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Spelling: -ize or -ise?

spelling

Is it -ize or -ise in English?

Most translators and editors work on the basis that the -ise suffix is British and -ize is American. So we have realise/realize, advertise/advertize, analyse/analyze, as well as the derived forms realisation/realization and so on.

As usual, the reality is more complex. Here are some things which upset the simple rule:

  1. There is no rule that British spelling must use -ise in words like “realise”. Pick up any book published by Penguin, for example, and you’ll find they standardise on -ize. The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) prefers and recommends -ize, with -ise as an optional alternative, but in practice a majority of Brits (and Australians) use -ise.
  2. Just as Brits tend to assume -ise is always correct, Americans tend to assume -ize is the only form for them. In fact, the following have -ise in all cases, in both Britain and America (check with www.merriam-webster.com if you don’t believe me):
    advertise
    advise
    affranchise
    apprise (inform)
    arise
    braise
    chastise
    circumcise
    comprise
    compromise
    concise
    demise
    despise
    devise
    disfranchise
    disguise
    emprise
    enfranchise
    enterprise
    excise
    exercise
    expertise
    franchise
    guise
    improvise
    incise
    merchandise
    misadvise
    misprise
    mortise
    practise
    precise
    premise
    prise (open)
    reprise
    revise
    seise (legal term)
    supervise
    surmise
    surprise
    televise
    treatise
  3. (from Judith Butcher, Copy Editing for Editors, Authors and Publishers: The Cambridge Handbook, Third Edition, 1992, p. 160)
  4. There are a few words where -ize is obligatory too, such as capsize, size, seize and prize (when it means “appraise”).
  5. Curiously, this means that if you use -ize for the cases which are optional in Britain and -ise for the obligatory ones in both countries, you end up with spelling which is acceptable on both sides of the Atlantic.
  6. We tend to assume that British spellings are older than American, and that it was Noah Webster who instigated changes such as colour/color, draught/draft. But in this case it’s the -ize forms which are traditional, (via Greek and Latin) and it was Britain which changed over to the more French-looking -ise forms in the last couple of centuries.

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