UK vs US Spelling as a Canadian Writer

Is it favourite or favorite? Traveller or traveler? As a Canadian writing for a (hopefully) global readership, do you choose to write with UK or US spelling when writing your manuscript?

As a Canadian writer, I often find myself in a unique position. As a child in a commonwealth nation, I grew up learning the British spellings of words, the metric system, and with the Queen on my coins. But with the USA as a bordering neighbour (neighbor), and most TV and film media coming from the States, their influence on Canada is undeniable.

I find myself mixing UK and US customs, measurements, and spellings. For example, I weigh my food in grams (g), but myself in pounds (lbs). I measure distance between cities in kilometers (or more often in driving hours) but measure my height in feet and inches. I eat French fries, not chips, but drink pop, not soda. I get confused on whether I should write organize or organise, but I must write colour (because it physically hurts inside to write color).

UK vs US

The differences in UK and US spellings weren’t always as noticeable as they now are. For example, Shakespeare favoured (favored) what is today considered common US spellings in his plays such as center over centre, and labor over labour. And John Milton uses favorite in his poem Paradise Lost.

Multiple spellings of the same words were common, and variations were regional. But two dictionaries cemented the spelling differences between the two countries. Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755) helped define spellings for Great Britain and its commonwealth countries, and Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) helped define spellings in the United States.

Some typical UK and US spelling differences include words that contain: -our and -or, -re and -er, -yse and -yze, -ise and -ize, -ence and -ense.

UK Spelling -ourUS Spelling -orUK Spelling -reUS Spelling -erUK Spelling -ise/-yseUS & UK Spelling -ize/-yzeUK Spelling -enceUS Spelling -ense
behaviourbehaviorcentrecenteranalyseanalyzedefencedefense
colourcolorfibrefiberApologiseapologizelicencelicense
favouritefavoritelitreliterorganiseorganizeoffenceoffense
flavourflavormeagremeagerparalyseparalyzepretencepretense
humourhumortheatretheaterrealiserecognize  
neighbourneighbor  recogniserealize  

Note: UK spellings use both -ise or -ize, and -yse or -yze and both are acceptable.

What to Choose?

Deciding whether to choose UK or US spellings in your manuscript will depend on your audience.

When writing for a Canadian audience, stick to traditional UK and Canadian spellings. You may also include more unique Canadian words and sayings such as toque, eh, give’r, hoser, poutine, Mounties, double-double, and washroom, among many others.

If you would like to break into the American market, use US spellings. American audiences are much more vocal about differences in spellings than their British and commonwealth counterparts. Having a difference in spelling can distract a reader and bring them out of the story.

If you intend to self-publish with Kindle unlimited, use US spelling as the United States is Kindle’s biggest market.

But if you are publishing with a traditional publisher, the publisher will determine which spelling you use. They may even release different versions of the manuscript depending on where it is sold. For an example of regional versions of the same book, look at Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in the UK and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US.

I polled some fellow Canadian authors and asked them which spellings they prefer when writing. Most write with US spellings, as they have a larger American audience (but secretly wish they could keep the UK spellings) and feel that US spelling has become the norm. They suggested writing with UK spellings if your book is set in the UK but to add a disclaimer at the beginning for American readers.

Whatever type of spelling you choose to use in your manuscript, be consistent throughout. Don’t apologise (apologize) for your choice, and overall write how it feels comfortable to you.

Tips

  • Set your spell check to US English, UK English, or CAD English, depending on your audience. This will help you catch mistakes in regional spelling. It will also keep your manuscript consistent.
  • Keep your audience in mind when using phrases and colloquialisms. Would your audience understand asking someone to grab you some homo milk and Timbits on the way home from work? If not, leave it out.
  • Choose US or UK spelling and stick to it. Don’t mix and match.
  • Expect some readers to be annoyed with the spellings of some words, no matter what version you use.

Opal Writers Magazine
Circulation 1180
and Growing!

Leave a Reply