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In our Defense, Spelling Needs Practice

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British English favors verbs with the end syllable “-ise”, whereas American English uses “-ize”. But is this always true, and what are other spelling differences?

In our Defense, Spelling Needs Practice
American and British English show some difference in spelling conventions.
✔️ British English BrE example ✔️ American English AmE example
-ise | -isation | -yse apologise -ize | -ization | -yze apologize
-ce defence -se defense
-ogue catalogue -og catalog

Is an Organization Different from an Organisation?

Yesterday, I saw an online article about the 43rd anniversary of the Caribbean island country of Dominica. One of the congratulators was the OECS, which I had never heard of before. This intergovernmental organization consists of seven members and four associates. Its official name is Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. I wondered about the specific spelling of the first word. Usually, I would expect an “s” instead of a “z” in British English spelling. But why has this group chosen not to follow the American spelling norm, and are there other examples of this behavior?


The Distinctions Between “-ise” / “-ize” and “-yse” / “-yze”

While researching how to write international political bodies correctly, I started reading Wikipedia articles. Most other organizations are spelled with a “z” instead of an “s”, so they chose the American orthography.

This distinction is the consequence of another difference between British English and American English. Beginning with the related verb organize, British English uses the traditional spelling of “-ise”. American English changed many of these verbs by replacing the soft “s” sound with a more phonetic representation—the letter “z”.

British English spelling American English spelling
apologise, categorise, civilise, criticise, finalise, materialise, organise, realise, recognise apologize, categorize, civilize, criticize, finalize, materialize, organize, realize, recognize

The same behavior appears with words ending in “-yze”.

British English spelling American English spelling
analyse, catalyse, hydrolyse, paralyse analyze, catalyze, hydrolyze, paralyze

All other word forms that directly derive from these roots follow the same pattern:

British English spelling American English spelling
analysed, apologises, catalyser, categorised, civilisation, criticiser, finalising, hydrolysing, materialised, organisation, paralyser, realisation, recognisable analyzed, apologizes, catalyzer, categorized, civilization, criticizer, finalizing, hydrolyzing, materialized, organization, paralyzer, realization, recognizable

So, is this all? Not quite… There are some exceptions to this rule.

  • Some verbs are always spelled with the ending “-ize”:
capsize, prize, seize, size, etc.
  • Other verbs are spelled with “-ise” in both spelling norms:
advertise, advise, arise, chastise, circumcise, comprise, compromise, demise, despise, devise, disguise, excise, exercise, franchise, guise, improvise, incise, merchandise, praise, prise, promise, supervise, reprise, revise, rise, supervise, surmise, surprise, televise, and wise.
Tip

Consider the pronunciation! Promise or praise don’t rhyme with the other verbs, so they don’t count for this rule.

Another misconception is that all dialects that are part of “British English” universally use “-ise” instead of “-ize”. I came across the so-called Oxford style guide (also known for the famous Oxford comma). They use a spelling based on the Greek root words, writing words ending in “-ize” with a “z” like in American English with a “z”. For verbs ending in “-yse” / “-yze” they stick to the British English spelling:

I analyzed websites in order to recognize the correct spelling of international organizations (American English).
I analysed websites in order to recognise the correct spelling of international organisations (British English).
I analysed websites in order to recognize the correct spelling of international organizations (Oxford spelling).

Oxford explains their rationale for both “-ize” and “-yse” verbs is based on Greek spelling, maintaining the syllable “-lys-”. Verbs ending in “-yse” are written differently from verbs ending in “-ize” in Greek (the former with a sigma, the latter with a zeta).


Does British English Generally Favor the “s”?

Unfortunately, you can’t assume that British English would always stick to an “s” when it comes to interdialectal spelling differences. Another distinction throws a wrench in the works: Nouns that end in “-ce” in British English are spelled with “-se” in American English:

British English spelling American English spelling
defence, offence, pretence defense, offense, pretense

Its derivatives are spelled with an “s” in both varieties:

defensive, offensive, pretension, etc.

If a verb with the same pronunciation as a derived noun exists, British English provides two distinct forms, whereas American English uses just one spelling. This can be “-se”, or “-ce”. Other specific verbs do have this spelling differentiation.

British English spelling of verbBritish English spelling of nounAmerican English spelling of verb American English spelling of noun
  • license
  • practise
  • licence
  • practice
  • license
  • practice
  • advise
  • devise
  • advice
  • device
  • advise
  • devise
  • advice
  • device

Another Difference Because of Foreign Words: “-og” vs. “-ogue”

You can observe another difference in word pairs with the final syllable “-ogue”. All of them came from French into the English language. American English then decided to drop the silent letters at the end:

British English spelling American English spelling
analogue, catalogue, dialogue, homologue, monologue analog, catalog, dialog, homolog, monolog

Yet again, there are exceptions to this rule.

  • Some words predominantly follow the British English norm in American English: demagogue, pedagogue, or synagogue.
  • Both variants (dialog and dialogue) are common in American English.
  • Derived forms of these words (e.g., analogy, analogous) are spelled without “-ue-”.

This rule reminded me of the question from the beginning. Which spelling do international organizations prefer in their process of name-giving? Overall, it’s up to the people responsible to adhere to their goals, I guess. I stumbled upon this other name: Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD). Again, another group that favors the British English spelling over the American English one. There are even more differences regarding words like colour/color and metre/meter.

Basic rules for some American and British English differences in spelling:

  • 🇬🇧 organise — 🇺🇸 organize | 🇬🇧 organisation — 🇺🇸 organization
    → Oxford spelling agrees with American conventions (“-ize” and “-ization”)
  • 🇬🇧 analyse — 🇺🇸 analyze
    → Oxford spelling agrees with British spelling (“-yse”)
  • 🇬🇧 (the) offence — 🇺🇸 (the) offense
    → unclear – doesn't BrE tend to “-ce” and AmE to “-se” (for nouns)
  • 🇬🇧 dialogue — 🇺🇸 dialog (mostly)

This map shows the distribution of "-ise" vs. "-ize" and "-yse" vs. "yze" in other English dialects.
This map shows the distribution of other English dialects.
Tip

If you use LanguageTool—a free and practical writing assistant—you can choose between various standards for English (American, Canadian, British, South African, Australian, and New Zealand English). It even reminds you of the Oxford spelling if you use the British English version. Try it out by clicking on “Switch to British English”.


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