British and American spelling differences
Are you tired of trying to figure out when to use the words practice and practise? What’s the difference, and does it really matter? There are many variations between British and American spellings, but this has got to be one of the most confusing and frustrating. Especially since, to British eyes, both look like perfectly normal and usable words. Similarly, ‘licence’ and ‘license’ cause us problems. When should you use which spelling?
By the end of this post, you will have a clear and precise formula that will tell you when and how to use each spelling variation.
Keep reading, you’re going to get it right every time.
S for the verb, c for the noun
It doesn’t help us Brits that, often, spellcheck systems rely on US dictionaries. This can mean that even when we do get it right, we’re told it’s wrong!
In British English, we use the ‘s’ version of the word to indicate that it is a verb, or a doing word. For example:
I practised my lines for the school play
When I arrived I found him practising his presentation for the morning
We use the ‘c’ spelling to indicate that the word is a noun, an object.
I found that her practice had much improved since my last visit.
After school I took Joey to football practice.
In American English, the ‘c’ spelling is used for both the verb and the noun.
License or licence?
The same applies for the word ‘licence’. In British English, the ‘c’ version is the noun, the ‘s’ version the verb:
Are you licensed to drive that car?
Yes, here is my provisional driving licence
A useful way to remember the distinction is to consider the words ‘advise’ and ‘advice’. It’s easier to remember that ‘s’ indicates the verb and ‘c’ the noun here, because the two versions sound different when spoken aloud. In this way ‘advice / advise’ serves as a memory aid. So too can ‘device / devise’.
Can I offer you some friendly advice?
I wonder if you might be able to advise me.
I’m heading over to the Citizens Advice Bureau
We need to devise some kind of plan
Are you using a listening device?
Both ‘advise / advice’ and ‘devise / device’ use the same spellings in American English as in British. One less variation to remember – let’s consider that a freebie from the Grammar Fairy.
So far, so good. But what do we do when we’re talking about a person who licenses something? Are they a licensee, or a licencee?
Licencee or licensee?
This is more tricky. After all, ‘one who licenses’ is a person, so surely that’s a noun? Afraid not. A useful tip is to consider what the word means. A licensee is someone who licenses (verb). The word is born from the verb, so we can spell it like the verb – licensee.
The only other people who have access to our software are our licensees.
‘Advise’ can help us here too. Think about a person who gives you advice. Are they an ‘advicer’ or an ‘adviser’?
It’s a lot easier to spot that ‘advicer’ is wrong. It sounds too harsh when it’s spoken aloud. ‘Adviser’, with an ‘s’, is softer, like the word should sound. But also, we can apply our rule. An adviser is ‘one who advises’ (verb) – because the word is born from the verb, we spell it like the verb.
Words ending in -ce / -se
Finally, there are some words ending in -ce in British English, which end differently, -se, in American English
Pretence (British) Pretense (American)
Defence (British) Defense (American)
Offence (British) Offense (American)
These, confusingly, are all nouns. You don’t need to learn a rule to apply here, they’re just different. Luckily, there aren’t many of them, so once you’ve burned them into the memory there’s not a lot to worry about.
About the author
Lisa Russell is the founder of Eloquence Editorial. You can follow her on Twitter @EloquenceEd