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We have been taught at school that when a word ending in "LL" helps form a compound word, "LL" becomes "L" (e.g. skill -> skilful). I have also come across the usage of this adjective as skillful (with double L's). I checked the NGram to see how the usage has changed over time, and it got me more confused:

Ngram of skillfull vs skilful

What is the correct form of skilful and similar words? Is there a definite rule or are both usages acceptable?

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Your graphs include 2 new terms which are ending with fuLL. I don't think it's correct. –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Mar 13 '12 at 23:44
    
...actually, now I'm confused. You haven't actually given a link to your NGram, and I can barely make out the precise letters of the two spellings, but if you really did have skillful I don't know what went wrong. British English used to be vague on this one, and both skilfull and skilful did occur, but we've pretty much fallen into line with American skillful now. My "British" Google Chrome keeps telling me I should be using skilful, but this is one case where I just know it's antiquated and wrong. –  FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 23:45
    
...the standard version everywhere these days is skillful –  FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 23:46
    
My NGram link: books.google.com/ngrams/… –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Mar 13 '12 at 23:47
    
oic - my confusion came about because I simply couldn't read the two choices. Gnawme is right, but I have to say this is one case where I disown my countrymen's spelling - I've always preferred skillful, and it seems likely to me everyone else will fall into line soon enough! –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 '12 at 0:00
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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It's largely an American vs British spelling difference, with Americans preferring skillful.

(Note that the British version of Macmillan says skillful is the "American spelling of skilful.")

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Google nGrams suggests skillful only fell behind skilful in American English since about 1925 –  Henry Mar 14 '12 at 0:45
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As Gnawme states, "skillful" is an American English spelling. However, "skilful" is not necessarily just British English :

For the adjective meaning "with skill or having skill", "skillful" is the preferred spelling in American English. "Skilful" is preferred in all other varieties of English.

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Your "British English" link cites three example non-US usages, one of which is Britain's Daily Mail. But it's somewhat undermined by the fact that when I went there and searched the MailOnline website for skillful, it produced me 5 pages, at 50 results per page. Admittedly, there are 50 pages for skilful, but it certainly goes to show the Daily Mail doesn't feel strongly enough about it to enforce consistency - which they could easily do if they cared at all. –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 '12 at 0:50
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...much the same ratio occurs in The Guardian, and in both cases I would expect the proportion of "US spellings" to rise noticeably every year. –  FumbleFingers Mar 14 '12 at 0:53
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