Program vs. Programme

By Ali Hale - 2 minute read

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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.

Program and Programme on Newspapers

… “It is a commercial obligation of all 72 Football League teams to have a printed programme for every home game but clubs will vote on whether this will continue… (www.theguardian.com)

… National Citizen Service, which was launched in 2011, brings together young people from different backgrounds for a programme of personal and social development. It offers a three- to four-week part-residential programme where 15- to 1 … (www.theguardian.com)

… New York Times sponsor a subscription program allows you to make a contribution that provides Times digital subscriptions to public schools and student … (www.nytimes.com)

… said Wednesday that members of its rewards program will be able to see up to three movies a week for $19.95 a month as part of its Stubs A-List tier. The movie … (www.usatoday.com)

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116 Responses to “Program vs. Programme”

  • JuwBagel

    I don’t believe that one would say, “I’ll program the computer today.” One doesn’t program computers, see? He might program for a computer, or use a program on one, but one doesn’t simply program up a computer….

    While grammatically correct, it doesn’t make much sense.

  • Jensita

    JuwBagel,
    I’m not sure if I agree completely. It’s true you don’t “program up a computer”, but you can certainly “program a computer to do something.”

    It’s similar to the way you can program a modern coffee maker to automatically start the coffee making process at 8:30am, or program a phone system to send callers to different departments depending on the option selected.

    Granted, these last two examples are not desktops, but they are computers nonetheless.

  • onuigbo victoria

    i enjoy reading this please keep it on thanks

  • anubhav biswas

    I enjoy reading this please keep it on . I there are some valuable words or tips which can improve my English please send it to me to my email address sksrb@yahoo.co.in .

  • shakirah

    I came across this dilemma earlier as i was helping a friend to spruce up her presentation slides. I noticed that whenever I used programmes i.e. the plural of programme..I have a jagged line underneath it, meaning that it’s a spelling error. But if I were to use programs no such error is highlighted. Is there a larger difference than the mere fact that one is British and the other American…I wonder

  • Sarah

    JuwBagel,

    You certainly can ‘program a computer’. This is when you write or edit the code that all operations run from; and is what computer programmers do all day!

    In UK English, you wouldn’t however ‘program for a computer’, this makes it sound like you are employed by the computer to program, and I’ve never heard anyone say ‘program-up’ a computer.

    I wouldn’t however like to say for sure that the above phrases are incorrect for the US – is that where you learnt your English JuwBagel?

  • Michael

    This has been debate for quite a while… I live in a British ruled country and I have always preferred to use Programme unless it is computer related, then I use Program.

  • david

    internship program or internship programme, which one is correct?

  • david

    internship program or internship programme, which one is correct?

  • Jay

    David, I would say Internship Programme but then my education was British. The American spelling would be Program but as the definition at the top of this page rightly says, program in British English (or English English) is a term used for computers.

  • david

    Thanks, Jay! 🙂

  • weynand

    I’m Dutch and my education was “the British” way. Currently, I’m working for an international company and my job title is “Program Manager”. I don’t program computers, but manage ICT programmes (very large projects). Reading all your comments I would say I am a “Programme Manager”?!

  • Jay

    I’m afraid so Weynand. Besides, as you said you ‘don’t program computers, but manage ICT programmes’ QED 🙂

    Just google your job title. You’ll find ample links to both… and so the debate goes on. Either way, you know what your job is so don’t let it bother you too much.

  • Stephen

    I always thought that programme was used for courses, such as ‘Leadership Programme’, and that program was used for such things as ‘TV program’ or ‘computer program’. I guess I’ll just have to keep searching for answers.

  • Rosa

    This is so interesting, how muchthe language has been affected by technology. Words derived from or used in computer terminolgy have quickly become verbs and every day word and the meaning can vary many times. Regarding Program, I think we should adhere to the Australian English recommendations. Cheers.

  • Mary

    I can’t think of any reason program would be used as a verb other than in relation to computers so I always stick to the rule that is is programme, unless reated to a computer (verb or noun).

  • Pat Buoncristiani

    If you are writing tips on correct usage you really should not be caught writing “here’s some examples”. The examples are plural and hence it should be “here ARE some examples”. Tut, tut.

  • Connor

    Here in Canada I believe most spell it programme as well, unless of course it is computer related.

  • Rob

    Dictionary.com describe the noun “program” as:

    1.
    a. A listing of the order of events and other pertinent information for a public presentation.
    b. The presentation itself: a program of piano pieces.
    2. A scheduled radio or television show.
    3. An ordered list of events to take place or procedures to be followed; a schedule: a program of physical therapy for a convalescent.
    4. A system of services, opportunities, or projects, usually designed to meet a social need: “Working parents rely on the center’s after-school latchkey program” (New York Times).
    5.
    a. A course of academic study; a curriculum.
    b. A plan or system of academic and related or ancillary activities: a work-study program.
    c. A plan or system of nonacademic extracurricular activities: the football program.
    6. A set of coded instructions that enables a machine, especially a computer, to perform a desired sequence of operations.
    7. An instruction sequence in programmed instruction.

