by John Kelly, Senior Research Editor at Dictionary.com
From March Madness and SXSW to birthday parties and spring break vacations, many gatherings, big and small, have been canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak around the world.
… or is it cancelled?
Now, spelling may seem like the least of our worries during these trying and unusual times, but many people are curious and still want to ensure their communication is clear.
So, which is correct: canceled or cancelled? Well, both are! Canceled is typically preferred in American English while cancelled is the standard in British English. Plus, it’s OK to use cancelled in the US, too.
Allow us to explain.
L vs. LL in American and British English
There are many areas of difference in spelling between American English and British English. One area is whether the letter L at the end of words gets doubled when adding inflections, such as -ed and -ing for verbs and -er or -or for nouns.
British English almost always doubles a final L. So, cancel becomes cancelled, cancelling, cancellation, and canceller. This pattern holds true in Australian, Canadian, and Irish English, as well as other forms of English used outside the US.
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In American English, the preferred style is typically not to double the final L—except in some instances where the final syllable of a word is stressed. So, cancel generally becomes canceled, canceling, and canceler.
However, cancellation is more frequent in American English than cancelation. And, in spite of any preferences and tendencies, double-L cancelled and cancelling are also very common and acceptable in American English. So, you shouldn’t get “canceled” if you spell it cancelled!
As noted, there are some words are spelled with doubled L’s in American English, especially when the stress falls on the final syllable. So, compel becomes compelled and compelling or the verb rebel, rebelled and rebelling, in American and British English alike.
Why are canceled and cancelled spelled differently in American and British English?
Spelling in the English language has historically been messy and inconsistent. Standardization really only took root in the past few centuries, with American and British English diverging in some significant ways along the way—thanks, in part, to two influential dictionaries.
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British English spellings have primarily followed spellings in Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1755. American English spellings were shaped by Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, first published in 1828. Webster was an advocate for many simplified spellings, including not doubling final, unstressed L’s.
What are some other examples of one L vs. two LL spellings?
Below are some other common examples where American and British English differ in doubling L’s. We’ve only included the most familiar and frequent derived forms for the following words, but note that there may be others (e.g., labeler vs. labeller).
American English: counseled, counseling, counselor
British English: counselled, counselling, counsellor
American English: fueled, fueling
British English: fuelled, fuelling
American English: initialed, initialing
British English: initialled, initialling
American English: labeled, labeling
British English: labelled, labelling
American English: marveled, marveling, marvelous
British English: marvelled, marvelling, marvellous
American English: modeled, modeling, modeler
British English: modelled, modelling, modeller
American English: quarreled, quarreling
British English: quarrelled, quarrelling
American English: signaled, signaling
British English: signalled, signalling
American English: traveled, traveling, traveler
British English: travelled, travelling, traveller
Can you think of more?