If We Show You a Word, Can You Tell Us If It’s the American or British Spelling?

EDUCATION

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Jonnathan Chadwick

6 Min Quiz

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About This Quiz

America and Britain have had a storied relationship, to say the least. Britain founded America. America rebelled. Britain uses the Celsius scale. America uses Fahrenheit. British people drive on the left side of the road. Americans drive on the right. 

If you look at the differences between the two nations on paper, you may think they're mortal enemies, but they're actually best friends. But just because they're the closest of allies doesn't mean they can't differentiate themselves from each other, and that's where language comes in.

There is no reason for American and British English to have different spellings, and for a long period of time, there were very few, if any, differences in spelling between the two countries. Spelling differences started getting set in stone in the 18th and 19th centuries with the advent of dictionaries and usage guides. 

Americans started spelling words to be consistent with Latin spelling while the Brits used French and Greek spellings as a foundation. It's not always the case, but it's a good rule of thumb to follow. Where Americans will use the Latin "or" (i.e. color), Brits will use the Old French "our" (i.e. colour).

There's a slew of differences in vowel and consonant pairings as well as word endings and suffixes, and if that isn't confusing enough, some words are different just because. Let's see how well you know British and American English. If we give you a word, can you tell us whether it's the British or American spelling?

One of the greatest assets in life is a sense of humor. Is "humor" British or American spelling?

Over in Britain this word is spelled "humour," and almost every British word that ends in an unstressed "our" has an American counterpart that ends in an unstressed "or." The "or" words stem from Latin and the "our" words stem from French.

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Is the word "pzazz" British or American?

This word was recently invented in the 1930s by a magazine editor, but somehow an alternate spelling of the word popped up across the pond. The American word is spelled "pizazz" and is a noun that defines something really glamorous and lively.

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Do you know if "analyze" is a British or American word?

The British spelling of this word is "analyse" and the "yze" vs "yse" suffix is one of the biggest differences between American and British spellings. Canada sticks with the American spelling, and South Africa, Australia and New Zealand use the U.K. spelling.

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Jake spent all day binging his favorite TV show. Is "binging" American or British?

American spelling almost always drops the silent "e" when adding a suffix like "ing." If you're binge-watching something, you're binging in America and bingeing in the U.K. The U.K. uses ageing, America uses aging. Both places use dyeing and dying since they mean different things.

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Is the word "marvellous" an American or British word?

It is custom in British spelling to double the consonant before adding a suffix to a word. The rule is a bit more complicated than that, but for this example, the American spelling is "marvelous" and it stems from the word "marvel."

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Do you know the word "calibre"? Is it American or British?

One of the most notable differences between British and American spelling is the "er" vs "re" endings. American spelling uses "er," like caliber or center, and the "er" ending is widely accepted all over the world. Brits use "re," like calibre or centre.

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It's illegal to drive without a driver's license. In what country is the word spelled "license"?

The word "licence" looks weird to most Americans, but that's the British spelling, and Brits commonly use the "ce" ending where Americans use the "se" ending. Australia and Canada use the British spelling in these instances.

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Is "energize" an American or British spelling?

The "ize" and "ise" endings are big differentiators when it comes to American and British spelling. The "ize" ending has been around longer but the "ise" spelling, which derives from French, is more common in Britain. Common rule is "ise" is acceptable everywhere in the world except America.

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What about "aesthetically"? Is it from America or Britain?

The American spelling of this word is "esthetically," but it is rarely used. The "ae" double vowel stems from Greek and is used in British English. Some American words, like aesthetic, have adopted the British spelling.

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Who uses the word "milligrammes"?

This is a classic case of the double consonant that British spelling mandates when ending certain words. It also ends the word with a silent "e," and the American spelling is "milligrams." Both spellings of this specific word are recognized everywhere.

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What nationality spells "licorice"?

The British spelling of this word is "liquorice" and that variant is rarely seen in America. It stems from the word "liquor" where the American version actually stems from the Old French word that stems from the Greek word used to describe the licorice plant. "Licorice" is also used in Canada and Australia but not in Britain.

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Going to bed at the same time every day instills a solid routine. Is "instill" a British or American spelling?

The British spelling is "instils," which is confusing because British spelling is known for using the double consonant. Until about 1920, the word "instils" was widely used in America, but today the word "instills" is used more than 10 times more frequently than its alternate spelling.

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Is the word "jewellery" British or American?

The American spelling of this word doesn't use the double consonant and drops the silent "e" so the word is spelled "jewelry." The British spelling is jewellers and jewelled, but jewels is accepted in both America and Britain.

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You may have to see an orthopaedic specialist if you have trouble with your bones or joints. What spelling is "orthopaedic"?

The American spelling of this word (orthopedic) is spelled just like it sounds, which makes things easier. The British spelling uses the double "ae" vowel that stems from Greek and is rarely seen in American English.

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Chile, chilly, chilli or chili, which is the exclusively British spelling?

Chile, chilly, chili and chilli are all real words, but Americans use "chili" and Brits use "chilli" to define the hot pepper. The national dish of Singapore is chilli crab, and when you're in the country, it will be spelled using the British variant, not the American spelling.

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The package didn't arrive because it was improperly labeled. Is "labeled" a British or American spelling?

The British spelling of this word would be "labelled," and someone who is "labeling" something in America is "labelling" something in Britain. The double consonant is a major difference in spelling between the two nations, but there are several exceptions to the rule.

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Is "mustache" British or American?

The word "mustache" is the American spelling of the word and is rarely, if ever, used in Britain. The British spelling "moustache" is also recognized in America so both spellings can be used around the world.

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Do you know whether "litres" is a British or American spelling?

