Spell It Right: A Comparison of British and American English

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If you’re from Malaysia, you’re probably familiar with the fact that the education system and many local universities lean towards (have a tendency towards) the British English spelling system.

However, once you begin typing in Microsoft Word, for example, you’ll likely notice the program’s preference for American spelling, and it may attempt to correct you. 

This is precisely why you should be extra careful and put on your ‘spellchecker glasses’ to spot these differences and make the necessary adjustments.

Take the word, ‘recognize’ for example. This is spelt the American way. And while we’re on the subject, did you notice that ‘spelt‘ just now is the British English version of ‘spelled’?

If you’re in the United States, ‘spelled‘ is the preferred choice. However, both ‘spelt‘ and ‘spelled‘ are valid past tense forms of ‘spell‘ in British English. Malaysia accepts both spellings too.

If you’ve never noticed those subtle differences before, do not fret! 

In this video, I talk about the differences between British English and American English spelling.

You can also listen to this episode on SpotifyApple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

Now let’s put your knowledge to the test.

We’ve prepared ten pairs of words (highlighting the contrast between British English and American English) to test you.

All you need to do is identify the British English spelling for each pair. The answers are revealed below.

  1. programme or program
  2. focused or focussed
  3. enroll or enrol
  4. colorful or colourful
  5. practise or practice
  6. defence or defense
  7. utilised or utilized
  8. emphasise or emphasize
  9. licence or license
  10. learned or learnt


Here are the words spelt in British English:

  1. programme (but program in computing contexts)
  2. focussed
  3. enrol
  4. colourful
  5. practise (verb), practice (noun)
  6. defense
  7. utilised
  8. emphasise
  9. licence
  10. learnt


You may have noticed that in contrast to American English spelling, some British English words tend to have more letters (like ‘programme and ‘focussed‘) and that they prefer ‘s’ over ‘z’. Some words like ‘enrol‘ and ‘learnt‘ are shorter.

To learn more about these words and their definitions, make sure you listen to the video above. 

Remember, the next time you need to write, stay consistent in your spelling.

Until our next class!

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Hi there!

We’re Azimah, Amnah and Aisya from Malaysia. We created My English Matters as an online platform to help people improve their English.

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