British vs American suffixes

student proofreading your document for errorsBritish and American English are very similar in most respects. However, there are some small but important differences in the way that some vocabulary groups are formed. In this article we will explore the role of suffixes. For example, whereas in British English you write centre, litre and theatre; in American English you would need to change the -re suffixes to -er. For example, center, liter and theater.

There are several patterns to remember, but those listed below will be useful to begin with. Remember that as a foreign speaker of English it is not an issue whether you use the British or American conventions for spelling, but more that this will send the following messages to the reader. If you use American suffixes then the reader will assume that you have either studied American English, you are based in the Americas or that you are writing for an American audience. If you write using British English then the converse applies. The problem occurs when you mix the two spelling conventions together, as this will take the shine off your writing and you might lose one or two marks off your final grade if the text is a university submission.

The following patterns of suffixes will be useful to remember when switching between the two languages:

  • Words ending in -our in British English change to -or in American English:


  • Verbs ending in -ise in British English change to -ize in American English:


  • Words ending in -ence in British English change to -ense in American English:


  • Words ending in -re in British English become -er in American English:


  • Verbs ending in -yse in British English change to -yze in American English:


  • In words ending in vowel + ‘l’ and if the suffix starts with a vowel, in British English the ‘l’ doubles to ‘ll’. In American English, the single ‘l’ remains:


One practical move is to ensure that the word processor you use has the spell checking feature set to the correct variant of English. Your document will still need to be reviewed manually through proofreading, but the spell checker will flag up many of the incorrectly used suffixes in your text.

That just about covers this evaluation of the minor differences between the formation of British and American English suffixes. Just remember that unless you are studying in a university or writing for a particular audience, either spelling convention is acceptable. Just ensure that you are consistent throughout your text, and proofread your submission to check for any misspellings that slip through the net.