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Is there a standard rule for the choice of the letter, or, does it have something to do with how the words evolved from the root words to the current words in the specific case? (This is referring to American English versions of the words, although I wouldn't mind the British answer as well)

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  • I think the British spelling is defence. Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 22:55
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    I was editing to add that as you were making your comment. :)
    – user52470
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 22:57

1 Answer 1

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Defense is AmE while defence is more common in all main English dialects. The origin is from Old French defens (without the final e), which was later assimilated into defense, but not before it inspired the alternative spelling defence, via the same tendency that produced hence (hennis), pence (penies), dunce (Duns).

Evidence is from Old French "evidence" where the suffix was and remained -ce.

(Etymonline)

  • Defence and defense are different spellings of the same word. Defense is preferred in American English, and defence is preferred in all other main varieties of English, including Australian, British, and Canadian English. The spelling distinction extends to most derivatives of defence/defense, including defences/defenses and defenceless/defenseless. But the words defensive, defensiveness, and defensively have an s everywhere.

  • Though defense is now the American spelling, it is not American in origin. The OED and Google Books reveal examples of the spelling from as long ago as the 1300s, many centuries before the United States existed. That spelling continued to appear a fraction of the time through the 19th century, when it was taken up by American writers. Today, to the chagrin of those who dislike American English, the spelling is gaining ground throughout the English-speaking world.

(The Grammarist)

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    Thank you for the information about defense, but I ask for it in contrast to the word evidence.
    – user52470
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:02
  • Evidence is never spelt/spelled with an s, but defense can be. How come, is the OP's question. At least in the question title....
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:11
  • Yes it is in the title, the question was why evidence is spelled with a "c" and defense is spelled with an "s".
    – user52470
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:18
  • @user52470 - I added the relevant information. Hope it is clear.
    – user66974
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 23:20
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    Please remember some East or Central European languages have 5 or 6 different characters which are all supposedly represented by English 'C' and that doesn't include their 'S' or 'Z' sounds… Consider how important suffixes like '…ice' or '…ish' are in English. Combine that with different origins on English, such as Celtic, British, Germanic, Danish, Latin, French… After all that, why would anyone wonder about variant spellings for variant sounds? Commented Mar 7, 2017 at 1:11

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