Spelling poses a major problem in English because it is not phonetic and because the rules that can be formulated nearly always have significant exceptions. In addition, there are hundreds of words that have variant spellings in different parts of the English-speaking world, the principal cleavage being between the United Kingdom and the United States. Partly as a result of our historical links with Britain and our proximity to the United States, Canadian spelling has tended to waver between the forms used in these two countries, so that, to this day, there is no clearly established Canadian standard.
While a list of words that have variant spellings in British and American practice would run into the hundreds and still not be exhaustive, the great majority of them fall into a few well-defined classes, as listed below. The British variants are given in the left-hand column, the American in the right-hand column:
|civilise, civilisation||civilize, civilization|
|organise, organisation||organize, organization|
|specialise, specialisation||specialize, specialization|
|colour, honour, favour||color, honor, favor|
|centre, fibre, theatre||center, fiber, theater|
|fulfil, fulfilment||fulfill, fulfillment|
|enrol, enrolment||enroll, enrollment|
|defence, offence, pretence||defense, offense, pretense|
|counselled, labelled||counseled, labeled|
|anaemia, encyclopaedia||anemia, encyclopedia|
|diarrhoea, oecumenical||diarrhea, ecumenical|
The recommended spelling authority is a reliable Canadian dictionary such as the Canadian Oxford or Gage Canadian Dictionary. It is important to choose one and use it consistently. Both publications are based on research into Canadian usage, contain specifically Canadian terms and reflect the usage of most federal government departments and agencies more closely than do American or British dictionaries. When they list two spellings for a word in the same entry, choose the one entered first. When two spellings are given separate entries, choose the primary spelling, which is the one followed by the definition (the variant simply refers the reader to the primary entry). For scientific and technical words not in Gage or the Canadian Oxford, check Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.
In light of these recommendations, use the following variant spellings: endings in ize, ization, our, re, single l (as in instil) and ce; single l in words such as enrolment; ll in travelled, etc.; and e for digraphs (exceptions: aesthetic and onomatopoeic).
Respect the official spelling of names of U.S. institutions, e.g. Department of Defense, Center for Disease Control.
The rules and lists of words given in this chapter are intended to supplement, not replace the use of the spelling authority you choose. The important point with respect to spelling is to be consistent in your written work unless a good reason exists for using variant or archaic spellings.
Spell-checking functions are now included in word-processing programs for use with computers. They can help you eliminate, at the proofreading stage, most of the spelling and typographical errors in a document. Especially useful are the "search" feature, which can instantly locate a specific combination of letters, and the "search-and-replace" feature, which can find all instances of a misspelled word or variant spelling and replace them with the correct or preferred form.
Spell-checking programs do have the following drawbacks:
Ewe bake two manly arrows.
would be approved by a spell checker for a sentence that should read
You make too many errors.
He do not understands.
would not be flagged.
instead of just
A variation of this command is required to cover specific occurrences such as honor followed by a period.
The following is a list of words that are often misspelled. The letters that are usually the object of the errors—through inversion, omission, doubling, addition or substitution—are in boldface:
Preferred spellings of terms have been established in National Standard of Canada CAN/CSA-Z234.1-89 for a number of SI/metric units and prefixes: deca (not deka), gram (not gramme), litre (not liter) and tonne or metric ton (not metric tonne).
In two cases the final vowel of a unit prefix is omitted: megohm and kilohm. In other cases where the unit name begins with a vowel, both vowels are retained.
Note that meter is the spelling for a measuring device, while metre is the unit of length.
Note also that the singular and plural of the following unit names are identical: hertz, lux and siemens.
Many words are misspelled because they are confused with similar-sounding and similarly spelled words which, in fact, have a different meaning. In the following list of word pairs (and one group of three), information is given in parentheses to indicate which spelling should be used in a particular context:
The jingle "i before e except after c or when sounded as a as in neighbour and weigh" covers the rule.
Supersede is the only verb ending in sede. Exceed, proceed and succeed are the only common verbs ending in ceed. Verbs ending in cede include the following:
There is no basic rule for these endings. However, if there is a corresponding word ending in ation, the ending is usually able or ative; if the corresponding word ends in sion or tion not preceded by a, the ending is usually ible or itive:
Double the final consonant before y or before a suffix beginning with a vowel in a word of one syllable that ends in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel:
Do not double the final consonant in a word of one syllable if the vowel sound is long:
Note that the preferred plural spelling of the noun bus is buses.
The final consonant is doubled in words of more than one syllable ending in a single consonant preceded by a single vowel, if the accent is on the last syllable and the suffix begins with a vowel:
Note that there is no doubling of the consonant in targeted and benefited.
When the suffix ness is added to a word ending in n, a double n is formed:
The final l is usually dropped when all is used as a prefix:
(see 3.05 Homonyms and similar-sounding words for differences in meaning)
The final e is usually dropped before a suffix beginning with a vowel:
However, when e follows c or g it is retained before the vowels a and o to preserve the soft sound of these consonants:
Note that the e is retained even before i in some cases in order to distinguish a word from a similarly spelled one or to preserve a particular pronunciation:
Words ending in a silent e generally retain the e before a suffix beginning with a consonant:
Abridgment, acknowledgment and judgment can be spelled with or without the e, but the preferred spelling is as given.
In words ending in a c that has the sound of k, add k before e, i or y:
In verbs ending in ie, change ie to y before ing:
In words ending in y preceded by a consonant, change the y to i before a suffix, unless the suffix itself begins with i:
Note the distinction between dryer (something or someone that dries) and drier (the comparative of dry).
Words ending in y preceded by a vowel generally retain the y before a suffix:
The following are the only common words ending in ise:
To this list should be added all words with wise as a suffix.
Note that the suffix ise cannot be replaced with ize in this group.
Use the suffix ize for most other words, including civilize, criticize, italicize, itemize, memorize and organize.
Note the following singular and plural forms:
Many other English words form their plurals irregularly, including some of those ending in y, o, f and fe.
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