How To Spell Renown

By Maeve Maddox

When I saw the phrase “world-renouned architect E. Fay Jones” in a local newspaper, I wondered if it could be more than a one-time typo, so I did a Web search to see if anyone else is spelling renown as renoun or renowned as renouned.

I wasn’t too bothered to find the misspelling renoun on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, but I was surprised to find it on university sites and in published books. Here are four examples from such sources:

INCORRECT: Dr. Angelillo had the distinct privilege to train under the auspices of Dr. Angelo Taranta, a world renoun Rheumatologist at Cabrini Medical Center in N.Y.C., The Hardcore Facts: What Every Athlete Needs to Know Today about Sports, iUniverse, 2009.
CORRECT : Dr. Angelillo had the distinct privilege to train under the auspices of Dr. Angelo Taranta, a world-renowned rheumatologist at Cabrini Medical Center in N.Y.C.

INCORRECT: World-Renouned Flutists Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway Perform in the Kimmel Center’s World Pop Mix Series—Lights up, Kimmel Center of the Performing Arts.
CORRECT : World-Renowned Flutists Sir James and Lady Jeanne Galway Perform in the Kimmel Center’s World Pop Mix Series

INCORRECT: Cap Jazz Series: An annual series featuring world renouned jazz artists that represent both traditional and contemporary styles.— Capilano University (Canada).
CORRECT : Cap Jazz Series: An annual series featuring world-renowned jazz artists that represent both traditional and contemporary styles.

INCORRECT: Prior to USC, Chef held positions as Executive Chef for SBE, the Royale Group, Innovative Dining Group & the world renouned Citrine in Hollywood, CA.—USC Hospitality (University of Southern California)
CORRECT : Prior to USC, Chef held positions as Executive Chef for SBE, the Royale Group, Innovative Dining Group & the world-renowned Citrine in Hollywood, CA.

The adjective world-renowned means “familiar to people all over the world.” It is hyphenated.

As a noun, renown is “the fact or condition of being widely known or talked about.”

Renown entered English in the 14th century from French. It entered the language spelled renoun, but by Shakespeare’s time it was spelled with a w. The spelling renown was well established by the end of the 17th century.

The OED’s most recent example of renown used as a verb is dated 1920, but I found one from 2014 on a poker site: “It was by the age 21, he renowned himself for his victory by entering as an amateur player, who made a record in winning the main event at the younger age.”

The use of renown as a transitive verb is defensible, but it sounds odd to me.

The OED mentions the use of renown as an adjective, labeling the usage “chiefly North American,” and provides citations from The Nebraska Bee-keeper (1893), Ebony (1965), The Nairobi Daily Nation (1989), and The Chicago Tribune (2008). Here’s the example from the Tribune:

The $50 million Crystal Bridges Museum was designed by renown Israeli-American architect Moshe Safdie.

I’m an American speaker and this use of renown in place of renowned strikes me as jarringly incorrect—Chicago Tribune notwithstanding.

Bottom line: The preferred spellings are renown, renowned, and world-renowned. And for all practical purposes, renown is not an adjective.

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4 Responses to “How To Spell Renown”

  • Elysia Brenner

    How funny, I just had to double-check the spelling of this word a couple hours ago! Only, in my case my brain kept wanted to add a k (reknowned). Now of course that looks quite weird…

    P.S. I agree with you, as another US native, about the renown as an adjective thing. Ick.

  • venqax

    I would question the credibility of any source that cited The Nairobi Daily Nation as an example of North American usage.

  • Mike

    It seems to me that if the word entered the language as ‘renoun’ and if it’s in fairly common usage as such today, then it is acceptable to use ‘renoun’ instead of ‘renown’. Furthermore, if the common English speaker understands both usages, then it follows that the common usage and understanding of the word supercedes the current version of the OED, and that this version of the OED is due for an update to reflect modern sentiments.

  • thebluebird11

    @Elysia: I thought the same way you did, about that K in there!
    @venqax: Definitely.
    That “renown” as adjective is just disgusting, at least to my North American ears. If you had said that people in Great Britain or Australia use it that way, I would say OK, it is just a continental difference, and I would suffer it. But if, as it seems, it is uneducated English speakers making this error, or even a typo (I can see this happening in voice-to-text), then that needs to be an absolute NYET and no allowance made for using it that way.

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