As for the British English it's always taught - compel, compelled, compelling

Some of the books/dictionaries say that in American English you say compel, compeled, compeling instead, you simply don't double that l.

Moreover, Merriam Webster (11th Collegiate) doesn't mention "compeled" at all. With counsel - both options are listed.

Interestingly, ngram doesn't indicate much usage of "compeled". On the other hand, "counseled" is more popular than "counselled" in AmE

How is it really in American English?

  • 3
    The key part of your question is the word "really". You know the dictionary prescriptions; you know the usage statistics; what source do you want one to cite to answer how it really is in American English? – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 4 '14 at 19:08
  • 2
    What books say "compeled" is acceptable in American English? They are wrong. Rule: in British English, double the 'l'. In American English, double the 'l' if the last syllable is stressed. So "counseled", but "compelled". (This rule isn't as strange as it looks: it's the rule used in both American and British English if the word ends in many other consonants, including 't', 'd', 'p', 'b', 'r', 'm', 'n'.) Merriam-Webster probably includes the alternative counselled because some people (even Americans) use the British spelling. – Peter Shor Nov 4 '14 at 19:22
  • ArmenԾիրունյան: for instance, what native speakers say? Or maybe I know something wrong? Peter Shor: Thanks! – marmistrz Nov 4 '14 at 20:07
  • I might have well overinterpreted the rule. I don't remember the exact source. – marmistrz Nov 4 '14 at 20:15
  • 1
    I'm still waiting for you to give examples of 'Some of the books/dictionaries [that] say that in American English you say compel, compeled, compeling instead'. How do we know whether your question has substance? You may be making a false claim (which would render the question unacceptable here). As Araucaria points out, a simple rule does not hold governing the spelling of such words; perhaps you've assumed that there was one. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 5 '14 at 10:34

A rule of thumb guide for consonant doubling before suffixes is this:

If the last syllable of the root is:

  1. stressed
  2. ends in: consonant vowel consonant

we usually double the final consonant before the suffix. There are some letters that we don't generally double before suffixes. The most important are 'w' and 'y'. The letter 'l' is not one of these letters:

  • be'ginning
  • 'lagging
  • in'ferring
  • ex'pelling

Above we see four words whose roots have stressed final syllables. As they all have a consonant/vowel/consonant ending, the final consonant is doubled. This also occurs with the verb expel in both British and American English.

Note this does not happen with most words if the final syllable is not stressed. In other words if condition (1) is not satisfied:

  • 'listening
  • 'offering
  • 'coloring

In the examples above there is no doubling of the final consonant.

However, traditionally, in British English, but not American, we have a rule for doubling double root final 'l'. If condition (2) above applies, whether the syllable is stressed or not, we double final 'l':

  • 'travelling
  • 'pummelling
  • 'counselling

[It should be noted, however, that some American style spelling is now an acceptable alternative for some British words. So you can also find 'pummeling' for example in texts using British English.]

  • The 'rule' seems not deserving of the name. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '14 at 22:21
  • @EdwinAshworth Yes, there's loads of exceptions such as compound words eg: hiccupping etc. Are you thinking of any particular exceptions? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '14 at 22:35
  • I'm thinking that 'The rule for consonant doubling before suffixes is this:' needs toning down to 'A rule-of-thumb that often works to predict the occurrence of consonant doubling before suffixes is this:' – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '14 at 22:51
  • @EdwinAshworth yes, I already had something more like that. Then I started to put in the exceptional rules and then it all got a bit long so I restarted. I'll probably do that - but I'd be interested to know what exceptions you're thinking of? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 4 '14 at 22:53
  • You offer a lot of exceptions, or tweakings of rules, yourself. Focusing and focussing, busing and bussing, biasing and biassing, clarinetist and clarinettist, counselor and counsellor show that any 'rules' are, at least on occasion, arbitrary. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '14 at 23:33

You won't find compeled in the American Heritage Dictionary, Webster's New World College Dictionary, or ODO's US English corpus, either.

The Corpus of Contemporary American English, which samples published texts from 1990–2012, returns zero matches for compeled versus 2651 for compelled.

For that matter, it also returns zero results for expeled (vs. 2057 for expelled), zero for repeled (425 for repelled), and zero for impeled (367, impelled). There is one result for propeled, but that is almost certainly a typographical error, as propelled is used in every other instance by the same publication (the San Francisco Chronicle), and a total of 1648 times in the corpus.

The Google NGram for these forms suggest the double-L version has always predominated in American English, so it is not even a matter of one form losing popularity over time. Either your books are wrong or you have misinterpreted them.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.