I'm trying to figure out if there is a specific rule behind the word "cancel" that would cause "cancellation" to have two L's, but "canceled" and "canceling" to have only one (in the US).

I understand the rules are very loose when it comes to double L's in English, and I have read several posts on here talking about "canceled" and "canceling" (vs "cancelled" and "cancelling"), but my specific question is more about the spelling of "cancellation".

  • US English Oxford Dictionary - they do NOT mention cancelation with one "L"
  • Meriam Webster - they do seem to have cancelation listed with one "L"
  • Microsoft Word marks "cancelation" as an invalid word
  • Same with the spell checker in Firefox

So my question is: is there a reason or rule why in US English, "cancellation" seems to have two L's (to most dictionaries), while "canceled" and "canceling" does not?

  • 2
    Some Americans spell it cancelled and cancelling, just like signalled and signalling or levelled and levelling. Don’t believe the silly stuff that Microsoft or anybody else’s computerized spellchecker throws at you. The reality is that these things are not so simple, and that there is nothing wrong with doubling the consonant, even in America, even if dumb computer programs written by programmers who knew no better know no better.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 2:48
  • @tchrist thanks for the info. I have done a bit of of research in regards to the double L and although I am from the US, I don't have a real preference. My interest in this came from the necessity to use these words in my software (which specifically targets US users). It just seems that we have the option of using double or single L's with "Canceling/Canceled" but not so much with "Cancellation". Most dictionaries do not consider the single L as being an option (exception Miriam Webster I guess). Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 5:53
  • 1
    If you looked at the -elation words versus the -ellation words, they’re pretty distinct in origin and formation. I can’t think of any that admit both spellings.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 6:18

5 Answers 5


These words were all originally spelled with two l's (in British English, which is why the English Oxford dictionary will not recognize the single-L spelling).

Webster was one of the first to publish Americanized (more phonetic) spellings in his dictionary in the late 1800s (which is why you did find it in the Webster dictionary).

An American committee for simplified spelling published the Handbook of Simplified Spelling to record these changes in the early 1900s. One of the rules dictated that VERBS with double consonants, preceded by short vowels would drop their second consonant. Since cancellation is not a verb, the rule did not apply.

  • 3
    The OED would mention ?cancelation if it had references using that spelling. It does have examples with canceled however.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 6:15
  • 3
    A source for the statements of the second and third paragraphs would be nice.
    – pazzo
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 15:21

The simple answer is that cancellation is directly derived from the Latin cancellatio.

  • 1
    This doesn't actually answer the question, which has an accepted answer 3 years ago (we therefore assume it is solved). Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 8:54
  • 2
    @marcellothearcane It is perfectly acceptable to add additional answers after there is an accepted answer. Upvoted.
    – Nate Cook
    Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 13:04
  • @NateCook fair enough Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 14:29

The vowel before L in cancellation is unstressed, so its being spelled with double L isn't explainable in terms of the English rule of doubling consonants after stressed single short vowels. The doubling in cancellation is instead based on etymology, as Steve B's answer says. Many words with different etymologies, such as consolation, regulation, inoculation, circulation, correlation, are written with non-doubled L despite having the same stress pattern as cancellation.

Many words of Latin origin have double letters that aren’t required by any rule of English spelling or pronunciation: we spell them with double letters simply because of the etymology. Another example would be the double c in desiccation.

The original double L of Latin cancello was simplified to single L in English cancel, due to being at the end of the word.


Also consider syllable stress. I just read on Wikii that the original rule generally requires the doubling of the consonant (specifically a consonant following an 'e') ONLY WHEN THAT CONSONANT IS PART OF THE STRESSED SYLLABLE. For example, 'refer', 'referring', 'referral', or 'compel', 'compelling'. 'Cancel', however, is not stressed on that final syllable, and therefore in theory should not have the doubling of that 'l'. Hence 'canceled', and 'canceling'. So based on that, my guess is that maybe the American simplification mentioned above did not include the noun 'cancellation' because in this case that noun actually has it's main pronounced stress on the syllable containing the consonant in question, therefore requiring its doubling. Just a thought.

  • 1
    The stress in "cancellation" comes after the double consonant, though, not before it.
    – herisson
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 9:17

It should be pronounced with accent on the in the first syllable. With two L’s it looks like the accent is on the Cell.

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