British vs. American Spelling Differences

What’s the difference between colour and color?

There are a lot of differences in the way the English language is communicated between the United States, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries. Nuances in each dialect differentiate one from the next. For example, some of the words themselves are different, like fulfil vs fulfill, jewellery vs jewelry and metre vs meter. There are also other differences like the use of tenses and verb morphology (learnt vs learned). These differences come from where you learned the language and your teacher, and they come through in everyday communication.

Over time, the number of English dialects has grown as some bands of people divided and some stuck together. Now, English dialects vary between national, state and even city boundaries. As a result, there’s no “official” English language dialect that rises above the rest. In an effort to cater to everyone, EzineArticles accepts both American English and British English dialects. The spell check function on the Article Submission Form marks either version of words correctly (Ex: analyse/analyze, favourite/favorite and metre/meter).

Communicate To Your Target Audience

As an Expert Author, you have the power to choose how you communicate your message. Use that power by thinking about your target audience when you write. If they communicate with a fairly different dialect than your own, do some research so you can target the writing style towards them; otherwise, your writing may be misunderstood by your target audience and they could be turned away. For example, a reader that is doing research on interior design and paint options may be distracted if they come to an article with every instance of the word “color” (or colour) spelled differently than they are used to.

Remember, the casual observer from your area won’t find anything strange about your spelling or your choice of words, but a person on the other side of the world may not perceive your message correctly. You need to write for your audience.

One other reminder: Stay consistent in the dialect you use through the whole article. This is simple if you are writing in the dialect you know best, but can be difficult if you’re writing for a different audience. Search for resources online that can help you sort out the differences.

Consider the dialect of your target audience when writing your next set of high-quality, original articles.

Have any interesting or funny stories about any of your messages that have been lost in translation? Leave a comment to share your story.


Robert writes:

My favo[u]rite example is the Canadian use of “tire centre”. Split the difference.

Comment provided September 16, 2010 at 12:32 PM



I think you have done a good job highlihting this important differences as often times I find myself at the end of my articles doing a rethink whether I was writting American or Brittish English; and particularly if sticking to one type of English was necessary. More often than not I have to go back to tailor-make them to reflect one English culture. But now I have got the point…Target Audience!

Comment provided September 16, 2010 at 12:46 PM


Eddington writes:

Yeah David you right I tend to do that too, pretty tricky isn’t it. I seem to use the word programme a lot and sometimes whether I should use the English or program for the American.

Americans also say than for then and you’re for your lol, crazy isn’t it!

I think I will just stick to my English one to keep things simple.

Good you have the spell check function that marks either version correctly.

Comment provided September 16, 2010 at 2:06 PM


officewriter writes:

Americans that say than for then and you’re for your simply have bad grammar/spelling abilities. There are many Americans that know the difference between your/you’re, than/then, their/there/they’re and many other words that sound the same but have different meanings. These types of things aren’t what this article is talking about. Color/colour (which it just told me is spelled incorrectly) is the same word, same meaning, only spelled different. Than/then have two different meanings, two different words.

Sorry, personal pet peeve of mine. I think this is a well written article and addresses a great point that many writers are not well aware of.


matt writes:

I’ll second this. you’re for your (there for their, etc…( is nothing more than poor grammar (very poor grammar). I’m not great at grammar; however, I can recognize these simple mistakes!



lol..Funny i always mistake the word there for their happen to me all the time. thank god for spell check

Comment provided September 16, 2010 at 6:48 PM


Eddington writes:

Yeah, I know why you laughing Ralph, just doesn’t sound right isn’t it? :-)


Not at all, Eddington it doesn’t sound right at all..



Having lived in the US and in Canada, I sometimes get the British vs. American mixed together.
Eddington: Then and than is a different issue both are valid words, in both styles. I have yet to see a syntax checker that will pick up errors of meaning for either word.
Than indicates preference. eg: I would rather have chocolate than lemon. meaning: I would prefer chocolate over lemon.
Then indicates order in time, eg: I usually eat the main course then desert. meaning: I usually eat the main course before desert.
Sorry if I have been long winded. The then/than mixup is a personal pet-peeve.

Comment provided September 17, 2010 at 9:48 AM


Eddington writes:

Nothing personal please, we just joking really, I think it’s just a common issue – no big deal.

