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“Focussed” or “focused”? The double consonant

The rule that I learned was that when you have a short vowel in the last syllable, you double the last consonant before adding the ending. Thus "cut" becomes "cutting", or "beget" becomes "begetting".

According to this rule, "focus" should become "focussing". But the spell checker in my browser wants me to change that to "focusing". This bothers me because I would think that would be pronounced something more like fo-kyoo-sing.

I looked this up, and apparently the Brits follow the rule, but Americans don't. Any idea why? And what is the rule, then?


The American rule is that the final consonant is doubled only if the verb is stressed on that syllable and it is a short vowel.

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    So why isn't it "bussing" instead of "busing" when referring to school transportation? And I've always spelled focussing with a double S. Even Americans vary. – John Lawler Dec 29 '12 at 21:54
  • @JohnLawler As far as I can tell, busing in an irregular. I spell it focussing, too, but it is because I am old; I predate mechanical spellcheckers, which enforce a ridiculous ideal of US-vs-UK-ness everywhere. Bothers me. Makes people think there is only One True Way to spell a word. – tchrist Dec 29 '12 at 22:37
  • Ugh. Spellcheckers. – John Lawler Dec 29 '12 at 22:54
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    Interesting, and I don't doubt you; but is there some authority for this? – Tim Lymington Dec 29 '12 at 23:23
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    "The American rule" where do we find that? – Kris Dec 30 '12 at 8:15

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