Program vs. Programme

By Ali Hale

One of our readers wrote to ask if we could clarify the difference between program and programme.

The Noun: Program or Programme?

The basic difference is between different languages:

  • American English always uses program
  • British English uses programme unless referring to computers
  • Australian English recommends program for official usage, but programme is still in common use.

The word “program” was predominant in the UK until the 19th century, when the spelling “programme” became more common — largely as a result of influence from French, which has the same word “programme”.

So, if you’re writing in British English (either as part of an examination, if you’re studying English, or for a British publication), here’s some examples of how to use programme and program correctly:

  • We’re still drawing up the programme for the concert.
  • This computer program won’t run on my PC.
  • I missed my favourite television programme last night.

The Verb: To Program, Programmed, Programming

The word program is also a verb, as in “I’ll program the computer today.” In this case, both American and British English use “to program”.

These forms are also valid in American English:

  • programed
  • programing

But the Oxford English Dictionary recommends the double-m instead, which is in far more widespread usage:

  • programmed
  • programming

If in doubt, and writing for a publication, check whether or not they have a style guide or a rule on which form of the verb to use. When you’re writing for yourself, just make sure you’re consistent.

YouTube video: Program vs. Programme

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112 Responses to “Program vs. Programme”

  • Nigel

    Well that was an interesting read. My take on this is simple and hopefully logical. Program is just word for a set of rules to automate a process. Programme is a logical group of related activities. Having two words with distinct meanings allows unambiguous communication. We have enough examples of the same word meaning two things so let’s not propogate the problem.
    And as an aside…in relation to comminucation did you know taht as lnog as the frist and lsat letter of each wrod in a setnence is correct, the meainng will be undretsood.

  • AJ

    So let me get this straight. The word in English was originally ‘program’ then was changed to ‘programme’ after being influenced by the French, but the traditionalists are arguing that ‘programme’ is British English and that ‘program’ is a bastardised version influenced by spelling in the ‘New World’.
    I think I need to buy a booke on English from a shoppe.

  • thorinii

    As an Australian, I’d spell it travelling, but often pronounce it TRAVling…

  • The Dude

    From my time studying the origins of computer science, I believe the Cambridge educated Alan Turing, arguably the father of modern computer science, spelt the word “programme”. Ergo modern parlance, even in the British isles is a bastardisation of the English language through New World influence.

  • venqax

    Sean: In SAE there is a little-known rule that when adding suffixes to multi-syllabic nouns ending in a single consonant and having emphasis on their first syllable you do not double the consonant:

    travel traveled traveling
    model modeled modeling

    But when the emphasis is on the second syllable, you do double:

    patrol patrolled patrolling

    control controlled controlling

    excel excelled excelling

    By this rule, program would issue programed and programing. However, there seems to be an exception to this when failing to double the consonant might lead to mispronunciation of the resulting word because it would indicate a long vowel. With most consonants besides L, the doubling of the final letter seems necessary to preserve the root-word’s pronunciation. E.g. the spelling programing would be typically pronounced with a long A– progrAYming– because Ms are usually doubled when adding a suffix regardless of emphasis. Because of this last point, programmed and programming would seem to be the preferred renderings.

  • Sean S.

    I’m arriving late to this party, but I’d just like to throw in that I had never seen the spellings “programed” or “programing” (with the single ‘m’) until I read this article just now. I’ve lived in the US all my life and worked as a computer programmer for over 20 years. I had to Google it to make sure those spellings even exist; apparently they do, but they just look wrong to me. So, to anyone learning English, I would advise always using the double-m when adding -ed or -ing.

  • venqax

    In the USA, at least, you participate IN a program, never on one. I’ve never even heard that before. And programs are never programmes. That last is, I believe, a spelling directly lifted from French and really of no historical validity OR necessity in English.

    Jenny, it’s funny to an American that you did a double-take at “programme”, which I often see and simply pass over as a Britishism, while I get stopped by *misspelt*, also a British thing but one I encounter much less often and that looks strikingly strange to my eyes. (SAE. misspelled).

  • ka

    Do you participate ‘in’ a program or ‘on’ a program?

    Eg.
    Natalie is participating in a driving program
    or
    Natalie is participating on a driving program

    I’m English, now living in Australia, and I’m constantly getting my reports corrected for what appears to be colloquial errors, rather than grammatical errors.

  • Peter

    As a poor outsider (German), my preference is really on the American spelling. The British version originates from French, and there the spelling rules (:-)) match the French pronunciation. The spelling ‘programme’ indicates a pronunciation like programmee (with a i sound at the end), so English pronounciation rules (:-)) (or what little I know of them) would support my preference. Hence my recommendation: You British, you better start tidying up your vocabulary.

  • Jenny

    I’m Australian and only ever encountered the ‘program’ version full stop.
    I was therefore suprised at my new job at age 50! ( a UK based Co ) to start seeing ‘ programme ‘ version in their documents for the first time and watching Aussies just copying it without any reflection – as I saw personally as ‘ mispelt ‘ immediately. So I have changed all the Australian Print documents for this Co to ‘ program ‘…………………don’t get me started on jail vs gaol. LOL

  • Brian

    Speaking from my project management experience in Canada (my home), the USA, Australia, the UK and Hong Kong, the first three all use Program to refer to a group of related projects. But my observation in the UK and Hong Kong is that they use Programme to refer not only to a group of projects but also to a project schedule – as in “can I see the programme”. So I prefer the unambiguous Program!

  • venqax

    Yeah, it’s hard to imagine a UN Secretary General from Cuba, because it’s small. That’s Cuba’s problem. Too small a population for international respect. Same with North Korea. Just too small. And small colleges, too.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Speaking of the United Nations, did you know that there is a rotation system for choosing the Secretary General from the various continents, but North America is not included?

