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Traveling and Spelling are Both Difficult Maneuvers

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British English uses “centre”, and American English prefers “center”. But is this always true? What about doubled consonants?

Switching Letters in American English
Switching the letters between British English and American English.
✔️ British English BrE example ✔️ American English AmE example
-re centre -er center
-ll- travelling, travelled -l- traveling, traveled
Miscellaneous cosy, doughnut, grey, tyre, aeroplane Miscellaneous cozy, donut, gray, tire, airplane

The Difference of “-re / -er” at the Center of Attention

Just recently, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference took place in Glasgow, Scotland. The whole world skeptically looked onto the governments and organizations which were debating for almost a whole week. As a language blogger, something minor caught my eye: The place of the conference was the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. Obviously, the word centre is spelled with “-re” at the end. But at first, it looked wrong to me, I thought that international names would prefer “-er” in these cases. Let’s have another overview of American spelling patterns, shall we?

Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre
The Scottish Exhibition and Conference “Centre.” Photo Credit: Jeff Whyte

The pattern behind centre and center looks like this.

British English spelling American English spelling
calibre, fibre (thread of plants or artificial material), goitre, litre, lustre, manoeuvre, meagre, metre, mitre, ochre, reconnoitre, sabre, salpetre, sepulchre, sombre, spectre caliber, fiber, goiter, liter, luster, maneuver, meager, meter, miter, ocher, reconnoiter, saber, salpeter, sepulcher, somber, specter

Please note that the American spelling of meter and liter usually refer to the metric system and might be used also in British English nowadays.

This distinction is upheld in the plural forms and conjugated verb forms of these words: centres, centring, centred — centers, centering, centered.

In derivations (e.g., adjectives), usually the British spelling serves as the stem in both varieties, resulting in fewer syllables: central (instead of centeral).

Most words prefer the American spelling norm in all varieties. This might be because of their etymological origins or quite recent developments in language change.

Anger, barometer, brother, chapter, danger, disaster, enter, father, filter, hexameter, quarter, letter, member, minister, monster, mother, number, offer, oyster, pentameter, powder, proper, river, sister, sober, tender, thermometer, timber, water, etc.
The months September, October, November, and December.
Comparatives of adjectives (e.g., smaller, happier)
Persons (e.g., plumber, miller, gardener)

On the other hand, there are a few words that are spelled with “-re” anywhere.

Acre, cadre, genre, lucre, macabre, maître, massacre, mediocre, oeuvre.

The words theater and center (with its variants theatre and centre) seem to vary in both standard languages. Your spelling choice depends highly on your reference. Are you speaking of a specific place or the general type of center or a theater? Then it’s up to the name giver which convention to follow.


British English Prefers Doubling Consonants, Doesn’t It?

The more you learn about spelling differences between British English and American English, the more inconsistencies you’ll notice: Another frequent pattern is doubling the consonants.

British English spelling American English spelling
Chilli Chile / Chili
Fillet Filet
Idyll Idyl
Jewellery Jewelry
(to) Tranquillise (to) Tranquilize

Compare:

(to) drop — dropping — dropped
(to) drape — draping — draped

Generally speaking, if a word ends with a consonant in its basic form, this letter gets doubled in verb forms, for instance. This makes sure you can’t mix them up with words ending with a “silent e.”

In other cases, British English follows this principle, while American English uses a single consonant instead:

Parts of speech British English spelling American English spelling
Verbs (also (to) cancel, (to) dial, (to) fuel, (to) travel)
  • (to) label — labelling — labelled
  • (to) model — modelling — modelled
  • (to) signal — signalling — signalled
  • (to) label — labeling — labeled
  • (to) model — modeling — modeled
  • (to) signal — signaling — signaled
Nouns
  • medallist
  • counsellor
  • carburettor
  • traveller's check
  • medalist
  • counselor
  • carburetor / carburator
  • traveler's check
Adjectives
  • cruel — crueller — cruellest
    (both forms are accepted)
  • woollen, woolly
  • marvellous
  • cruel — crueler — cruelest
  • woolen, wooly
  • marvelous

There are some exceptions to this rule. Both standard varieties use just one consonant, if it follows directly after another consonant or after a double vowel:

(to) prevail — prevailing — prevailed
(to) curl — curling — curled

British English generally favors the spelling of only one “l” in constructions with “-ise”, “-ism”, “-ist”, “-ish”:

familism
novelist
demolish

Furthermore, parallel is always spelled this way. Focused and focusing are the more commonly used variants in British English.

However, there is the opposite case for words that consist of monosyllabic parts.

Original parts British English spelling American English spelling
-fill- (to) fulfil, fulfilment (to) fulfill, fulfillment
-roll- (to) enrol, enrolment (to) enroll, enrollment
-stall- instalment installment
-skill- skilful skillful

Yet again, we can find exceptions to this. British English fulfil and American English fulfill is never spelled with a double “-ll-” in the middle. This development can be seen in words such as welcome, alright, and useful. Both standard languages prefer to use install (instal is very rare).


More Radical Differences Between British and American English Spellings

To wrap up the topic of American spelling norms, here is a list of miscellaneous differences between both standard varieties. Please keep in mind that most of the time both spellings are used interchangeably, or according to diverse contexts.

Pattern / rule British English spelling American English spelling
🇬🇧 “e” → 🇺🇸 “i” or “a”
  • aeroplane, artefact, jemmy
  • grey
  • airplane, artifact, jimmy
  • gray
🇬🇧 “y” → 🇺🇸 “i” or “a”
  • dyke, tyre
  • scallywag, pyjamas
  • dike, tire
  • scalawag, pajamas
🇬🇧 “c” → 🇺🇸 “ch” or “k”
🇬🇧 “qu” → 🇺🇸 “c”
  • camomile
  • carat, mollusc, sceptic
  • liquorice
  • chamomile
  • karat, mollusk, keptic
  • licorice
🇬🇧 “ph” or “gh” → 🇺🇸 “f”
  • sulphate, sulphur
  • draught (cold wind)
  • sulfate, sulfur
  • draft (cold wind)
🇬🇧 “s” → 🇺🇸 “z”
(see here for more)
  • cosy
  • cozy
🇬🇧 “ou” → 🇺🇸 “u” or “o”
(see here for more)
🇬🇧 “o” → 🇺🇸 “u”
(and vice versa)
  • ampoule, moustache
  • mould, moult, smoulder
  • plonk, mum
  • ampule, mustache
  • mold, molt, smolder
  • plunk, mom
Dropping silent letters in 🇺🇸
  • doughnut, plough
  • donut, plow
Other vowels or diphthongs
  • aluminium
  • cipher
  • eyrie
  • gauge, gauntlet
  • haulier
  • hearken
  • kerb
  • speciality
  • aluminum
  • cypher
  • aerie
  • gage, gantlet
  • hauler
  • harken
  • curb
  • specialty
Other consonants
  • pernickety
  • sledge
  • titbit
  • persnickety
  • sled
  • tidbit

But don’t get scared by all of these confusing words. LanguageTool is a handy tool to maneuver through the seas of difficult spelling patterns, you should definitely give it a try!

Basic Rules for Some American and British English Differences in Spelling

  • 🇬🇧 theatre — 🇺🇸 theater
  • 🇬🇧 jewellery — 🇺🇸 jewelry
  • 🇬🇧 fulfil — 🇺🇸 fulfill
  • 🇬🇧 pyjamas — 🇺🇸 pajamas

Keep in mind that this is an oversimplified distinction. There are always exceptions, and it’s rather a tendency of spelling preferences than a fixed rule.

Centre or center around the globe?
This map shows the distribution of other English dialects.

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