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:
And sometimes in the middle of the word, or before “l”
In Canada, both versions are acceptable, but there are regional variations on preference.
2. “er” vs “re” at the end of a word:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.