This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.
Search BBC
BBC World Service
BBC BBC News BBC Sport BBC Weather BBC World Service Worldservice languages
spacer gif
You are in: Home > Grammar, Vocabulary & Pronunciation > Ask about English
Learning English
spacer gif
learn it! title
 -ise or -ize, hyphens and The Lake Como...
Lake Como
Massimo Vitale from Italy has three questions:

1. Since I prefer British English to American English, I would like to know if it is true that verbs (and thus their relative substantives) ending with -ize are more used in the USA, while the British prefer the corresponding ones ending with -ise? In a bilingual (Italian to English) dictionary I saw that there are really few verbs ending with -ise, like analyse, advertise, privatise, etc., while I could not find the corresponding -ise version of most important verbs ending with -ize (realize, organize, etc.); On the other hand I see them spelt as -ise in many newspapers, magazines, scientific reviews and even in your answers to previous questions. Please tell me if I should definitely convert to -ise.

2. Another question is this: what is the rule for hyphenating words, if there is any, in expressions like, e.g., high-quality performance, least-squares problem, etc., which you would not hyphenate if they were not used as adjectives ( 'that material is of a high quality', not 'high-quality'). How would one cope, for example, with an expression like 'high and low tide-like phenomena' or 'deep seated gravitational slope deformation phenomena'?

3. The last question concerns the use of articles before geographical names: Why does one say ;the river Thames' but also 'the Hudson river'? Why not also 'the lake Como' rather than 'lake Como'? Should one say 'Mount Etna' or 'the Etna Mount'? Why do the speakers of the BBC say 'the Kosovo conflict' rather than 'Kosovo conflict' (I am sorry for this last example, but I could not think of anything else at the moment)?

Roger replies:more questions

1. Taking your questions in order, it is generally true, Massimo, that the American preference for -ize is mirrored in British English by a general preference for -ise, so it is perhaps useful to standardise on one of these two patterns as far as possible. In a standard British dictionary - e.g. the Concise Oxford - you will often find that both options are possible in British English - 'realise' or 'realize', 'organsise' or 'organize' - whilst for other entries -ize is listed as unmistakably American, e.g. 'analyse' = British English, 'analyze' = American English.

If you have a preference for British English in this respect, I assume for the sake of consistency you will retain this preference for other spelling options, e.g. 'programme', not 'program'; 'colour', not 'color'; 'metre', not 'meter'; 'catalogue', not catalog'; 'traveller', not traveler'. When you are reading American English, it can be fun to spot the differences.

2.Compound adjectives are usually hyphenated, so we have 'a high-quality performance', 'a ten-dollar note', a blue-eyed boy'. With multiple compounds, it is usually the first two adjectives or the most adjective-like that are hyphenated, so we have 'a deep-seated gravitational slope' to use your example, or 'a high-quality virtuoso performance'.

Note also the pattern: 'part- and full-time jobs', 'high- and low-tide phenomena.' However, if adjectives are placed after the verb, they are usually not hyphenated. Compare 'an out-of-work actor', 'an up-to-date account' and 'He was out of work', 'She was up to date.'

3. Referring to geographical names or areas, we tend to use the definite article with:
  • seas (the Atlantic, the Pacific, the North Sea)
  • mountain ranges (the Alps, the Andes)
  • island groups (the British Isles, the West Indies)
  • areas (the Midlands, the Lake District, the Middle East)
  • rivers (the Danube, the Blue Nile, the Thames)
  • deserts (the Gobi, the Sahara)
  • hotels and pubs (the Red Lion, the Grand Palace)
  • cinemas and theatres (the Playhouse, the Majestic)
We generally use no articles with:
  • continents (Africa, South America, South East Asia)
  • counties and countries (Oklahoma, Bulgaria, Nigeria)
  • towns and principal buildings (Ely Cathedral, Oxford University)
  • lakes (Lake Como, Lake Windermere, Derwent Water)
  • mountains and volcanoes (Everest, Etna, Vesuvius)
Of course, there are always exceptions: The UK, The USA, The UAE, The Netherlands, The Hague. It is just a matter of learning them!

BBC copyright
Learning English | News English | Business English | Watch and Listen
Grammar and Vocabulary | Communicate | Quizzes | For teachers
Downloads | FAQ | Contact us