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I rarely use spell checkers, but today when I did use one, it suggested changing the word 'useable' to 'usable' (i.e. to drop the first 'e'). This seemed immediately intuitive and I thought I'd just made a typo, but at second glance I wasn't so sure.

I haven't been able to find anything definite, even after searching this site, which surprised me a little. I've searched dictionaries and most seem to have "useable" as an alternate spelling of "usable" or simply link to it. But since my first instinct was to write "useable", I'm wondering whether "useable" is perhaps preferred in British/Australian/NZ English while "usable" is more American. This site seems to suggest the latter, but claims that both are used in British/Australian/NZ spelling. Or is "useable" perhaps simply a more archaic form that is less popular nowadays?

Could anyone shed some light on this?

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I get this same kind of thing with judgment vs judgement. I'd guess there are other words, too, with this "vanishing middle e". –  J.R. Jun 2 '12 at 10:05
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@J.R. I think this one has to do with the long vowel, as in biteable, blameable, cueing, dyeable, dyeing, hikeable, hireable, hoeing, likeable, queueing, saleable, shakeable, sizeable — many of which admit a form without the e. It’s not like acknowledgeable, acknowledgement, adduceable/adducible, ageing, enforceable, judgement, singeing, traceable, whingeing, where the e may also serve to retain the “soft” c/g sound. You don’t actually need it with -ing, but singing/singeing are distinct. It persists in ageing in some spelling, this time maybe for the “long-vowel” sound. –  tchrist Jun 2 '12 at 16:19
    
You should not consider useable as a British variant. I am British and would never spell it any other way than usable. My (British) dictionary does however suggest useable as an alternative spelling. –  WS2 Jan 28 at 21:50
    
@Tchrist: I fail to see how your examples advance your argument. There are long vowels in your second list as well as in your first. You do have a good point about retaining the consonant sound. And you almost hit upon the most practical rule when you mentioned "singing" vs "singeing"; namely, if it would cause confusion to leave out the E, then leave it in. Thus: hikable, hirable, likable, salable, sizable. –  Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 at 5:19
    
Words that don't have a consonant in final syllable (cue, hoe, etc) are a whole nother animal. You can't replace the final E from any of those with I or A, because it creates a new vowel combination (oa, oi, ua, ui) that can admit alternate pronunciation. –  Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 at 5:22

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

When you switch to the World English version of Oxford Dictionaries Online, their definition of usable has this little "spelling help:"

Usable can also be spelled useable, with an e in the middle: both are correct.

The US version simply lists useable as an acceptable variant of usable, and omits the side note.

Etymonline shows usable as being derived from the Old French usable. It further notes that the word was "not common before c.1840," so it would seem that useable is not an "archaic form" that fell into disfavor.

I would guess that useable came to be an acceptable variant because of standard usage. I would note, however, that some dictionaries do not list useable at all.

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Thanks Gnawme, I'll stick to using "usable" then. It seems it's more common everywhere, even if the case is not as clearcut in BE as it is in AE. Still wondering why my first instinct was to write "useable", but I'll get over it ;-) –  Amos M. Carpenter Jun 4 '12 at 9:10
    
I have the same 'instinct' with useage, which is not an accepted variant of usage. (For some reason, usage looks truncated to me.) –  Gnawme Jun 4 '12 at 16:57
    
Is that you-siege? or You-segue? –  Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 at 5:54
    
You-sausage.... –  Gnawme Jan 29 at 6:42
    
and your usernam... Is that ga-nommie—as in a yard ga-nommie? –  Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 at 7:01

Another answer has already mentioned how usable and useable are treated in different dictionaries; in this answer I say nothing of that, and only address relative frequency of use. Ngrams for usable,useable in both the American English corpus and in the British English corpus show that since the late 1800's usable has seen frequency of use 8 to 10 times higher than that of useable. (Earlier usage ratios are undependable because of the small number of instances, and because many or most of ngram's early instances for usable are bogus, caused by mishyphenation of words like excusable and confusable.) That is, current usage in both American English and British English strongly favors usable over useable. Of course the case may differ in Australia or New Zealand.

The onlinegrammar.com.au source mentioned in question offers usable vs. useable as a specific example of suffix -able vs. suffix -eable, saying "Both are used in Australian, New Zealand and British English. American English uses -able." That observation may remain true even if the site has picked a bad example in usable vs. useable.

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That’s not quite accurate. Some words ending in -e retain their whilom-final e when adding -able even in typical American spellings: agreeable, dyeable, giveable, hateable, hireable, ropeable, saleable, seeable, sizeable all come to mind, and surely there are others like those. Certain others admit some variation of the “with and without -e-” variety, and many more are always without -e-. It isn’t at all so cut and dried as your source would portray it. –  tchrist Jun 2 '12 at 16:26
    
@tchrist, if I understand correctly what your comment applies to, you are saying that onlinegrammar.com.au's assertion, "American English uses -able", is wrong. I don't know whether you mean the claim is too broad to be always true, vs. being not generally true. –  jwpat7 Jun 2 '12 at 16:32
    
I mean that the claim is too broad. –  tchrist Jun 2 '12 at 18:07
    
You're probably right about them picking a bad example; I just came across it because I was looking for sites that might answer my question. Thanks for the interesting ngram links, I've upvoted your answer, but will be accepting Gnawme's. –  Amos M. Carpenter Jun 4 '12 at 9:02
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@Mechanical snail: 'sizable' and 'salable' look like misspellings to me though. –  Edwin Ashworth Oct 31 '12 at 9:56

The "Dropped e" section of Wikipedia in the British and American spelling differences article suggests that "American practice prefers to drop the -e but both British and American English prefer [...] usable".

They cite the British National Corpus as their source.

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I suggest that one reason that Americans drop the E in many -able and -ing words is that in general, American spelling favors dropping UNNECESSARY letters. As several posters have pointed out, sometimes it is necessary to keep the E, to retain pronuciation of a consonant, and/or to avoid confusion with a similar word (singing VS. singeing). Usually, it is not. Which is why "useable" is considered at best an alternate spelling for "usable"; namely, there is no confusion either in the meaning or the pronunciation of "usable".

The useage(sic) of, or rather the incidence of useing(sic) "useable" in the AmE corpus had its greatest increase in the 1970s. That it is now up to 1/9 the frequency of "usable" is not due to any dramatic increase in "useable", but due to a surprising drop in "usable", which seems to have reached its peak in the 1940s. (Makes me wonder what has taken its place.)

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One thing that happens when enough people start "useing" an alternate spelling is that some try to invent a semantic difference. For example, since "sizable" can mean "very large", some in the computer field argue that "sizeable" should be used to refer to screen objects that can be RE-sized. (Why they don't just use "re(-)sizable" is a mystery.) Likewise, in some social-sciences contexts, "ageing" is now used to refer to elderly people, but "aging" is still used to refer to wine or cheese. –  Brian Hitchcock Jan 29 at 6:30

protected by tchrist Jun 10 '14 at 19:58

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