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What is the difference between license and licence? Are both variations accepted in US and UK?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 24 down vote accepted

In British English license is the verb and licence is the noun. American English uses license for both noun and verb.

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6  
I remember that the noun has a letter 'c' by thinking of how I can 'see' a licence ... 'see' = letter 'c', get it? –  Snubian Oct 19 '11 at 22:15
2  
I remember it by thinking about the difference in pronunciation between "advise" and "advice". –  Mal Ross May 14 '13 at 15:40

The Corpus of Contemporary American English has 10263 incidences for license and just 91 for licence. The British National Corpus, in contrast, has 4217 for licence and 333 for license. Of those, 129 were for noun uses of license.

From this we can say that in the United States, the spelling license is nearly universal and licence is virtually unknown (with a ratio of more than 100 to 1 in favor of license). In Britain, the spelling licence is much more common than license, but the more common spelling is only about 13 times more common, so license is a small minority but not unknown spelling.


Update Oct 15, 2014:

ngram

Here we can see that British use of "license" reached a nadir in the 1950s, but has been on a steady upswing since the 1960s. According to this graph, in recent years use of "license" accounts for about 1/3 of uses of both spellings in Britain.

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The figures for usage of the two correct spellings in British English might be misleading. The ubiquity of American English spellcheckers in most word processors that are used even in Britain would tend to encourage that. People's usage tends to creep towards the most commonly displayed version of a word. –  phil clowes Oct 15 at 14:28
    
@philclowes for what it's worth, the British National Corpus includes only published texts from 1980-1993, which is just on the cusp of when use of spelling checkers started to become ubiquitous. I'd wager that the bulk of the texts in the BNC was produced without the use of spelling checkers. –  nohat Oct 15 at 23:30

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