There are more than 3.75 liters in a gallon, and if you live in Britain, you don't need to know that because petrol is measured in litres, not gallons. Liquids in Britain can also be measured in Imperial or U.K. gallons, however, which are slightly larger than U.S. gallons.

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In what country might an "analyser" "analyse" your company?

If you create a startup company and want to bring it public, you'll probably need hire someone to analyse your business model before offering public shares. The person who analyses the company is an analyser, and in America, they'd be known as an analyzer.

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The medieval age ended at the beginning of the 15th century. Is "medieval" British or American?

This word is spelled "mediaeval" in Britain, but the American spelling is no less confusing. Phonetically, this word should be spelled, "midevil," but that would just be too easy so we came up with medieval instead.

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British or American spelling: familiarize?

There are several things an American in Britain or a Briton in America needs to familiarize themselves with upon arrival. One of the easiest things to learn is that where Americans use "ize" to end a word, Brits will usually use "ise."

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In what country might you write down "omelet" as a breakfast order?

The British word is "omelette" and it stems from Old French. The American word "omelet" is said to have been around for longer, but other English-speaking countries usually use the Old French spelling.

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Is an American building measured in "stories" or "storeys"?

The Brits are on to something here because they use the word "storey" to define a floor of a building and "story" to define a literary tale. Americans simply use "story" or "stories" to define everything that can be defined with the word story.

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The three-point turn is one of the first maneuvers all new drivers should learn. Is "maneuver" British or American?

The British spelling of this word is "manoeuver," and as weird as it may look to the average American, it is actually far more recognized around the world than its American counterpart. This double vowel usage stems from Greek.

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Do you know whether "fibreglass" is an American or British spelling?

It's almost hard to spot, but the American spelling is "fiberglass." The "er" ending is accepted all over the world as it is clearer to understand. Words like "winner," "louder" and "user" are never spelled with the British spelling of "re."

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Not many people love the odour of durian fruit. Is "odour" British or American?

The American spelling of this word is "odor," and durian fruit, native to Southeast Asia, has such a strong odor that is it banned from many public establishments in the area, like Singapore's mass transit system.

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Alice got "penciled" into the talent show last second. Is that British or American spelling?

The British spelling utilizes the double consonant here so the word would be spelled "pencilled." The writing instrument known as a pencil is spelled the same way in both nations. The verb form of "pencil" just means to write something down.

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Do British or American people write "immortalised"?

The American spelling of this word is "immortalized," but the British spelling is more widely recognized around the globe. When in doubt, use the "ise" ending because it is commonplace almost everywhere except America.

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Is "publicized" a British or American spelling?

It only makes sense to spell this word with a "z" but most of the world will disagree with that. The British spelling is "publicised," and every English-speaking country in the world will recognize that spelling before the American spelling.

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His judgement, or lack thereof, was completely wrong. Is "judgement" spelled the American or British way?

This one is somewhat tricky to catch, but the American spelling doesn't use an "e" after the "g," so it is spelled "judgment." That's the American way, although both spellings are regularly accepted in the states.

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Offense sells tickets. "Defence" wins championships. Who uses that spelling for the word?

Being that this quote is attributed to an American college football coach, it should always be spelled "defense," which is the American spelling. This quote relates to American football and it's unknown whether the mantra translates over to footy.

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Is "remolded" a British or American spelling?

The British spelling of this word is "remoulded," which looks like it would be pronounced differently in American English. The British spelling uses "ou" for "mould," "moulding," "remoulders" and any variant of mold.

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Jim works as a "palaeontologist." Is that spelling American or British?

This word is tricky enough as is, but the Brits use the double vowel, which turns into a triple vowel in this instance. The American spelling is "paleontologist," and it defines someone who studies fossils.

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Is the word "catalogue" British or American?

If you wanted to spell this word without the "ue" ending (catalog), you could and it would be perfectly correct in America, but the "ue" ending is also recognized in America. You'd very rarely see the word "dialogue" spelled "dialog" in America, but that is also the accepted American spelling.

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Tenderloin, or filet mignon, is one of the most tender cuts of beef you can get. Is "filet" British or American spelling?

This word would actually be spelled "fillet" in the U.K. Some people swear by this cut of beef and others think it's overrated. It's an extremely tender cut, but it has very little fat, making it a somewhat dry cut.

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Do you know if "lustre" is an American or British word?

Lustre is a noun that defines the glow or shine from a crystal when light interacts with its surface. In America, the word is spelled "luster." Most countries around the world recognize the British spelling over the American, but in this case, the American spelling is recognized everywhere.

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The sky was grey. Is "grey" the British or American spelling of the word?

Aside from all the different spelling rules between the cultures, some words are different just because, like the words grey and gray. Both are recognized worldwide, but recently Britain started recognizing "grey" as the official spelling and America uses "gray" as the official spelling.

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Mike is a sceptic so he didn't believe a word of the explanation. Is "sceptic" an American or British spelling?

Here's another word that is spelled differently but follows no rules. The word "skeptic" is used in America, and the word "sceptic" is used in Britain. It stems from the French word "sceptique," which is actually pronounced with a soft "c," but the British word uses a hard "c."

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Sometimes the prolog is the best part of the book. Do you know whether "prolog" is an American or British spelling?

You probably use the British spelling of this word in your everyday writing, which is "prologue," but the American spelling doesn't end in "ue." The word "prolog" has since come to define a computer program, so the "ue" spelling is recognized in both countries.

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A donut with coffee is the perfect way to start the day. Is "donut" American or British?

The British spelling of this word is "doughnut" and the Brits never use the word "donut." Americans use both spellings of the word, but doughnut is more accepted. It's unknown how the differences between this word came to be.

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