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?

  • Defeat of deduct went over defense before detail. – oosterwal Mar 10 '11 at 23:50

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.

  • 14
    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 '11 at 18:18
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    +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 '11 at 18:25
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    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 '11 at 0:19
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    @AndyF: AmE distinguishes "DEfense" (the team or role, chiefly in sports) from "deFENCE" (other contexts, e.g. in "Defense of Fort McHenry") – Mechanical snail Jul 11 '12 at 19:00
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    @psmears: Am I misunderstanding your comment or are you suggesting that American usage prefers "practise"? because that is incorrect – User Oct 27 '15 at 23:14

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.

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  • 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? – Adrian Schmidt Feb 18 '16 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...")

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