    Since this rotation got started, we have had Secretaries General from Sweden, Austria, Egypt, Ghana, Burma, South Korea (the present one), and Colombia. It looks like South America is next one the list.

    The Secretary General is never chosen from one of the Big Five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia (USSR formerly), or China.

    This excludes most of the population of North America, leaving only Canada, Mexico, the Bahamas, and the small countries and islands of Central America and the Caribbean Sea. Pierre Trudeau of Canada would have made a fine Secretary General, but he never had the chance. Probably, he was too busy with important problems in Canada, anyway. I don’t think that the other countries that I mentioned have produced a man or woman with the prominence in international relations that is required.
    It is hard to imagine a Secretary General from Cuba, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, the Bahamas, etc., because their populations are so small, and their colleges are so small, too. It is hard for someone to get the necessary experience there.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A major problem in this area is the following:
    British, Irish, and other foreign jounalists and writers, putting “programme” into articles and other works that are intended to be published in the United States of America and in Canada!

    Not only do those writers do it incorrectly, but their editors are too intellectually lazy to make the corrections and to teach their writers. An editor is supposed to be an experienced man or woman, and he / she should KNOW about the things like the differences between British English and the English of North America.
    That is not an insuperable task — and the reason that it doesn’t get done is that they do not even try.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    @Dee: There are different contexts, or *levels* if you will, of correctness. Program and programme are each correct but in their respective dialects.* Programme* is not correct in American English. In British English it is correct. Likewise color/colour, meter/metre, curb/kerb, traveler/traveller, etc. Other times, tho, there are alternative spellings of a word within a dialect. In American English, e.g., advisor/adviser, ax/axe, buses/busses. I’m not sure of hand if the spellings dispatch and dispatch are both acceptable in American. Maybe they are in British.

    @Homer: Because the UN likes French, which says programme. And failing that, it likes British which mimmicks programme. The UN does not like American. Anything American, except of course American money. It likes that a lot. Its linguistic preferences are a reflection of its political attitudes generally, flicking the finger at the USA without being TOO unsubtle. And it is not consistent. While all of its centers are centres, as you’d expect, most of its organizations are organizations. Of course some would argue the Z is more accurate for British as well. Can you believe politics would infect an institution like the UN? Unbelievable.

  • Homer

    After all these discussion, I actually learn a lot.
    But, my question is why the UN’s global development network
    United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is not spelled as
    United Nations Development Program ?
    same thing like United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
    is not spelled as United Nations Environment Program?
    Any comment would be highly apperciated.

  • Dee

    Well, im English and I use programme, because that was what i was taught at school. But basically it really doesn’t matter, another example is dispatch or despatch, both are correct. You still get the point across.

    If you want to get really picky then technically PROGRAM is correct because that is what we English used back in the day. so stop the English/American debate that occurs on every site on the internet and blame the French 😀

  • Stefan

    Important is that you decide for your own which spelling you prefer – the british or the american or the australian. And then stick to it – be coherant. Beeing more attached to the british language I use programme. Hey – and in german its Programm. Anyway – don’t make it complicated, we do understand each other either way “m” or “me” …

  • venqax

    As an American with a doctoral degree, may I suggest: May for may I suggest it, but Mayye for the month before June. And degree for an academic award, but degriee for temperature. Academic for having to do with academicis, but academicke for one who pursues it. And work for a completed project, but workke for the process of doing it. WHY IS THIS SO HARD!?! It it program. Period. The end. If you are American. There is NO REASON for variation. If, as a non-American, you feel some strange, OCD compulsion to have 2 different forms of the word, the difference between which you can’t even agree on among yourselves, then suggest it to yourselves. See: among, while, defense, license, practice, etc. etc.

  • Vengeance is mine saith the Lord

    As a Masters degree educated Englishman who has US and Australian citizenship and has lived in all three countries and worked extensively at an executive level, particularly around the IT domain, may I suggest the following:

    Program refers to a program of work which may be managed by a Program Manager
    Programme refers to a set of computer code which may be manipulated by a Computer Programmer

  • venqax

    Fowler Man: I’m not sure what conclusion you are reaching with your post. After 200 years, shouldn’t Australian English be emerged already as a national standard of its own? E.g., shouldn’t the program/programme issue be determined by Australian-specific criteria, as opposed to what British (or American, for that matter) authorities would dictate? This reluctance is strange, I think. Is it the Commonwealth thing? The gray (American here) tone of semi-independent politics keep this vestigial cultural umbilical cord connected still?

  • Fowler Man

    POLITICAL INCORRECT COMMENT ALERT!!!

    Australian English has changed dramatically since the 1960s, merely reflecting the winds of change on Australia itself. Factors influencing Australian English include the relative decline of UK power and its joining the EEC, an all-pervasive US culture, the democratisation of university places, an influx of non-English speaking migration, and the quiet, awkward emergence of class difference. In this time, the Australian English dictionary of record has even shifted from the venerable Oxford to the home-grown Macquarie, published first as recently as 1981. The Macquarie Dictionary makes program official.

    The truth is more subtle. Usage of the word is a class marker. Anglo-Australian old families always use programme. For every ten new Australian graduates without even a year of grammar education behind them, for every ten uneducated Australians immersed in US-style, reality TV, for every ten migrants to Australia who struggle with poorly-funded English As A Second Language courses, you will find one old-family Australian of English heritage who uses programme because it’s really the only way. Fowler’s reigns supreme in these knowing houses without any self-consciousness or affectation. It’s just natural.

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