In British English vocabulary, most words with "z" are spelled with "s". For example, "capitalization" is "capitalisation", "industrialization" is "industrialisation".

But for some words, like "citizen", for example, it has a "z" instead of a "s". Why is this like this?

  • 8
    Your statement is incorrect. It is far too general; Kosmonaut correctly states that it only applies to suffixes (and some at that).
    – Noldorin
    Commented Oct 4, 2010 at 18:05
  • 28
    Why isn't television "televizion" in American English? Commented Oct 4, 2010 at 18:16
  • 3
    I'm no expert, but I'm wondering if your base postulate is chronologically accurate: from my perspective, in American English vocabulary, most words with 's's are replace with 'z's :)
    – Benjol
    Commented Oct 5, 2010 at 5:33
  • 14
    I went to an Italian restaurant recently. I had pissa and some fissy water. Then I went to the soo to look at the sebra.
    – Seamus
    Commented Oct 5, 2010 at 11:46
  • 4
    Just as a point of order, British people aren't citizens, they are subjects.
    – user774
    Commented Feb 23, 2011 at 10:24

2 Answers 2


There is a suffix that is written only as -ize in American English and often -ise in British English (but not always, as ShreevatsaR points out in the comments). This suffix attaches to a large number of words, thus the s/z alternation shows up in a large number of words. Citizen does not have the -ize/-ise suffix.

  • 10
    It would be redundant for me to add another answer, but let me note that both -ise and -ize are prevalent in British English. Wikipedia has two related articles: the one on spelling differences and Oxford spelling. Commented Oct 4, 2010 at 18:23
  • 5
    Nor does 'analyse', but Americans resolutely spell it 'analyze' (or do they also write 'analize' sometimes?).
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Oct 5, 2010 at 9:42
  • 8
    Analyze does have the -ize/-ise suffix, just a different spelling. From the OED: "On Greek analogies the vb. would have been analysize, Fr. analysiser, of which analyser was practically a shortened form, since, though following the analogy of pairs like annexe, annexe-r, it rested chiefly on the fact that by form-assoc. it appeared already to belong to the series of factitive vbs. in -iser, Eng. -ize ... to which in sense it belonged. Hence from the first it was commonly written in Eng. analyze, the spelling accepted by Johnson, and historically quite defensible."
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Oct 5, 2010 at 14:15

It's possible that the etymology of citizen is linked to that of denizen.

  • 10
    They aren't etymologically related, but the spelling of citizen was, in fact, influenced by denizen — only not the "z" part. It used to be citezein.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 23:00

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