I am American, and I always thought the difference between dialogue and dialog was one of meaning, the way Merriam-Webster has them listed:

2 entries found:

According to Merriam-Webster, dialogue means conversation, and dialog box means a window on a computer screen.

This is how I use/spell them.

However, at least some people see them as differences between British English and American English.

So my questions, I guess, are:

  • First of all, is my understanding, and Merriam-Webster's definition, correct?
  • Is dialog used with any frequency by Americans to mean conversation?
  • Is dialog not used in British English for the window on a computer screen?
  • Is there any other difference I'm not aware of, or perhaps a better explanation for the two versions?
  • 7
    As a speaker of British English, I would use 'dialogue' in all contexts. Feb 29, 2012 at 17:08
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  • 9
    @FumbleFingers I do not see how this is a duplicate of the question I linked to -- the questions are related, but neither the question nor answers are the same. In this case, a dictionary lists the two usages as having different meaning. In addition, you answered this question (and I upvoted your answer) -- why then ask to close it?
    – Nicole
    Feb 29, 2012 at 21:45
  • 14
    @BryanDenny - No! Not all dialogue boxes are modal. "Modal" means that opening the dialogue box disables other windows in the application. That is, clicking on the application window outside of the dialogue box has no effect. If you've got a non-modal dialogue box, then you can interact with the application window while the dialogue box is open. Most but not all dialogue boxes are modal.
    – user16269
    Mar 1, 2012 at 0:36
  • 1
    I'll note that BrE tends to use computer program, but to spell that word programme in other contexts. BrE often uses American spelling in computer-related contexts.
    – TRiG
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:30

7 Answers 7


The only real justification for seeing dialog as "American" is that there are many words where US spelling seems more "logical" than British - largely thanks to Webster, though so far as I know he never addressed this particular issue.

Paraphrasing grammarist.com's entry on another such word: all early editions of Noah Webster’s dictionary list catalogue, but by the 1890s catalog was commonplace in AmE texts (Webster often gets credit for changes he played no direct part in).

There aren't many written instances of dialog prior its rapid uptake by software-oriented writers, but here's one from 1910 Transactions and proceedings of the American Philological Association, where one might reasonably suppose the author to be perfectly literate.

I think it's just that on average people involved in technical writing are more inclined to ignore precedent and go for what seems to them the logical spelling. Consequently we see the short form much more often in computer contexts such as dialog box, leading many people to suppose there are in fact two different words involved (or at least, that the word has two different spellings dependent on context).

It seems to me usage is currently in a "transition phase", but most likely the shorter form will continue to encroach further into traditional, non-computer contexts, and will eventually be seen as standard for all contexts (but for most people, particularly Brits, this hasn't happened yet).

  • 3
    I think this is true for lots of -logue/log endings. Consider: catalogue/catalog
    – Jim
    Feb 29, 2012 at 17:52
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    I’m American, and I can’t think of any -logue word that I would ever spell -log. After all, it’s epilogue not *epilog. Ok, it’s Analog Magazine, but that’s a trademark. Similarly, the Ten Commandments are the Decalogue. There are real words ending in -log, like antilog and waterlog. They just aren’t related to λογος.
    – tchrist
    Feb 29, 2012 at 18:04
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    @tchrist As an American, I always write "catalog" and "dialog". thefreedictionary.com lists "epilog" and "analog" as alternative spellings. I'm not sure when I last wrote either "epilog" or "epilogue", but I always write "analog" as do people I've worked with. The ever-popular ngram says "analog" is more common in America -- books.google.com/ngrams/…, but put's "epilog" as pretty much unheard of in Britain and rare in the US. I always write "Decalogue", but now that you mention it ...
    – Jay
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:02
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    I am also American, and would spell many of those words with log. Incliuding dialog.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 1, 2012 at 15:57
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    @FumbleFingers You mean "tung". :-)
    – Jay
    Mar 2, 2012 at 16:08

I was surprised to discover that Americans do indeed use the dialogue spelling when talking about a conversation.

Using the American English corpus:

Ngram enter image description here

I search for "dialog with" here, because that's a word sequence that would only be used in the sense of "conversation with", and won't match "dialog box".

The graph for the British English corpus is very similar in appearance.

Historical data isn't very useful for a new concept like a dialogue box.

What we see for 2000 is:

  • Dialog box
    • American: ~0.00240%
    • British : ~0.00045%
  • Dialogue box
    • American: negligible
    • British: ~0.000050%

British people do use dialog, but usually it's when they're making concessions to American readers.

For what it's worth, my British spellchecker doesn't recognise dialog at all.

