25th February 2019
9 Words with More Than One Spelling in British English
The United States was founded to escape the tyranny of the King of England. It is appropriate, then, that American English has also escaped the tyranny of British English. In particular, we should be grateful that most words only have one spelling in American English.
In British English, by comparison, many words have more than one spelling depending on how they’re used. And this makes it easy to make mistakes! So to make sure your writing is always error free, check out this list of nine words with more than one spelling in British English.
1. Practice vs. Practise
In American English, “practice” is both a noun and a verb. For example:
Noun (US): The doctor is at her practice.
Verb (US): The doctor is practicing medicine.
But this term has more than one spelling in British English, where the verb form is “practise”:
Noun (UK): The doctor is at her practice.
Adjective (UK): The doctor is practising medicine.
So if you’re writing for a British audience, make sure to use an “s” in this word when it’s a verb and a second “c” only when it is a noun.
2. Curb vs. Kerb
The word “curb” has two meanings in American English. One is “restrain something.” This sense of “curb” is the same in British English:
American English: We need to curb food waste.
British English: We need to curb food waste.
But we also use “curb” to refer to the raised edge of a sidewalk. And in British English, this word is spelled “kerb” instead. So make sure to use “kerb” with a “k” if you are writing for Brits:
American English: I tripped on the curb while crossing the road.
British English: I tripped on the kerb while crossing the road.
3. Dependent vs. Dependant
In American English, “dependent” is both a noun and an adjective. The noun form of this word means “a person that depends on someone else” (e.g., children). As an adjective, “dependent” has a more general meaning of “reliant on” and applies to more than just people. For example:
Noun (US): He is a single man with no dependents.
Adjective (US): Their performance is dependent on their star player.
But in British English, the noun form of this word is spelled “dependant”:
Noun (UK): He is a single man with no dependants.
Adjective (UK): Their performance is dependent on their star player.
4. License vs. Licence
“License” is both a noun (i.e., a permit) and a verb (i.e., the act of licensing something) in American English. As such, we always know to spell this word with an “s” regardless of the context:
Noun (US): Do you have a valid driver’s license?
Verb (US): We are licensed to operate in this state.
However, as with “practice” and “practise,” British English uses a different spelling in each case:
Noun (UK): Do you have a valid driver’s licence?
Verb (UK): We are licensed to operate in this state.
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It is worth noting here that the Brits use a “c” spelling for the noun with both “practice” and “licence.” And likewise, the verb forms are both spelled with an “s” in British English. This makes it easier to remember the correct spellings of these words when writing for a British audience.
5. Draft vs. Draught
In British English, the words “draught” and “draft” sound exactly the same. However, each term has its own uses. The word “draught” for example, can mean any of the following:
- A current of cool air (e.g., Can you feel a draught in here?)
- An animal that pulls a heavy load (e.g., Horses are draught animals)
- Beer or cider served from a barrel or tank (e.g., A pint of draught ale)
The word “draft,” meanwhile, primarily refers to:
- A rough version of something (e.g., A draft copy of my novel)
- An order to pay money (e.g., A banker’s draft)
- Military conscription (e.g., To be drafted into the army)
But we use “draft” for all six senses in American English, which is easier to remember! And to add to the confusion, Brits also call the boardgame checkers “draughts.”
6. Tire vs. Tyre
All English speakers use “tire” as a verb meaning “grow weary.” For example:
I tire of British spellings very quickly.
But while we also use “tire” to mean “rubber wheel covering,” British people spell this word “tyre.” For instance:
American English: I keep a spare tire in my car at all times.
British English: I keep a spare tyre in my car at all times.
Look out for this spelling when using the term in British English.
7. Meter vs. Metre
One common difference between British and American English is the use of “-er” and “-re” word endings. The “-er” ending is standard in American English (e.g., center or theater), while British English tends to use the older “-re” version (e.g., centre or theatre).
We also see this with metric measurements, including words like “meter” and “centimeter,” which are spelled with the “-re” ending in British English:
American English: A meter is roughly 1.094 yards.
British English: A metre is roughly 1.094 yards.
The same applies when discussing the concept from music or poetry:
American English: The poem changes its meter half way through.
British English: The poem changes its metre half way through.
But it does not apply when discussing a device for measuring something (e.g., a thermometer or barometer). In this case, British English uses the same spelling of “meter” as American English.
8. Program vs. Programme
In American English, the spelling “program” is used for the following:
- Software for a computer (e.g., A new spellchecking program for PC)
- A series of events or activities (e.g., A training program)
- A television or radio broadcast (e.g., A TV program)
- The information given out at a performance (e.g., A program for a play)
But British English only uses “program” for the first definition above. In all non-computing contexts, the British spelling is “programme” instead.
9. Check vs. Cheque
Finally, in American and British English, “check” is common a verb. Usually, it means “examine,” such as in the following:
I checked the timetable and we need to leave.
This term has other meanings, too, and in almost every case it is spelled “check.” But there is one exception. While we use “check” as a noun to mean “an order to pay an amount of money from a bank account,” the British spell this version of the word “cheque”:
American English: Do you accept payment by check?
British English: Do you accept payment by cheque?
Luckily, though, the spelling of “credit card” is the same in all forms of English.
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