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Cancelled or Canceled ? Which one is right?

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11  
Both. [US] canceled and [UK] cancelled. –  JoseK Jan 18 '11 at 12:33
4  
@JoseK: This should have been written as an answer instead of a comment. –  Kosmonaut Jan 19 '11 at 17:47

4 Answers 4

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The past tense of cancel is strictly cancelled in British English (BrE). In American English (AmE), however, it is spelled (BrE spelt!) canceled. Note that cancelled is also acceptable in American usage. There are many other verbs whose past tenses and present participles follow a similar pattern:

  • worship: worshiped (AmE)/worshipped (BrE) • worshiping (AmE)/worshipping (BrE)
  • travel: traveled (AmE)/travelled (BrE) • traveling (AmE)/travelling (BrE)
  • label: labeled (AmE)/labelled (BrE) • labeling (AmE)/labelling (BrE)
  • libel: libeled (AmE)/libelled (BrE) • libeling (AmE)/libelling (BrE)
  • devil: deviled (AmE)/devilled (BrE) • deviling (AmE)/devilling (BrE)

There are some notable exceptions in which the last consonant is always doubled in the past tense and present participle. Examples:

  • compel: compelled • compelling
  • corral: corralled • corralling
  • repel: repelled • repelling
  • refer: referred • referring
  • occur: occurred • occurring
  • demur: demurred • demurring
  • whip: whipped • whipping
  • fit: fitted • fitting

And there also those words whose last consonant is never doubled when forming the past tense or present participle. Examples:

  • differ: differed • differing
  • succo[u]r: succo[u]red • succo[u]ring
  • solicit: solicited • soliciting
  • gallop: galloped • galloping

A special example is the verb program[me]:

  • (AmE) program: programed/programmed • programing/programming
  • (BrE) programme: programmed • programming
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3  
Note that the examples in the second list (double consonant in both varieties) are all accented on the final syllable of the basic word; and those in the third list are not. –  Colin Fine Jan 18 '11 at 17:50
1  
Did you mean "worshipped"? –  Steve Tjoa Jan 19 '11 at 1:53
    
@Steve: Thanks! Edited to fix. –  Jimi Oke Jan 19 '11 at 2:41
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@Orbling: Indeedy! Wonky, isn't it, but you still come across it here and there? Not to mention that pro-gaming is gradually evolving into progaming! –  Jimi Oke Jan 19 '11 at 3:19
4  
Well, for program, the preferred (and by far most common) way is programmed and programming, even in American English. Like Orbling, I thought the single-m version was actually wrong, but it's listed as the alternate in Merriam-Webster. –  John Y Jan 19 '11 at 4:23

See the number of occurrences of cancelled and canceled from the American Corpus and British Corpus below. This supports what @JoseK wrote as comment to the question:

Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA):

 CANCELED   3746     
 CANCELLED  640

British National Corpus:

 CANCELLED 1194
 CANCELED   1
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Well we British certainly don't like the short form then! –  Orbling Jan 19 '11 at 3:16

The American system for forming the past tense of these verbs usually follows these rules:

  1. If the final vowel is long, leave a single consonant, as otherwise a double consonant would convert the vowel to short: reviled, amazed, completed.
  2. Else, if the stress is on the final syllable, double the final consonant, same as the British system: compelled, deferred.
  3. Else, if the final vowel is e, we leave it single: traveled, canceled.
  4. Else, it varies. For the vowels a and i, I think it's standard to leave the vowel single: kidnaped, worshiped. But to me that looks like it's a long vowel, and I think it looks better with the consonant doubled, which I believe is also acceptable: kidnapped, worshipped.
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When I was a kid in (American) school, I was taught that if the final vowel is short, double the consonant before adding -ed or -ing. This rule made sense to me as the resulting word then followed the usual rules for determining if the vowel is long or short. To my eyes, "canceled" should be pronounced "kan-seeld". This is the rule I followed until Microsoft spell-check came along and told me it was wrong. I see from Google ngrams that "cancelled" was more popular than "canceled" until circa 1985, so I wonder if Microsoft spell-check is, in fact, dictating the future course of the language! –  Jay Jan 23 at 15:52

It can be both, 'canceled and 'cancelled'. But to me, 'cancelled' looks way better than 'canceled'.

P.S.-Nice play on the words 'canceled' and 'cancelled'!!!!! Seems quite a tongue twister!

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