  • 2
    What exactly do you think you are proving by this use of Google NGrams? Adding "with" to the terms paints a very one-sided picture. Cf. dialog,dialogue. Sorry, but I have to down-vote this answer based on this issue alone.
    – Robusto
    Feb 29, 2012 at 17:18
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    @Robusto I added an explanation for that choice of phrase.
    – slim
    Feb 29, 2012 at 17:28
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    @Robusto What do I "contend to be true" which I claim to prove with the ngram? The ngram demonstrates that "dialogue with" is common in American English -- which surprised me because I had believed that "dialog" was the American spelling in all cases.
    – slim
    Feb 29, 2012 at 17:38
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    Hmm, Slim is trying to manipulate Google ngrams to ignore "dialog box". I don't know any way to tell ngrams "dialog but not dialog followed by box", and apparently Slim doesn't either, so he choose a phrase likely to be primariliy used outside an IT context. I don't suppose he himself thinks it "prvoes" a more general case, but it is indicative of which spelling is preferred. i.e. seems reasonable to me.
    – Jay
    Mar 1, 2012 at 14:53
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    @Roberto: What false positives??? There aren't any. Take a look at this Ngram and see if that doesn't convince you. Most of the increase in "dialog" is from "dialog box" and related meanings. Possibly a few more Americans are using "dialog" for the conversation meaning these days, but it's still predominantly "dialogue". Nov 20, 2012 at 13:47

OxfordDictionaries.com has a page on British and American spelling, where it has this note:

The distinctions here are not hard and fast. The spelling analogue is acceptable but not very common in American English; catalog has become the US norm, but catalogue is not uncommon; dialogue is still preferred over dialog.

Searching for dialog vs. dialogue in COCA bears this out; dialogue appears in print almost 18 times more frequently in US texts than dialog.

The Unabridged version of Merriam-Webster simply lists dialog and dialogue as being variants of each other.

I have seen both dialog box and dialogue box used in user interface specifications. I suspect that dialog is favored in both specifications and (especially) code simply because it's a couple of characters shorter.

(As you might suspect, UK texts do use dialogue box when referring to dialog boxes. Also note that ZDNet UK has a tech podcast that's called Dialogue Box.)

  • 1
    Interesting insights. As a speaker of American English, the pun in Dialogue Box stands out even more.
    – Nicole
    Feb 29, 2012 at 18:27
  • @NickC: Um, perhaps I'm just dense, but what's the pun?
    – John Y
    Feb 29, 2012 at 22:49
  • @John Y The podcast, like most, is a conversation between two people (dialogue), box is generic enough to fit, and/or could imply soap box. And, obviously dialog box makes sense since it's about tech.
    – Nicole
    Feb 29, 2012 at 22:53

As one of the people who named the Dialogue Box video podcast - and a programmer and writer for thirty years - I'd like to confirm the thinking that went into it. As far as we were concerned, 'Dialog', like 'Program', was AmE usage for 'Dialogue', like 'Programme', in BrE. The main UK usage for the AmE spellings was in IT, which had for a long time been dominated by US software - Windows, C, Unix, Pascal et al. As the US spellings were commonplace in the literature, and encoded in the grammar and syntax of programming languages and operating systems, they were used in this context to the practical exclusion of BrE alternatives and had been since some point in the 70s. So, Dialog Box would be the 'correct' use as there was no example of the phrase outside IT.

However, there were two of us in the videos and we were British - and there was going to be an element of interaction with viewers (readers? Users?), although that never transpired. So we decided to go with what we considered a mild neologism.


To your title question, there is no semantic difference between 'dialog' and 'dialogue'; they both mean a conversation. Specifically with 'dialog box' vs 'dialogue box', the latter is very rare.

To your specific questions:

  • yes, MW's definition is correct.
  • yes, Americans use 'dialog' to mean 'conversation' ('dialogue' seems to be more formal)
  • 'dialog box' seems to be by far the most common spelling in British English (see a questionable Ngram )
  • an explanation of the pair is a bit more involved. The '-logue' ending, coming from the Greek root for 'speech' is the source for a handful of English words: analog, catalog, dialog, epilog, monologue, prolog, travelog (plus a number of much less frequent terms). I have given these their most common current spelling in AmE; all used to be spelled with '-logue'. Just like other creations from Latin and Greek, difficult or unspoken spellings in English have been simplified over the years (e.g. 'anaesthesia' -> 'anesthesia'). Depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on, the simplification is sometimes used and sometimes not. In AmE, '-logue' seem to be in the middle of that process for some (dialog, catalog) and not at all for others ('monologue'). And for some modern coinages, even in BrE where '-logue' is more common, it is spelled much more commonly 'dialog box'.
  • 3
    Tsk - American's use dialog? Feb 29, 2012 at 18:42
  • @FumbleFingers: there's variation, but sorry, yes, it is very common. For the '-logue' words, as an AmE speaker/writer, I would use 'dialog' rather than 'dialogue' though sometimes depending on formality use the other, but always 'catalog'.
    – Mitch
    Feb 29, 2012 at 18:51
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    @Mitch Um, no: s’omething el’se appear’s to be wrong there.
    – tchrist
    Feb 29, 2012 at 19:03
  • 1
    Maybe he/she is referring to American greengrocers.
    – user16269
    Mar 1, 2012 at 0:41
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    @FumbleFingers Captain’s Logue, stardate 2767. The incidence of analogs, archaeologs, the Decalog, demagogs, dialogs, epilogs, grammalogs, homologs, ideologs, monologs, myriologs, pedagogs, philologs, polylogs, prologs, seismologs, synagogs, telelogs, theologs, and travelogs are all much increased in these parts. I suspect a transporter malfunction.
    – tchrist
    Nov 21, 2012 at 1:16

