oxford American Dictionary For British English: Oxford English Dictionary (also known as the OED), Cambridge Dictionary (also has Learner Dictionaries for non-English native speakers and Spanish-English Dictionaries) For Canadian English: Canadian Oxford Dictionary, the Gage Canadian Dictionary and the Collins Canadian Dictionary (unfortunately, I could not find any free, online versions of these dictionaries.)

I also found a Comparison Database online, where you can type in a word and it will show you the spellings for all three English variants (careful, the link is not a secure https).

Recuerda, aprender un idioma es una travesía para toda la vida.

Embrace it, Enjoy it, and Share it!


Cultural Tip: Lesotho

Country Facts

Name: Kingdom of Lesotho

Size: According to the World Factbook, Lesotho is just a little smaller than the state of Maryland.

Location: Located in South Africa, this country is completely landlocked/surrounded by South Africa on the southern tip of the African continent.

Government Type: Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy. This means that the chief of state is King Letsie III, as of 1996, while the head of government is the Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro, as of May 2020. While the monarchy was hereditary, in 1993 the new constitution stated that the monarch has no executive or legislative powers. The College of Chiefs can depose a monarch or choose who will be the next monarch/regent. The Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party/coalition of the National Assembly. The bicameral Parliament is really interesting. It has a Senate composed of 33 seats, with 22 principal chiefs and 11 senators nominated by the king, although he is advised by the 13-member group, the Council of State. There is also the National Assembly, which has 120 seats, with 40 elected via proportional representation and 80 via single-seat constituencies with majority vote. For all of Parliament, members are elected for 5-year terms. The judicial branch is composed of the Court of Appeal, which has a Court President, the Chief Justice, and other judges, including puisne judges (the Court President is appointed by the monarch, although he is advised by the Prime Minister, whereas he appoints the puisne judges but is advised by the Judicial Service Commission), and it is composed of the High Court, which also has a Chief Justice and puisne judges. Judges can serve until they are 75.

Capital City: Maseru

Religion: As of 2014, Protestants make up about 48%, with Roman Catholic at around 39% and other Christian at about 9%.

Official Language: Its two official languages are Sesotho and English, although Zulu and Xhosa are also spoken.

Currency: Maloti (LSL)

Brief History

Chief Moshoeshoe I created Basutoland in the early 19th century, becoming king in 1822. In order to protect his territory from Dutch settlers, he entered into an agreement with the UK in 1868 to become a British protectorate. In 1884, this turned into a crown colony. The country was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho when it gained independence in 1966. Although King Moshoeshoe II was exiled for a time in the early 1990s, during the seven years of military rule, the constitutional government was restored in 1993 and he was reinstated in 1995. He was then succeeded by his son and the current king, King Letsie III, in 1996. In 1998, there was a military mutiny and violent protests, but military forces from South Africa and Botswana intervened and the country underwent constitutional reforms. For the most part, modern elections have been peaceful, albeit not without contention.



Música de la introducción y conclusión por Master_Service de Fiverr

Música de la transición para el Consejo Cultural editada de la canción por Tim Moor de Pixabay.

Los Recursos de Investigación

El Episodio

El Consejo Cultural

  • "Lesotho" de World Factbook por la CIA, actualizado el 13 de junio de 2022

  • "Lesotho: Resumen de País" de World Factbook por la CIA, actualiado el 25 de mayo de 2022

5 visualizaciones0 comentarios


bottom of page