English Language Blog

Seeing Double in American English and British English Posted by on Jul 10, 2012 in Culture, English Language


In my last few posts I have been talking about spelling differences between written British English and American English.  The last major difference in spelling between British English and American English that I want to cover is the use of double consonants. The final consonant in English words is sometimes doubled by both American and British writers.  This doubling of a consonant is usually done when adding a suffix that begins with a vowel to a root word that ends in a stressed consonant.  For example: the word stop → stopped.

In written British English when a words ends in -l, the final -l is often doubled (even when the final syllable is unstressed).  For example: in British English these words are spelled correctly: cancelled, counsellor, modelling, traveller, and traveling, while in American English these words are spelled correctly: canceled, counselor, modeling, traveler, and traveling.

Just to make things confusing though there are words in which British writers prefer a single -l and American writers prefer to use a double -l!  Words with this spelling difference include: wil(l)ful, skil(l)ful, appal(l), fulfil(l),  enrol(l)ment, instal(l)ment. It is important to note that all of these words have one syllable cognates that are always written with -ll: will, skill, pall, fill, roll, stall in both British and American English.

In British English a double -l is sometimes used in these words: distil(l), instil(l), and enrol(l).  All three of these words always have a double -l in American English.

Lastly, in both American and British English spellings, words normally spelled with a double -l usually drop the second -l when used as prefixes or suffixes, for example: full → useful, handful; all →almighty or altogether; well→welfare or welcome.

With all of these spelling differences I have to say we are all very lucky to live in an era where there is automatic spell check on our computers!  If following the last few post of this blog has been difficult for you, please note that these posts on spelling differences in British and American English are written at an advanced level for an advanced ESL learner.  If you are not ready to take in all of this new information yet, you can always come back to the blog and read these posts again later.

Now here is a quick exercise for you to practice all you have learned in the last three posts on the spelling differences between British and American English.  In this exercise you need to fill in the blanks with the correct spelling for the word based on the location that is mentioned in the sentence.  I’ll give you the answers to this exercise in my next post.  Good luck!

1. In the United States a child is considered a legal and financial _________ of his or her parents until he or she is 18 years old. (Hint: a noun that begins with d.)
2. The British ship left London with ten _________ of gold, but sadly the ship sunk at sea. (Hint: an adjective that begins with t.)
3. New York City is known for its famous Broadway __________ where there is always a good show to see. (Hint: a noun that beings with a th.)
4. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom ___________ the country’s financial situation in order to see if any changes could be made. (Hint: a verb that begins with a.)
5. The oldest ___________ in the United States was build by the Jewish community living in New York City in 1655 as a place for religious worship. (Hint: noun that starts with an s.)
6. The ______________ of students at Harvard University in Boston Massachusetts this year is over 6,000 students. (Hint: noun that starts with e.)
7. I do not know the ______________ statistics for students at Oxford College in Oxford, England. (Hint: the same word as #6, just spelled differently.)
8. A __________ from another country who is visiting the United Kingdom should bring a rain coat, because it is often rainy on the British Isles. (Hint: a noun that starts with a t.)

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About the Author: Gabriele

Hi there! I am one of Transparent Language's ESL bloggers. I am a 32-year-old native English speaker who was born and raised in the United States. I am living in Washington, DC now, but I have lived all over the US and also spent many years living and working abroad. I started teaching English as a second language in 2005 after completing a Master's in Applied Linguists and a Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults' (CELTA). Since that time I have taught ESL in the United States at the community college and university level. I have also gone on to pursue my doctorate in psychology and now I also teach courses in psychology. I like to stay connected to ESL learners around the world through Transparent Languages ESL Blog. Please ask questions and leave comments on the blog and I will be sure to answer them.