The first (1898) and second (1910) editions of Merriam-Webster's Webster's Collegiate Dictionary series list only dialogue as an acceptable spelling for that word. But the Third Collegiate (1916) has this:

dialogue, n. Also, Ref. Sp., dialog. ... 1. A written composition representing two or more persons as conversing or reasoning; as, Plato's Dialogues. 2. A conversation between two or more.

The odd-looking label "Ref. Sp." before the spelling dialog is short for Reformed Spelling. Spellings identified under this label reflected the efforts of the Simplified Spelling Board (in the United States) and the Simplified Spelling Society (in Britain) to simplify and rationalize (or perhaps I should say "rashonalize") English orthography.

Unlike its predecessors, the Third Collegiate included some Reformed Spelling recommendations as alternative spellings in the entries for words that the SSB and SSS (and allied organizations) wanted to change. But in the entries for words that had already two spellings, independent of the efforts of spelling simplifiers, the dictionary did not use the label Sp. Ref. Thus, the Third Collegiate's entry for catalogue looks like this:

catalogue, n. Also catalog. ...

And entries that the simplifiers didn't target—or those whose simplified forms evidently didn't gain any real-world traction—appear in the Third Collegiate without a variant-spelling option. Thus:

monologue n. 1. A dramatic part or composition for a single performer. ...


prologue n. 1. The preface or introduction to a discourse, poem, or performance; as the prologue of Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales"; ...

I did some poking around in the Third Collegiate and couldn't find any variant spellings other than dialog labeled Ref. Sp. (though I'm sure there must be others in that dictionary), so it appears that dialog is an unusual case where the variant spelling is arguably primarily attributable to the early twentieth-century spelling reform movement. Noah Webster had no hand in it: he died in 1843.

The Ref. Sp. label appears next to dialog in the Fourth Collegiate (1931), but vanishes from the Fifth Collegiate (1936), which offers this simpler presentation of the primary spelling and its variant:

dialogue, n. Also dialog.

The Eleventh Collegiate (2003), the most recent dictionary in the Collegiate series, retains essentially the same opening wording in its entry for the term:

dialogue also dialog n (13c) 1 : a written composition in which two or more characters are represented as conversing 2 a : a conversation between two or more persons; also : a similar exchange between a person and something else (as a computer) b : an exchange of ideas and opinions {organized a series of dialogues on human rights} c : a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution {a constructive dialogue between loggers and environmentalists} 3 : the conversational element of literary or dramatic composition {very little dialogue in this film writes realistic dialogue} 4 : a musical composition for two or more parts suggestive of a conversation

That opening wording "dialogue also dialog" indicates that either spelling may be used for any of the meanings that follow.

The Eleventh Collegiate is also the first in the series to include an entry for dialog box:

dialog box n (1984) : a window on a computer screen for choosing options or inputting information

The wording of the entry indicates that Merriam-Webster doesn't view dialogue box as a legitimate variant spelling for dialog box.

Merriam-Webster argues that writers may use either dialogue or dialog when referring to conversation between two people in person or in a script or when referring to a "similar exchange between a person and a computer, but may use only dialog in the term dialog box, which refers more narrowly to computer screen windows. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, fifth edition (2011)—which likewise has entries for "dialogue or dialog" and for "dialog box"—concurs with its rival dictionary on this point.

Nevertheless, it may be of interest to EL&U readers to know that at the computer magazine where I worked for many years, the spelling list included the following entries:

Dialog Information Service

dialog box

dialogue (referring to speech)

We maintained this strict distinction between dialog (computer-related interaction) and dialogue (human speech) throughout the 19 years I worked at the magazine—from 1995 to 2014—and our house rule may have gone back even farther. So at least one publisher did explicitly call for different spellings (as between dialogue and dialog) depending on the meaning of the term. In contrast, we used the spelling catalog for any sense of that word. (As of 2001, the Associated Press Stylebook called for dialogue and catalog, with no exceptions listed for either term.)


Since most of the early computer software, especially Operating Systems like Unix, Linux, Windows etc have been developed by people working in US (though not all were Americans), much of the literature referring to Computer systems and software, have spellings that are non-standard for British English. Since, most of the documentations, and even researches still dominated by American academia and industry, atleast in volume, such spellings have persisted in most parts of the world, whether formally respected or not.

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