• 3-minute read
  • 7th May 2020

Spelling Tips: Focused or Focussed?

“Focused” and “focussed” are variant spellings of the same term, but the standard version in American English is “focused” (one “s”). Will you ever need to use “focussed” in your writing? It may depend on who you’re writing for! In this post, we explain everything you need to know.

What Does “Focused” Mean?

“Focused” has a couple of key meanings. The first is as the past tense of the verb “focus.” For instance, we could say:

We focused on correcting the spelling in the document.

The second is as an adjective meaning “clear” or “concentrated”:

The expertly focused image made the culprit easy to spot.

She had a focused approach to training.

As you can see, we have used the spelling “focused” for all the examples above. But is there ever a reason to use “focussed” instead? And why are there two spellings? Let’s take a look at where these variants came from.

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Why Two Spellings?

The two spellings of this term are a result of the doubling up rule and English spelling reform crashing into one another.

The doubling up rule states that the final letter of some words is doubled when you add a vowel suffix. Usually, this only applies to a two-syllable word when the final syllable is stressed. “Focus” doesn’t fit this pattern, but the final “s” was often doubled anyway (e.g., focussed, focussing).

However, the trend to simplify English spelling, especially in American English, has sometimes involved dropping this extra letter, like in “focused.” And this spelling has been more popular worldwide for decades.

Use of 'focused' and 'focussed' in English.
Use of “focused” and “focussed” in English.

Most dictionaries still recognise the spelling “focussed,” but it is much rarer in modern writing. In fact, it is so rare in American English that “focussed” may be seen as an error, so it is almost always better to use “focused.”

Summary: Focused or Focussed?

“Focused” and “focussed” are two spellings of the same word:

  • Focused (one “s”) is the standard spelling of this term in modern English.
  • Focussed (with a double “s”) is a rare variant spelling, although it is more common in British and Australian English than it is in American English.

In short, then, it is usually best to stick with “focused.” And if you want to be extra sure your work is error free, you can have it proofread. Why not upload a sample document for free and find out how we can help?

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Comments (8)
Lauren Brown
25th June 2020 at 15:35
In the word "focus," the second syllable is NOT stressed. We say the word as FOcus, not foCUS, which means that the doubling rule shouldn't have applied.
    25th June 2020 at 16:43
    Good point, Lauren: This is a word where the doubling rule has traditionally applied, but it doesn't follow the usual pattern, so we'll amend the blog post accordingly.
Evan Jennings
2nd February 2021 at 23:45
Focused looks like it should be pronounced "Folk used."
    21st August 2021 at 08:18
    This is so true.
Anon McAnonface
30th August 2021 at 13:21
Is it acceptable to use "focused" in British English, or should "focussed" be used when writing in British English?
    31st August 2021 at 09:10
    "Focused" is fine in British English (as we note in the post, it is the most common spelling in all English dialects).
Nancy Kepner
24th October 2021 at 22:01
"Old school phonics" teacher(b. 1895 and 8 of 9 county spelling bee champions' teacher sent to the Superior California Spelling Bee sponsored by the Sacramento Bee) taught the rule "final syllable ending in consonant- vowel- consonant requires doubling the final consonant prior to adding suffixes. Ex. Cancel= cancelled, focus = focussed.
    25th October 2021 at 09:49
    Hi, Nancy. As noted in the post, the "doubling up" rule is useful in some cases when adding a vowel suffix (it doesn't apply to other suffixes), but it is most reliable when used with single-syllable words. For multi-syllable words, it usually only applies when the final syllable is stressed, which is not the case with "focus," so "focused" and similar are more consistent with American English otherwise. Likewise, American English tends not to double the final letter when adding suffixes to words that end in "l," such as with "canceled," "canceling," etc. (although British English and other dialects do still double up in those cases).

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