Is the only difference that in USA they write it with s and in UK they write it with c, or is there anything more?

  • 1
    Defeat of deduct went over defense before detail.
    – oosterwal
    Mar 10, 2011 at 23:50

4 Answers 4


That is the only difference, yes. The British National Corpus and the Corpus of Historical American English have the following usage stats:

            BNC    COCA

defence   11709     570
defense     207   59677

Wiktionary marks defence as Commonwealth, and The American Heritage Dictionary marks it as Chiefly British.

  • 16
    This is true for defence*/*defense, but it's worth remembering that for some other pairs (e.g. license*/*licence, practise*/*practice) American usage always prefers the "s" spelling, but British usage uses "s" for the verb and "c" for the noun. (It can helpful in remembering which way round the s/c go, if you notice that it's the same way round as advise/advice, which are pronounced differently and thus easier to recall!)
    – psmears
    Mar 10, 2011 at 18:18
  • 3
    +1 @psmears and I will throw in a few related links: License and licence, Practise v. practice, and Can “advise” be used with the definition of “advice”?
    – RegDwigнt
    Mar 10, 2011 at 18:25
  • 2
    I’m not confident enough in this to make it a separate answer, but isn’t there some difference in pronunciation? I feel like in BrE the first vowel is always unstressed and usually quite reduced, whereas in AmE, it can often be stressed and long, especially in some sporting contexts, and in any case is not usually so strongly reduced?
    – PLL
    Mar 11, 2011 at 0:19
  • 2
    @AndyF: AmE distinguishes "DEfense" (the team or role, chiefly in sports) from "deFENCE" (other contexts, e.g. in "Defense of Fort McHenry") Jul 11, 2012 at 19:00
  • 1
    @psmears: Am I misunderstanding your comment or are you suggesting that American usage prefers "practise"? because that is incorrect
    – User
    Oct 27, 2015 at 23:14

Advice / Advise, Licence / License are noun / verb pairs in BrE. The c or s endings denote whether the word is a noun or a verb. The reason in BrE why there is no word Defense or Offense is because the action of providing a defence is already taken care of by defend, same with offense" and offend. While one may advise by offering advice, or license a person by issuing a licence, one cannot defense a country, for example, by providing a defence - one defends a country. The 's' is still there in BrE with defence and offence in the forms - offensive and defensive so I would postulate that should there have been a need to have such a word defense in BrE, it would have been there. Side note: as an American it was excruciating writing all the ce endings and I have red squigglies all over my post!

  • Influence? Reference? Sentence? Compromise? Oct 24, 2020 at 16:17

No ... defense is usually used, traditional British, when it is an active role: "his defense of the woman was admirable..."; whereas defence is used where it is passive "his only defence was..."

However the lexicographers tend to change things without general announcements :) so whereas people of my generation used both spellings (active/passive) to allow for the adjective "defensive", the OED at 2002 does not acknowledge "defense" as anything other than the US spelling.

When it comes to general usage though, anyone over 50 in UK will tend to use as I have described. So don't judge.

Maybe the dictionaries should have a newsletter? :D Once people have been taught such basic spelling and grammar in primary school they tend not to check the dictionary every time.

  • 1
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    – user140086
    Jan 12, 2016 at 9:36
  • I have no sources to add, and I'm not a native English speaker, but this matches what I thought might be the difference when I decided to google for it (and ended up here), so I might have picked that up somewhere. It would be very interesting to see a source for this. Maybe there's some old grammar book that someone could quote or post a scan of? Feb 18, 2016 at 14:46

At school in the U.K., in the 1970s, I was taught that defense is used in an active role and defence is used when in a passive role, just as "Scanner" says, above. (No ... defense is usually used, traditional British, when it is an active role: "his defense of the woman was admirable..."; whereas defence is used where it is passive "his only defence was...")

  • 1
    Please add sources to support your answer.
    – JJJ
    Apr 20, 2018 at 17:25
  • I am in my late sixties and have lived my entire life in Britain. I never remember being taught anything about a different spelling of the word 'defence' depending on some grammatical distinction between active and passive. Since it is only verbs which can be said to have active voices, I don't think the terms active and passive can be applied to a noun. The examples that you gave didn't suggest that the action involved in the sentence was passive anyway. Oct 24, 2020 at 14:36

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