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"Offense" vs. "offence", which is more correct? If both are correct, are there any differences in shades of meaning and/or usage?

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4  
    
Practise/practice and advise/advice are a bit different because in these cases the s-versions are used as verbs and the c-versions as nouns, but (de/of)fen(s/c)e are all nouns. –  Anton Tykhyy Mar 17 '11 at 17:29
    
HaL makes a valid point about pronunciation and emphasis on the 1st or 2nd syllable. But it is very likely a colloquial difference, like HO-tel vs. ho-TEL, a difference that seems to manifest between east and west coasts. But this is not a difference in meaning. n0nChun and RegDwigнt have it right, at the top. And I believe I also have noticed that offence is used universally as a legal term, whereas offense is used universally as a hockey term. "Things legal" hold on to their British roots, law being a formal and conservative institution. –  wclay Nov 14 '13 at 13:44
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5 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

There is no difference in meaning between offence and offense. They're exactly the same in all their definitions. The difference is that offense is the preferred spelling in American English, while offence is preferred in British, Indian, Canadian, and Australian English.

These American publications use offense:

The veteran tight end never found a home in Mike Martz’s offense and was inactive for all but five games. [Chicago Sun-Times]

If people take offense at hackneyed phrases it’s because they’re hackneyed . . . [The Atlantic]

And these non-American publications use offence:

Both offences can exploit some areas that play to their strengths. [CBC]

Parents who fail to keep air guns away from their children will be fined up to £1,000 under a new offence from next month. [Telegraph]

Pulpit choice gives offence [Sydney Morning Herald]

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I'm not sure I agree with this. What about the use of offense in the realm of sports? As in, "The Milwaukee Bucks have a god-awful offense." I have never seen that usage spelled "offence." –  Uticensis Mar 17 '11 at 12:39
    
But as HaL points out, that usage is not customary in places that spell the word "offence". –  Colin Fine Mar 17 '11 at 18:04
    
Don't forget us kiwis..... –  Preet Sangha Dec 1 '11 at 12:23
    
@Billare: That's because no one cares about the Milwaukee Bucks outside the US. :P Seriously, the fact that a certain meaning of offense/offence exists only in American English doesn't mean that there's a difference in meaning between spelling variants. (E.g. if there's a usage of "colour" in some particular British context not applicable in America, it doesn't mean there's a difference in meaning between "colour" and "color".) In this case, the American sports meaning of "offense" is exactly the opposite of "defense", which holds the other side of the pond too: offence antonym of defence. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 7 '11 at 3:23
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There is a difference between "offense" and "offence" in the context of sports. In the United States, "offense" generally means engaging an opposing team with the objective of scoring points or goals. In the same context in Britain and elsewhere, the term "offence" is usually taken to mean an infraction of the rules - i.e., a penalty or foul - and "attack" is more likely to be used where Americans would use "offense".

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Strangely, I also hear them differently in those contexts. OFF-ense for the opposent of defense and off-ENCE for a foul. No idea why and I highly doubt it is correct. –  MrHen Mar 17 '11 at 15:54
    
@MrHen: I've heard that distinction too. –  Jon Purdy Mar 17 '11 at 18:26
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This is not really a difference. In American English, only the word "offense" exists, and is used in two meanings despite risk of ambiguity. In British (and elsewhere) English, only the word "offence" exists, and is used with only one meaning. There is no variety of English in which both "offense" and "offence" are used, so it's not meaningful to say that there's a difference between them (beyond the fact that they're used in different Englishes). –  ShreevatsaR Dec 5 '11 at 8:43
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Words change with time. Originally the British word was "offence", and Americans slowly took the word "offense". They both meant the same thing. We stress the last syllable when referring to breaking a rule, whereas we stress the first syllable when we speak about the opposite of defence. The fact that the last syllable is stressed when we speak about the opposite of offence is probably why people want to spell it like the common word "fence", whereas people are now using the term "offense" when they stress the first syllable. It's not always been that way. But languages are not defined by their histories, they're defined by the people who use them. Historical linguistics does not determine how people use a language currently.

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Who is we in "We stress the last syllable"? SE answers are always best when written from an entirely objective (eg third-person) point of view -- especially when dealing with regional differences of language. –  Andrew Leach Mar 4 '13 at 8:36
    
It's hard to speak objectively when there's no source to tell us how English is changing. Everyone I've met stresses the last syllable when referring to breaking a rule and stress the first when they refer to the opposite of defence. When was the last time you heard someone use the word in this fashion: "I don't want you to take OFF-fense to it". It's because offence is the root word of offended in this case and offended does not stress the "off". People use both pronunciations when talking about sports, but when we talk about something that offends we only use the term off-FENSE. –  Peter Mar 4 '13 at 14:26
    
Note also I spelled the two definitions differently, just because I think that doing so is useful and I welcome changes in language esp when they are useful –  Peter Mar 4 '13 at 14:28
    
So "we" is "Americans"? –  Andrew Leach Mar 4 '13 at 14:38
    
Yes, sorry, I didn't understand your point. Americans, yes –  Peter Mar 4 '13 at 14:45
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Offense is simply the American spelling of the word offence. Offence is the British spelling. They both mean the same thing. This is just one example of the difference in spelling words that end in "ence", in American English. You can learn about all of the words that involve this difference on the internet. For example, these pages have good explanations of it: http://www.tysto.com/articles05/q1/20050324uk-us.shtml and http://www.studyenglishtoday.net/british-american-spelling.html

There is a difference in usage. Offense is written by people who speak American English and by people that are writing mainly or only for an audience who speak American English. When writing mainly or only for an audience who do not speak American English, writing offense will not be necessary and will not be appropriate.

If you need to decide on which spelling to use, base your decision on your audience (who will be reading your writing).

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If you meant that something is offensive then the spelling is offense. If you mean that you are mounting an opposition then it is offence.

For instance, "I found his remarks concerning the president were a real offense". Or they "were offensive". "The ad company mounted a huge campaign to position the offence against their opponents."

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No, it's been clearly explained above that there is no difference. Unless you have a credible source for assumption I'm going to have to disagree. –  Matt Эллен Feb 21 '12 at 13:34
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protected by RegDwigнt Dec 10 '13 at 10:05

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