How can the difference between the chemistry words of valence and valency be described as a spelling difference when it makes them sound so different?

"In chemistry, the valence (US spelling) or valency (British spelling) of an element is the measure...."

"valence, also spelled valency, "

I don't normally hear of spelling differences changing how a word is pronounced. To me that's not just a spelling difference. That's a different word for the same thing.

Like in the USA they say Math and in the UK they say Maths, that's not a spelling difference.

  • I just use the hypernym 'variant': 'artefact' / 'artifact' // 'aluminium' / 'aluminum' // 'yoghurt' / 'yogurt' // 'geysir' / 'geysir' (pronunciation differences) .... Dec 11, 2022 at 16:47

1 Answer 1


Here are the relevant usage charts. First, American...

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...showing that Americans have consistently massively favoured valence (always two syllables when spoken). Compare that to the British corpus...

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...where we only reluctantly started to toe the AmE line long after WW2.

To sum up, I wouldn't trust that Wikipedia assertion. The Britannica cite is just a clumsy slip (the actual word spelled shouldn't be present at all!). But I'm afraid the Wikipedia text looks more like ignorance than a "typo" to me.

The full OED definition 3 for valence says it's "equivalent" to valency (always three syllables when spoken!). The only references to U.S. on the OED's definition pages for both words concern the fact that AmE pronounces them slightly different to BrE. But not as regards that final vowel on valency - which everyone pronounces, if that's the word they're using.

  • Google Ngrams does a very poor job of distinguishing AE and BE as can be seen in the BE search for "color,colour" in which there should be no "color": books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Greybeard
    Dec 11, 2022 at 11:56
  • It doesn't really matter if 20-30% are "misclassifed" (but I'm sure it's nowhere near that). The UK/US usage difference is so extreme (more accurately, was so extreme) that the point is made well enough. Dec 11, 2022 at 15:45
  • ..besides which, apart from the last decade or two (where "globalisation" and the Internet will doubtless have blurred such distinctions considerably), I'd say the relative prevalence of the AmE spelling in the BrE corpus is very low. My browser claims to know I'm using BrE, but it's complaining about how I've spelt "globalisation". (At least it's not moaning about me writing spelt instead of spelled! :) Dec 11, 2022 at 15:52

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