Hey Gloria what’s a pet peeve? Please excuse me for my ignorance.


Lynda Hill writes:

Interesting stuff, but tricky to know quite what to do if one’s target audience spans the Atlantic! Consistency is of course very important either way.

As for spell checkers – they won’t pick up the difference between their and there, or your and you’re.

And, what’s more confusing about the word ‘programme’, even in British English it’s ‘program’ if referring to a computer program, but add the ‘me’ if any other kind ie TV.

Personally I think we should all learn Esperanto! (lol)

Comment provided September 17, 2010 at 2:34 PM


wine clubs writes:

Hey Linda those are really great examples…lol…very funny….


wine clubs writes:

Good example ralph.We do it some times by mistake.Thanks for sharing it…

Comment provided September 19, 2010 at 1:31 PM


Geoff writes:

And of course there are some words which seem to be equally acceptable in both forms, such as organise and organize.

Comment provided September 21, 2010 at 10:21 AM


Duncan writes:

I’m really glad that EzineArticles allow both types of spelling, because I love the British spelling. We use the British spelling here in South Africa, so that’s what I am used to. I must say, though, that with all the diverse cultures and the fact that in South Africa we have 11 official languages (yes, eleven) the British spelling and pronounciation is often murdered beyond recognition by our TV announcers and especially by government spokesmen. We listen to BBC news channel to remind ourselves of what proper english sounds like!

Comment provided September 22, 2010 at 4:54 AM


Rocky Torres writes:

I guess both are correct.

Comment provided September 22, 2010 at 10:17 PM



Eddington : Before I check the dictionary, I this a pet peeve is a complaint that one holds close, as one would hold a pet.
Lets see how I did:
an opportunity for complaint that is seldom missed; “grammatical mistakes are his pet peeve”
Something that is personally annoying; a personal dislike

Comment provided September 23, 2010 at 9:24 AM


Khalid Osman writes:

This good article brings my attention to the way people speak in English. Good hearers will notice the difference when people from different cultures speak this language. I for example have never stuck the tip of my tongue between my teeth when I pronounce words wi(th) such letters, especially when there is “is” before the word like – do you know what is this? Therefore, you will hear “z” in the spoken words. Although this is phonically a problem, but people do not take it seriously in our world.

The other thing is that, every nationality speaks English, or perhaps any other international languages like French, Spanish, Arabic, Italian and German, or a local language like Danish differently.

Hear Indians for example when they speak English. I love the way they speak it. It is very musical and with a sympathetic tone. They speak it differently, though. Even the language creators, the Britons, speak it differently. Hear somebody from Scotland, another from Ireland and a third one from London. Africans also speak English differently from country to country. Americans do while using their American English. Hear one from the north of America and one from the south. Hear natives.

While reading Yeats 20 years ago, I noticed differences in the spoken language between those people.

All this brings my attention to say that English is not English any more. It is international dialect. The movement of the people makes this dialect warm and well integrated in that atmosphere to bring English to the next level of modernization. I hope there will be a great work to renew Shakespeare’s language, since we are moving forwards not backwards.

They could possibly name it, English – the Sound of the People. Could this be a new product? hahaha

If I was not pressed for time, I could collect it from different nationalities and make it a new sonic product with its own PDF and CDs.

Comment provided September 25, 2010 at 11:24 AM


Kathryn Wilson writes:

Hi guys, interesting post. Something I feel quite strongly about is the need to write for your target audience, and I spend a lot of time ‘changing’ my British English into ‘Americaneze’ for US based Internet Marketers. But it can be difficult when you’re not based inside the culture you’re writing for.
In fact I have written a blog post about this very issue, with the main spelling differences too – see
All the best,

Comment provided September 30, 2010 at 3:42 PM


SenseiMattKlein writes:

What do you do when the spelling is a keyword in your niche, like self-defense vs. self-defence? Causes real headaches.

Comment provided September 30, 2010 at 5:50 PM


Kathryn Wilson writes:

When it comes to niche keywords, I’d advise/advize you use both spellings (self defense and self defence) in your tags and in your text, to enable search engines to find you. :)


Kat Cooper writes:

Look, I understand what the author is trying to say here but really is this such an issue? I grew up with British English and have noticed I too, have been Americanizing my blog posts lately. I just don’t think it is necessary anymore and I am going to stop right now.

