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Theatre or theater? In this session we look at words with more than one spelling

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Words with more than one spelling

Do you get confused about which of two possible spellings to use? Are you unsure whether it’s disc or disk, sympathise or sympathize, learnt or learned?  Then join Finn and Catherine in 6 Minute Vocabulary for some useful tips!

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Catherine
Hello! Welcome to 6 Minute Vocabulary with me, Catherine.

Finn
And me, Finn. And today we’re talking about words that have more than one spelling.

Catherine
Let's start by listening to Jack. He’s a professor of linguistics and he’s talking about changes in the English language.

Finn
While you listen, think about this question: How do you think the word disc is usually spelt in British English?

INSERT
Jack
Today most of the influence on English spelling comes from North America. For example the words analogue, disc, enquire are spelt differently in American English. And these spellings are often used in British English too. And that’s generally all right by us. However, there are other spelling differences that we don’t think are correct in British English. For we Brits, it’s definitely wrong to spell colour or neighbour without the u. It’s also wrong to spell theatre in the American way.

Finn
So we asked you: how is disc usually spelt in British English?

Catherine
And the answer is that it’s usually spelt with a c, so d-i-s-c.

Finn
But in American English, it’s spelt d-i-s-k. So two different spellings there, but it's ok to spell disk with a k in British English when we're talking about computers and computing. What other words were mentioned? Let’s have our first clip.

INSERT CLIP 1
Jack   
For example the words analogue, disc, enquire are spelt differently in American English.

Catherine
So another computing term there: the word analogue, as in analogue clock, is spelt a-n-a-l-o-g-u-e in British English. But it’s spelt without the u-e in American English: so a-n-a-l-o-g.

Finn
And there are a few more words with different spellings in American and British English. We're not saying that one spelling is better than another…

Catherine
… but it's good to be aware of the differences. Now, the word enquire, meaning to ask about something, usually begins with the letter e in British English: e-n-q-u-i-r-e, whereas in American English it's spelt with an i at the beginning, not an e. Did you notice the word spelt? That’s the past participle of the verb spell.

Finn
Yes, that’s s-p-e-l-t in British English. But in North America, they prefer spelled, s-p-e-l-l-e-d.

Catherine
We’re happy with both nowadays. You can choose which to use. It’s the same for other verbs like learn, dream and burn. You can say learnt, burnt and dreamt with a t at the end or learned, burned and dreamed with e-d.

Finn
And there's a slight difference in pronunciation there too, isn't there?

Catherine
Yes, even in my best British accent you can hear the d and the t sounds at the end: burned, burnt. Learned, learnt.

Finn
Now some words have two spellings - but it’s nothing to do with American influence. Listen to this clip.

INSERT CLIP 2
Jack
And that’s generally all right by us.

Finn
And there we heard all right. You can spell that as two words, all and right. Or you can spell it as one word: a-l-r-i-g-h-t.

Catherine
It's becoming quite common to see all right as two words, although some people still think that alright as one word is incorrect when writing.

Finn
Other words with two spellings are barbecue, meaning cooking food outdoors, spelt b-a-r-b-e-C-u-e or b-a-r-b-e-Q-u-e.

Catherine
And there’s also racket as in tennis racket. It’s almost always spelt r-a-c-k-e-t, but it can be spelt r-a-c-q-u-e-t as well. One more clip please.

INSERT 1 CLIP 3
Jack
It’s definitely wrong to spell colour or neighbour without the u.

Finn
So colour, spelt c-o-l-o-u-r is c-o-l-o-r in American English. American spelling drops the u in words with o-u in them.

Catherine
And there are a lot of words that end in r-e in British English but e-r in American English, like theatre, centre and kilometre.

IDENT          
6 Minute Vocabulary from BBC Learning English.

Finn
And right now it’s quiz time! Number one: Everybody knows that if you play with fire, you might get burnt. But what are the two possible ways to spell the past participle of the verb burn?

Catherine
They’re b-u-r-n-t and b-u-r-n-e-d.

Finn
Number two. How do we spell all right when it’s one word?

Catherine
a-l-r-i-g-h-t.

Finn
Number three: What’s the American English spelling of the word flavour?

Catherine
It's f-l-a-v-o-r without the u.

Finn
Well done if you got those all right. And before we go, here’s a vocabulary tip. If you use a computer to write in English, use a spellchecker, and make sure you set it to your preferred variety of English.

Catherine
There’s more about this at bbclearningenglish.com.

Both
Bye!

Download

You can download 6 Minute Vocabulary from our Intermediate Unit 19 Downloads page. Remember to subscribe to the podcast version!

Vocabulary points to take away:

Some words have two possible spellings in British English, for example: analogue, disc, enquire. Sometimes the second spelling comes from American English.

Disc can be spelt d-i-s-c or d-i-s-k for computing terms.

Some words ending in -ise or -yse are spelt -ize and -yze in American English. That spelling is generally accepted in British English too.

apologise (BrE) / apologize (AmE/BrE)

The past form of some verbs can be spelt in two ways in British English. But the -ed ending is preferred in American English.

spelt (BrE) / spelled (AmE/BrE)

Other words have two spellings, not from any American influence.

all right/alright, barbecue/barbeque, racket/racquet

Some American English spellings are not accepted as correct in British English. Two common examples are words with ou in them and words ending in -re.

colour (BrE) / color (AmE), centre (BrE) / center (AmE)

Next

So, how well do you know these differences? On the next page, we'll do a quiz about British and American English. See you there!

Сеанс работы над лексикой

  • Some words have two possible spellings in British English, for example analogue, disc, enquire. Sometimes the second spelling comes from American English.

    Disc can be spelt d-i-s-c or d-i-s-k for computing terms.

    Some words ending in -ise or -yse are spelt -ize and -yze in American English. That spelling is generally accepted in British English too.

    apologise (BrE) / apologize (AmE/BrE)

    The past form of some verbs can be spelt in two ways in British English. But the -ed ending is preferred in American English.

    Spelled / spelt (BrE) / spelled (AmE/BrE)

    Other words have two spellings, not from any American influence.

    all right / alright, barbecue / barbeque, racket / racquet

    Some American English spellings are not accepted as correct in British English. Two common examples are words with ou in them and words ending in -re.

    colour (BrE) / color (AmE), centre (BrE) / center (AmE)