I am not a native speaker of English so I get confused when writing since there are sometimes two different spellings of words in English — by which I mean an American spelling and a British spelling.

Are there specific situations where one spelling is recommended over the other?

  • Could you give some examples? I think it depends. For example, you would not spell color colour in AE, but whether it is theater or theatre is less clear. Aug 13, 2015 at 14:50
  • @JakeRegier My situation is that I am supposed to write some literature reviews, research papers, etc. So I would like to know where to use which spelling/variant! I do not really have a specific example but I am simply looking for some general recommendations.
    – abdeaitali
    Aug 19, 2015 at 21:48

5 Answers 5


I'm from the UK, but will use US spellings in some contexts. Programming languages generally use US spellings, the HTML center tag or the CSS color property for example, and it can be a bit jarring to write stuff like "use color to set the colour". Another issue is that spell checkers are always either US or UK, so you end up with loads of red lines on correct spellings if you use a UK spellchecker to discuss code.

Generally speaking, you can use either UK or US spellings, even when addressing one or the other audience (I've never known anyone that objected); just be consistent.


Pick one and stick with it. Both are acceptable in just about any case, as long as you don't switch back and forth. The only time I could imagine it mattering is when submitting a literary or scientific piece that's required to be in a certain format.


It all depends on your target audience, whether it is British or American. Using British spelling for an American audience, or vice-versa, does look odd to your audience and detracts from the message you are trying to put forth.

  • What about theater and theatre? You will see both referenced in AE, although the latter spelling is BE. I've been told — but forget now — that the spellings differ in different situations (e.g., the building is the theater, but the performance is theatre — or vice versa, something or other). Aug 13, 2015 at 14:48
  • 3
    I wouldn't downvote this, but disagree. We read UK and US texts all day long and never even notice that we're doing it.
    – Carl Smith
    Aug 13, 2015 at 15:17
  • @CarlSmith: I must be the exception to the rule, then. When I see spellings such as "armour" and "theatre", it jumps right off the page at me.
    – Bob Stout
    Aug 13, 2015 at 18:04

You might want to consult Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage. In that book, he writes about conventional words and spellings in American English and British English. (For example, if you read American newspapers, you'll rarely see the world "whilst." You'll see "while.")


The -er/-re, -our/-or spelling differences (and many more) between English-English and US-English are a symptom of something quite different:

  • the most common phoneme in spoken English (South English, North English, Welsh, Scots, N American, Antipodean) is the "lazy vowel", written in IPA as a mirror-imaged lower-case "e", and named as "schwa": but few languages written in Roman-based scripts have a letter for it.

(Side-note: the lazy vowel is present in the Turkish alphabet as a dotless i, with comic side-effect that the upper-case of (dotted) i is a dotted I...)

So if we use ' as a syllable marker, "spectre/specter" is said as SPEC'Tschwa or (depending on the speaker, their mood, whether they are in a hurry, etc.) as SPECT'schwa, irrespective of location.

Likewise honour/honor said as HO'Nschwa or HON'schwa, irrespective of location.

The -er, -re, -or, -our endings are merely desperate attempts (at different places and times) to patch over that missing letter which should be in our alphabet, and which (since Roman times and probably before) should have been.

-er/re and -or/our are merely the two most common cases of this gap being painfully noticeable.

So the answer definitely is: spell the way your audience will expect. Unless you're sure they won't worry about this should-be-trivial matter: but even then, be consistent.

(-: As a Brit who lived in France writing technical documents to be used in the US, I have a greater problem - even now, decades later, each time I want the more common word for "hue", I have to ask "is it -or, -our, or -eur" today? :-)

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