Have you ever noticed multiple spellings for some words? These differences are largely due to “American” spelling versus “British” spelling of words.

We Canadians generally use a mix of both in our correspondence. Some tend to use American spelling more frequently and consistently, others gravitate towards British spelling. In part, I think it goes back to what you were taught in school. Also, in my experience, many Canadians who write professionally, or write regularly as part of their job, tend more towards the use of British spelling. I fall in that category for my own writing. Having said that, when I compiled the lists below, I realized there are some words where I consistently use the American spelling, particularly for item #3 – it turns out that this is convention in Canada, not just individual preference.

Interestingly, a discussion with my proof reader, Ramona Rea, generated conflicting opinions on what is individual preference versus formal convention for spelling in Canada. That sent me back to do some further research to elucidate which is the case, but it didn’t really solve the problem. Turns out we were both right, and both wrong, on various points. It’s complicated! And I’ve learned something in the process.

So – what are the differences?

1. “or” vs “our” at the end of a word:

American                 British
color                            colour
behavior                    behaviour
neighbor                    neighbour
labor                            labour
odor                             odour

And sometimes in the middle of the word, or before “l”

favorite                       favourite
mold                            mould

In Canada, both versions are acceptable, but there are regional variations on preference.

2. “er” vs “re” at the end of a word:

American                    British
center                         centre
theater                       theatre
fiber                             fibre
meter                          metre
liter                               litre

In Canada, both versions are acceptable, but again with regional differences. Some Canadian dictionaries prefer the American spelling, others prefer the British spelling. For scientific writing, the British spelling is preferred in both British and Canadian journals.

3. “ze” vs “se” at the end of a word:

American                    British
analyze                      analyse
paralyze                    paralyse
recognize                  recognise
organize                    organise
catalyze                    catalyse
realize                         realise

In Canada, it is convention to use the American spelling. And British writers are gradually switching over to the American spelling as well.

4. “el” vs “ell” at the end of a verb when changing its form:

American                    British
labeled                       labelled
labeling                      labelling
traveler                      traveller
canceled                   cancelled
counseling               counselling

In Canada, it is convention to use the British spelling, but with some regional differences.

5. Single vowel “e” vs double vowels “ae” and “oe”, particularly in medical jargon:

American                    British
leukemia                   leukaemia
orthopedic               orthopaedic
pediatric                   paediatric
maneuver                manoeuvre
etiology                     aetiology

In Canada, it’s a mixture, with a tendency towards the British spelling. In medical and scientific writing, the British spelling is preferred, even in some parts of the US. However, the lay press in Canada and the US tends towards the American spelling.

6. “se” vs “ce” at the end of a word:

American                    British
license                        licence
practise                     practice
defense                     defence
offense                      offence
pretense                   pretence

With this one, just to make things more complicated, Canadians use the American “se” spelling when using the word as a verb or descriptor (participle), but use the British “ce” spelling when using the same word as a noun.

Canadian examples:
I have a driver’s licence. (noun)
The company licensed its product. (verb)
It’s time for hockey practice. (noun)
I have to practise the piano. (verb)

7. “g” vs “gue” at the end of a word:

American                    British
analog                        analogue
catalog                      catalogue
dialog                         dialogue
epilog                         epilogue
monolog                   monologue

However, I’ve seen many Americans prefer the “gue” spelling in this case. And Canadians use the British spellings.

8. And finally, miscellaneous other words that are spelled differently:

American                    British
check                         cheque
grey                             gray
program                    programme
learned                     learnt
while                          whilst
spelled                      spelt
mustache                moustache
aluminum               aluminium
buses                         busses
jewelry                     jewellery
licorice                     liquorice

Once again, Canadians use some American spellings and some British spellings.

Which version(s) do you prefer to use?

When editing or writing manuscripts, I adjust the spelling according to the nationality of the journal where the paper will be submitted:

American journal = American spelling.
British or European journal = British spelling.
Canadian journal = British spelling, for the most part, but some American spelling.

If Canadian English is not your first language, and you’re targeting your writing for a Canadian journal or audience, it’s probably best to use the services of a Canadian copy editor to ensure the spelling is correct and consistent in your paper.

The most important thing to remember is consistency. For any given word, make sure you spell it the same way throughout the entire manuscript. Also, for any of the examples above, spell all words within the same category the same way throughout the entire manuscript.

Spelling is tricky! I hope you found this tip helpful. I’d appreciate your feedback, and I welcome suggestions for future weekly writing tips.