I'm familiar with -se -ses -sation etc endings being British and the American equivalent being with z rather than s. However, I stumbled on the word "improvisation", which apparently can't be spelled with a z.

How can you know which words are spelled using 's' in American English?

  • 6
    Use a dictionary? – ghoppe Mar 4 '13 at 19:27
  • 1
    The first sentence is a gross oversimplication (and thus erroneous). At en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… , 'American spelling avoids -ise endings in words like organize, realize and recognize.[35] British spelling uses both -ize and -ise (organise / organize, realise / realize, recognise / recognize),[35] and the ratio between -ise and -ize stands at 3:2 in the British National Corpus.[36]' I've also found improvize / improvization in a dictionary, but this spelling does seem rare. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 '13 at 20:56
  • Here's a list ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_2007/ling001/ize.html It includes baptize, ionize, stabilize, penalize, etc, etc. For most words I Google, e.g. "baptise vs baptize" the results say z is for US, and s is for UK. – DarkLightA Mar 4 '13 at 21:15
  • Very strange. For most words I Google, e.g. "baptise" + "meaning", the results say z is for US, and z or s is for UK. Looking in the AHDEL and Collins respectively. Perhaps your source is less authoritative, though. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 4 '13 at 22:13

When Noah Webster was busy compiling his dictionary in America in the 1820's he wanted to make a clear break from the British spellings, as the Revolutionary War had occurred and America was now independent from Britain. This is how we get words that omit the 'u' - flavo(u)r, colo(u)r, etc. As well as centre/centre.

And the 'sation/zation endings that you ask about.

He didn't want to change the appearance/spelling of the word that much but make it distinct as well. And in the computer age most programs are auto set to USA spellings now.


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  • Webster also wanted to make a number of other changes, such as removing the final 'e' from 'infinite.' These didn't catch on, much to the relief of those who demonise him for his role in the BrE AmE split. – user867 Mar 5 '13 at 6:46

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