If I use the words ‘colour’ or ‘favourite’, which is my natural way of spelling these words, should I be worried my American readers will not understand what I was talking about! Of course not, that is just insulting to them. If my ‘audience’ disregards my message because I spell words differently then so be it. I think we should stop trying to be everything to everyone and just be yourself, whether or not you use colour or color!!

Just my take on it!

Comment provided September 30, 2010 at 6:55 PM


Kat….and here I am trying to be more formal with my English (native Californian) which sometimes simply means not calling everyone “Dude”.

I think there’s plenty of room for everyone, different cultures within the English speaking world are part of what is enjoyable about the language!


Schalk Lubbe writes:

This is something that I never thought of. I grew up learning to spell the UK way, but I have seen that 80% of my traffic comes from the US, so I’ll have to adapt the US way of spelling. Fortunately the spell checkers of the major word processors make it easy. Thanks for a very handy tip.

Comment provided October 1, 2010 at 1:08 AM



@ Kat Cooper THANK YOU for your post. As someone who has grown up with UK English, I agree whole heartedly that if the Americans readers are unable to understand what I mean by the spelling of the word colour as opposed to color then perhaps what I am writing really doesn’t appeal to them at all.
I am a Freelance writer and as such I ask who my target audience is before beginning the project. I write accordingly.
We are all too ready to adopt the American way of absolutely everything and I think this applies to spelling as well. I certainly LOVE my American readers and will write in US English for articles targeted at them. I do not assume their ignorance to UK spelling, however, and understand that if they happen to read some of my articles not specifically targeted at them that they are still able to receive the same message.
I don’t find this such an issue for anyone (where English is not their native tongue) to get caught up in.

Comment provided October 1, 2010 at 6:53 PM


SenseiMattKlein writes:

Thanks Kathryn, I notice that google sometimes uses words interchangeably, like karate and martial arts. I have competitors who don’t even teach karate that sometimes rank ahead of me in the serps because of it. It would seem like the words defence and defense are interchangeable. Would an American think the British/Aussie way is misspelled?

Comment provided October 2, 2010 at 5:06 AM


Kathryn Wilson writes:

Hi Matt (SenseiMattKlein), yes Google does use certain keywords interchangeably, and thanks for the reminder. Guess Google is doing its job as a search engine, serving up relevant results to searchers, even if they didn’t think of all the terminology.
On the other issue, hopefully most people are spelling-aware to some degree, and wouldn’t go as far to think it’s misspelt. But they might take slight offence if it’s written in a way which isn’t how they speak, if it’s simply not talking directly to them….?


S. Reid writes:

Many Americans do not travel internationally so do not really know of english words being spelled differently. The children learn in school how to spell so when words are spelled differently they think the word is misspelled.
Many countries in the world have people who do not travel or read widely and only study what is acceptable in their country.
All that being said, I prefer that writers write using their own spelling of words. It helps me understand where the writer is comming from.

Comment provided October 2, 2010 at 1:44 PM


Theresa writes:

@ SenseiMattKlein
Hi, I am an American who is from New York originally. Thanks to my “dialect” I tend to get treated like I’m from outer space in my own country when people here me speak due to now living in CA.

As for Americans thinking “defence” is misspelled I would would have to say, yes. I don’t believe it’s a frequently seen spelling here in the USA; less so than other words spelled the “British” way.

Many people would understand “colour,” “favourite,” even “cheque,” as most understand those spellings to be “British.” However, if those spellings are being used by someone living here in the USA even if that person is British, I have heard some people “tease” the Britisher about how he or she spells certain words.

Bottom line I would have to say it all depends on the education and sophistication level of the reader.

Just my two-cents!

Comment provided October 2, 2010 at 6:15 PM


G Williams writes:

Canadians tend to spell somewhere in between and Brit and an American natively. Unfortunately due to American spell checkers in use in most offices American spelling has leaked into our writing many years ago. Even our newspapers spell neighbour as neighbor.

Probably more people in Canada can spot the spelling differences than in the past.

In all the texting revolution hasn’t helped either. No matter what country your from. A lot of content is just horribly written due to the fact that people are literally loosing their language, whatever it was.

Comment provided April 19, 2013 at 9:40 PM


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