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In British English, practice and licence are nouns while practise and license are verbs. This seems a very logical state of affairs.

In American English, practice is both the noun and verb and the same is true of license. Even more bewildering is the fact that the former ends with c while the latter ends with s.

How did the words come to be used this way in American English?

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American English simplifies a lot of spellings: cheque => check, armour => armor, programme => program practise/practice => practice, etc. –  Robusto Feb 6 '12 at 16:20
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The history of the spelling of words seems just as interesting and topical as other aspects of English language history. This question should not be closed; someone may well supply a great answer that shines some light on the process of spelling evolution. –  MετάEd Feb 6 '12 at 17:04
    
@MetaEd: Possibly. But firstly, imho it would be more appropriately addressed on linguistics.se. And secondly, I still think it's not really an SE-type question, since it doesn't admit of a single definitive answer for such a broad-ranging issue. –  FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 23:53
    
To me you seem effectively to be saying the evolution of a word's spelling can't possibly be answered with enough certainty to be topical, but the evolution of a word's pronunciation or meaning (etymology) can. Is this what you think? If not, why would the history of the spelling of an English word not be on topic here? –  MετάEd Feb 7 '12 at 0:20

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In British English, practice and licence are nouns while practise and license are verbs. This seems a very logical state of affairs.

In American English, pract*ice is both the noun and verb* and the same is true of lic*ense*. Even more bewildering is the fact that the former ends with c while the latter ends with s.

"State of affairs" likely exemplifies a misapprehension, somewhat. What is described as "more logical" is better referred to as a mere convention, nothing more. The (erstwhile more formal) British usage seems to place emphasis on analytical comprehension: the parsing of nuances in meaning in written exposition.

On the other hand, it is the representation of sound - that is well as the simplification of vocabulary acquisition - that takes precedence in American spelling - not surprising considering colonial, and then national, American development within a largely rural, self-reliant setting in relative isolation from the founding mother country and mother tongue.

Either way - either convention - is logical in its own right; remember also that in the new world, there existed no compelling reason to cling to "the old ways" (be they of custom or of education) as would be the case, even until today, in the British Isles.

It might also be said that such phonetic simplification of spelling and, with it, of primary education, was what led, for a time, to the U.S.'s becoming the world's most universally literate society.

As to what seems an anomoly as regards "practice" and "license," again...nothing out of sorts; and, again still, it's just another, albeit different, convention...this time to ensure (reliable reading into) familiar pronunciation. To see how, consider how the words, practise and licence would be sounded under American pronunciation convention:

  1. For the former, s becomes z sound, and the preceding (i) vowel sound changes from short to long;
  2. For the latter, c could be soft or hard sounding, so s resolves any pronunciation ambivalence.

Also, bear in mind the more egalitaring bent of mind that framed the American passage into modern nationhood, as opposed to the class structure that prevailed in England and which held sway both over societal/educational mobility and the language as well.

Finally, a just as compelling question might be asked, as to what happened in native English development - since the time to the great, royal, anti-continental, long-short pronunciation decree perhaps it was - that brought about dual spellings for essentially the same words. Might sound recorders, had they been present, reveal, for instance, that the noun and verb spelling conventions originated from different pronunciations...such that American pronunciation conventions today are, in actuality, a throw back...something Britons today ought to revere, not revile?

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protected by Will Hunting Nov 17 '12 at 6:23

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