Blog de Comunicación Académica

Técnicas de comunicación académica en español e inglés como lenguas extranjeras

Realise or realize?

Why do some people spell words with “ise” while others use “ize”? Which is correct?

In the United States, words like “organize”, “realize”, “familiarize” and “colonize” are spelled with a “z”, and yet you will find the spellings “organise”, “realise”, “familiarise” and “colonise” in many books published in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. Spellings with “ize” are often regarded as American, because “ize” is the standard form in American English. However, “ize” spellings are also used by Oxford University Press and the Oxford Dictionary, and are sometimes known as “Oxford spelling”. The Oxford Dictionary defends this position by saying that words derived from Greek should follow the “z” spelling of the original language. Today, “ize” spellings are generally used in scientific publications across the world. However, “ise” spellings are used by many influential British institutions, including Cambridge University Press and many leading newspapers. In fact, “ise” spellings have become more common in British English in recent years, perhaps as a reaction against American spelling. The European Union also now uses “ise” spellings in its official documents.

Even if you prefer to use “ize” spellings, you should remember that some words which might seem to fit into this category are always spelled with “ise”, even in the USA and in Oxford publications, because they are not derived from Greek. These include words like: “advertise”, “advise”, “arise”, “compromise”, “devise”, “excise”, “exercise”, “incise”, “revise”, “supervise”, “surmise” “surprise” and “televise”.

It is also useful to note that many scientific words which end in “yze” or “yse” follow a different pattern. These words are always written with “yze” in American English, and “yse” in British English. Examples of this are “analyze”, “paralyze” and “catalyze” (USA), which are written “analyse”, “paralyse” and “catalyse” in all variants of British English.

If you are writing for a specific journal, it is a good idea to look at the style sheet or guidelines for authors, which will usually specify whether you should use British or American spelling, and in the former case, whether “ise” or “ize” is preferred. If no specific instructions are given, you should choose one type of spelling and keep to it throughout your paper. It makes a bad impression to mix two different kinds of spelling!

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British and American spelling

English spelling is difficult in itself, but to make matters worse there are two standard spelling systems, generally known as British and American spelling. When you choose the version of English that you use in Word, the program will automatically underline the words that are wrongly spelled. But it is still important to understand why those words are not right. Let us take a look at some of the main differences between British and American spelling.

Colour and color

In British English, some words end in “our”: labour, humour, flavour, colour, rigour, neighbour, candour. In American English, these words are written: labor, humor, flavor, color, rigor, neighbor, candor.

Theatre and theater

In British English, many words end in “re”: theatre, centre, litre, fibre, metre. In American English, these would be written: theater, center, liter, fiber, meter.

Defence and defense

In British English, some words end in “ence”, such as licence, offence, defence, pretence. In American English, these are written: license, offense, defense, pretense.

Analyse and analyze

British English users always write: analyse, catalyse, breathalyse, dialyse, paralyse. American users write: analyze, catalyze, breathalyze, dialyze, paralyze.

Travelled and traveled

Most of the time, when the final syllable of the root word is not stressed, the final consonant is not doubled when a suffix is added. However, in British English, the final consonant is always doubled if it is an “l”. So we write: travel, travelling, travelled, traveller, signal, signalling, signalled, signaller. American English is more logical, because the words ending in “l” follow the same rule as words ending in other letters: the last letter does not need to be doubled because the last syllable of the root word is not stressed. In American English it is correct to write: travel, traveling, traveled, traveler, signal, signaling, signaled, signaler.

Anaemia or anemia

British English preserves the “ae” and “oe” spellings used in classical Latin for scientific terminology: anaemia, haemoglobin, oedema, oestrogen. In American English these spellings are usually spelled with an “e”: anemia, hemoglobin, edema, estrogen.

Analogue or analog

The British English spellings analogue, catalogue, dialogue and monologue are sometimes maintained in American English, but sometimes the final “ue” (which is silent) is omitted. In American English it is quite acceptable to write: analog, catalog, dialog, monolog. Strangely enough, analog and catalog seem to be standard in American spelling, whereas dialogue and monologue are still found more often than their shorter equivalents.

The ise / ize difference is strictly speaking not a difference between British and American spelling: see ise and ize.