Differences in the spelling of British and American words

Is there a guide to British and American spelling of the same words?

I know that the British use a “u” in some places that Americans don’t, such as colours/colors, humour/humor, and so on.

And we Americans use a “z” where some British words use an “s”, such as realize/realise, or recognize/recognise.

Where might I find a site that would go into more detail? It’s not so much vocabulary differences I am looking for, but alternate spellings.

And while we are at it, which is the correct British spelling of this adverb?

“He spoke drily/dryly”

Dunno the answer to either of your questions – just wanted to add another standard difference in spelling, which is that Brits double the “l” in “travel” for traveler, traveling, etc.

Here’s a large but disorganized list of words with different spellings in the U.S. and the U.K.:


If you Google on the words “American,” “British,” and “spelling,” you’ll find a bunch of websites with rules about the differences in American and British spelling.


There’s a really silly mistake in that list; it equates US ‘Ton’ to UK ‘Tonne’; both terms are in fact valid in the UK; the former meaning an imperial ton, the latter meaning a metric tonne.

Pretty sure they have accidentally transposed ‘prefer®ed’ too.

And what the heck is ‘storyed’?

Thanks for the replies! I’ve been writing a story with someone from the UK, and I’ve noticed differences while proofreading. I have wanted to conform to UK usage, as the story has a British Navy setting.

change the spellchecker in WORD to English (UK)

And I just found that too, but I’m still glad you mentioned it. I’ve already found a few words I missed changing to UK usage, as best I knew.

Forgot to mention, I’ve found “Special Characters” but not the Spanish letter, the n with the little squiggle above it, the “EN-yay”

Really? I don’t know whether I just read a lot of American books, but usually I see it written as “dryly”.

If you’re trying to type it, it’s Alt+0241.

In addition to the points raised by Mangetout:

[li]I have never come across “carcass” spelt (or spelled) carcas. (I’m English)[/li][li]Do Americans really use the spelling “cigaret”? 58 million Google hits for “cigarette” suggest otherwise[/li][li]I’ve never heard of “commission” spelt with a single “s”[/li][li]“compleat” is archaic. English people almost universally use “complete”[/li][li]We do not spell “ensure” as “insure”. They are different words in both countries.[/li][li]“galoshes” is not “goloshes” in England[/li][li]“heyday” is the same in England, not “heydey”.[/li][li]“gaol” is archaic. “jail” is the norm.[/li][li]“millenium” is not the American spelling. It is wrong everywhere.[/li][/ul]
I’ve lost interest half way through - we need a more reliable source than that web page.

Most of the differences owe to the work of Noah Webster, whose spelling reforms in his original Dictionary of the American Language were adopted virtually universally.

I’ve seen English people write “gaol” – conversion to “jail” may be a regionalism.

Another very common variant series is the final “syllable” that is not sounded, found in British but not American English: catalog(ue) (which does sometimes have the final two letters in American), program(me), analog(ue), omelet(te)

The spelling “realize” is correct in English, and was a key plot point in an Inspector Morse story - he realized that a key suspect would not have spelled the word “realise”, as a man with his educational background would have viewed it as an illiteracy.

A UK-specific Google gives a first page of results for ‘jail’ which are mostly new reports, and a first page for ‘gaol’ which are all of a historical/museum context.

Re. “drily” - at first glance I’d have said that this was simply misspelled, but it’s in the Cambridge dictionary as an equal alternative to “dryly”.
Other errors in that list linked to earlier:

  • Hyphenations are not uniformly applied on either side of the pond
  • “BSc”, not “B.Sc.”.
  • ‘Backward’ and ‘beside’ are certainly used, and it’s just the definitions that change
  • ‘Barque’? ‘Benedectine’?
  • Bylaw=Bye-law=Bye Law=Byelaw. All are equal.
  • Isn’t “borough” used in America?

And I’ve only gotten as far as B…

Sorry, that list that I linked to has a lot of really sloppy mistakes. Let’s try another list. Here’s the Wikipedia article on this subject:


Curb (US) - Kerb (UK) for the edge of the sidewalk /pavement. We do use “curb” when talking about restraining or limiting something.

In the nautical sense. It’s a three (or more) -masted sailing vessel, square-rigged except on the aftermost mast, which is fore-and-aft rigged. Nothing to do with dogs or trees. If the list says it’s spelled “bark” in American then who am I to disagree?

It is “bark” in American usage, to the extent that it’s used at all. The story, of course, is the man who made millions developing software and retired young, deciding to indulge his passion for historical sailing ships by manually building one of those vessels. However, his creation was lost at sea on her maiden voyage, because, of course, his barque was far worse than his bytes. :slight_smile: