The Atlantic Ocean is quite big. And with such a large amount of water between the US and the UK, we shouldn’t be surprised that there are differences between us. One of those differences, it seems, is that British people like to make spelling more complicated than it should be.
There are lots of examples of this, but the one we’re looking at here is “program” and “programme.” Despite the extra “-me” at the end of the British version, these words essentially mean the same thing. But, at the same time, the British use “program” and “programme” in different ways.
In American English, we use “program” for all senses of the word. As a noun, this includes:
A series or group of activities (e.g., a training program)
A broadcast (e.g., a television program)
Software (e.g., a computer program)
A pamphlet outlining an event or series of events (e.g., a theater program)
It can also be used as a verb, where it usually refers to programming a computer. We sometimes talk about “programming” a series of events, but this is less common.
The British Way
The extra letters in “programme” come from French. Weirdly, this is a newer spelling than “program” (unlike other words where the American English is a simplified version of the British spelling). It seems the British just decided the French spelling looked better during the nineteenth century.
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Even weirder is that British English uses “program,” but only in relation to computing. As such, in England, you can install a “computer program” on your laptop, but you watch a “TV programme.”
There are signs “program” is catching on in other contexts lately, but “programme” is still the standard version. In summary: British people are weird, especially when it comes to spelling.
Program or Programme?
Unless you’re writing for a British audience, you should use “program.” Even places like Australia and Canada, which do use British spellings in some cases, favor “program” for this word.
The only other exception seems to be New Zealand, where “programme” is still common. But unless Britain and New Zealand conquer the world soon, we don’t see this spelling catching on elsewhere!