Sixty English words to respell when moving to the USA



Aluminum is one of the trickier words for expats. Not only is it spelt differently but also pronounced differently. Photo © ExpatAussieInNJ

EXPAT LIFE: Being an expat must give you early Alzheimer’s.

 I’m just waiting for the study results to show up one day proving me correct.

No, it’s not the stress of moving to the USA that I’m talking about (although that does contribute I’m sure). It is the constant need to check and recheck your spelling when adapting from another country, even an English speaking country like Australia. You see, Australians spell words using English conventions. And for all our talk about being a grown up republic, we still follow our matriarch, as far as spelling goes anyway!

I suppose changing your spelling habits of a lifetime is a bit like learning to drive on the wrong side of the road. At first, it is very common to lapse back into what you have previously done all your life. Gradually though, the new habits starts to take hold.

However, unlike my driving which is reasonably stabilized now to the right side of the road, my spelling swings like a drunken pendulum. The inadvertent result is a weird mix of American and Australian. I guess you could call it pidgin-Australian.

You see it in my blog all the time. One minute I decide to spell ‘favourite’ the American way (favorite). Next thing, I’ve changed back into Australian. And it doesn’t help that I have my Word software set up for American spelling either. Stupidly, I keep adding Australian spellings to my dictionary, so regardless of which way it’s spelt; it’s not picked up as a mistake. No wonder New Zealanders make jokes about us.

So for those of you with a British spelling upbringing, here’s a list you’ll need to learn if you want to make it into the finals of the next national American Spelling Bee.

Most of the words listed below are common words you will see almost everywhere. Fortunately most of them derive from only a few central spelling rules. Once you know these, it is easy to translate the rules across many more words.

Sixty English words with their US equivalent

English – American

  1. Aeroplane – airplane
  2. Ageing – aging
  3. Aluminium – aluminum
  4. Anaemia – anemia
  5. Apologise – apologize
  6. Arbour – arbor
  7. Behaviour – behavior
  8. Categorise – categorize
  9. Cancelled – canceled
  10. Centre – center
  11. Cheque: check
  12. Colour – color
  13. Counsellor – counselor
  14. Defence – defense
  15. Dialled – dialed
  16. Disc – disk
  17. Doughnut – donut
  18. Enrollment – enrolment
  19. Fibre – fiber
  20. Flavour – flavor
  21. Fulfil – Fulfill
  22. Gaol – jail
  23. Grey – gray
  24. Harbour – harbor
  25. Honour – honor
  26. Humour – humor
  27. Installment – instalment
  28. Jewellery – jewelry
  29. Judgement – judgment
  30. Kerb – curb
  31. Labelled – labeled
  32. Labour – labor
  33. Licence – License
  34. Light – lite (low calorie)
  35. Liqourice – licorice
  36. Litre – liter
  37. Marvellous – marvelous
  38. Mould – mold
  39. Moult – molt
  40. Moustache – mustache
  41. Neighbour – neighbor
  42. Odour – odor
  43. Omelette – omelet
  44. Paediatrician – Pediatrician
  45. Parlour-Parlor
  46. Practice – Practise
  47. Programme – program
  48. Pyjamas – pajamas
  49. Realise – Realize
  50. Refridgerate – refrigerate
  51. Savoury – savory
  52. Sceptic – skeptic
  53. Storey – story
  54. Sulphur – sulfur
  55. Travelled – traveled
  56. Tumour – tumor
  57. Tyre – tire
  58. Vapour – vapor
  59. Woollen – woolen
  60. Yoghurt – yogurt

One thing I notice about American spelling though is they seem to spell a word more like it sounds e.g. ‘donut’ instead of ‘doughnut’.

Even with my inherited British culture hang-ups, I’ve got to admit that this seems to make sense. English is after all, probably the worst language in the world for having weird spelling and pronunciation exceptions. It seems that when the Americans threw the British out, back in 1783, they threw out their convoluted spelling rule book too.

There’s one word though I will never, ever spell the American way, and I hope my kids don’t either. ‘Mom’ is just not a name I really look forward to being called. Mum, on the other hand, may be the name of a common ‘ol daisy here but I’ll take it any time.

Can you add any other common American spellings that I have missed?


6 thoughts on “Sixty English words to respell when moving to the USA

  1. Oh tell me about it! Canada is somewhere between British & US when it comes to spelling (leaning more to the UK), but with a son educated in international American schools, I had to do the switch in order to help him with homework and now I’m totally confused. And don’t even get me going on pronunciation … shedule, skedule?? …..

    • Yes, pronunciation is another entire post! Our local school calls the chorus -the CAWS- and boy I could add and add to this list. For both spelling and pronunciation, I don’t think I am ever going to get straight for just one country. It’s just a mish-mash that doesn’t get better with time. I guess there are worse problems. Hope you are staying warm up there:)

  2. Totally with you on Mum – I insist on it! I also spend far too much of my life being a little bit indignant towards Americans about spelling of English words in ‘not America’. I was already muddled by my Chinese English from Hong Kong and the mix of US and UK spelling they adopt in South Africa. Yesterday I was mortified when my son wrote a poem for school and asked could he use the US spelling of Mom because he thought his teacher would prefer it. grrrr

    • Yes. It’s just the last straw being asked to accept that. My kids avoided it at first which was great. My son was even corrected by his narrow-minded teacher for wanting to spell his version of Mum on the Mothers Day card!! A bit rich I reckon. Sadly my daughter, being much younger when we came here has acquiesced to US spelling and the local accent. The hard part for her will be readjusting whenever we get back to Oz and we go through the reverse in Australian schools.

  3. Having lived in the U.S. my whole life, I use some of the spellings listed as English here, but I’ve noticed a pattern in which ones I use, l prefer the letter c over s ie licence and the letter c over k ie disc and l prefer the double ll ie cancelled over the single l.

  4. Fetus – American
    Foetus – British

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.