    I would definitely spell definitions 1 and 2 “programme,” 3, 4, and 5 “programme” or “program” (I’ll pick one eventually!), and 6 and 7 would definitely be spelt “program” as with the verb form of “program.”

  • Guest 1

    I am English and dont really care that americans have changed the spelling of many words. Thats fair enough. But one thing that has really annoyed me in this post is reading that americans would spell Programming “Programing” What??? That would be pronounced PRO-GRAY-MING. Its one thing to change the spelling of a word but your changing an entire rule!!! Allow me to give a few examples….

    If you BAN someone are they Baned??? NO! BaNNed. double N
    If you are a bum are you Buming around??? NO! BuMMing around!
    If you get a tan bathing are you Taning Yourself?? NO! Tanning……

    The list goes on. If a vowel comes before the last letter then you must add the extra letter or you change the sound.

    Banned spelt BANED would be pronounced BAYNED.
    Bumming spelt BUMING would be pronounced BOOMING.
    Tanning spelt TANING would be pronounced TAYNING.

    AND PROGRAMING IS PRONOUNCED PROGRAYMING….. GET IT.

    Americans you use this rule for every other example so why just change an entire rule for 1 word. If im wrong and you have a different rule please correct me.
    AMERICA the rest of the world already thinks your stupid…Stop making it so easy for us to dislike you. I want to like you… You just dont make it easy sometimes.

  • umber

    Guest 1, I agree about the need for consistency and rule observance. So what’s the British affectation with “sceptical”? In the US, that could only be related to a sewage tank.

  • umber

    As for American English, the word is “program”. The end. “Programme” is a Frech word. A French word for program. The British are just generally fond of extra letters thrown in! Our extrae lettres throughn inne.

  • michael

    Guest 1, it’s spelt “you’re” not “your”.

  • jensita

    Oh michael, you just made my day.

  • Heather

    Guest 1, here in the U.S., most people actually spell it programming. If I type the word into a word processing document as “programing”, it will show up as incorrectly spelled. That being said, I believe you are somewhat confused about the rules regarding the addition of an extra consonant before the suffix -ing. You see, this is only the case if the root word is one syllable, like all of your examples: ban, bum, and tan. Because program has two syllables, the rule becomes a bit more complicated. I learned in 8th grade English grammar class that with two or more syllable words, you only double the consonant if the last syllable is accented. So, for example, the word traveling does not have two l’s because that would imply that it’s pronounced traVELLing. By the way, we pronounce it TRAH-vull-ing as opposed to TRAH-veel-ing like you might guess. Using this logic, the word program should indeed NOT have a doubled m, because at least in the U.S., we pronounce it PROgramming, not proGRAMMing. Nonetheless, we in the U.S. spell it the same way you do: programming, which means it must be considered an exception to the rule. I have no idea why and it irks me, but I don’t blame it on “stupid Americans.”
    Not that I give a rat’s ass if you “like” me or not or anyone else in “America” (I presume you mean the U.S., not Canada or Mexico), but I do hope this clarifies the rule, because you did ask to be corrected.

  • Mark T

    Classic. The sad thing is I actually read through the lot. Next thing we’ll be discussing apostrophe placement.
    P.S. In New Zealand know one really knows. There’s not a lot of consistency. I am a Programme Manager and manage a team whose methodology is based on the project management Institutes PMBOK guidance. That being a US standard notes Program as a knowledge area, vice Programme. However, in New Zrealand we are more colonially based (British) than perhaps Australia (Program). However, it is foretold that sooner or later be will infact be subsumed under the Commonwealth (of Australia).

  • Simon

    Because Programme itself is a derivation from the French word, I (and fully paid up Brit) actually agree with my American counterparts that this should be PROGRAM – which was the original word prior to the adoption of the French variant.

  • Judy

    Wow! I am a (Western) Canadian and I had never seen the word “programme” before. I’m a professional accountant for a non-profit that has multiple “programs” and our auditor produced the financial statements using the word “programme” throughout. I asked him why he was spelling it in French. He informed me it was the British version. I thought I would Google it up and see what the correct Canadian version was. After reading through all these emails I’m still not sure. Maybe we Western Canadians have adopted the US version. If so it was a long time ago!

  • jasmine

    Reading all the comments really amazed and confused me. I had to check also in the google the difference between program and programme. I thought I was just absent when our english teachers taught the correct usage of the two words because I don’t remember using a word “programme” when I was schooling. Oh! I thought the “programme” is the verb of “program”. But then, why I seldom see “programme” just always “program”?
    Anyway, thanks to your responses because in one way or another I learned.

  • Gert

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  • Albert D.

    I’m from southwestern Ontario, Canada, and I had never even heard of the spelling “programme” until a year or so ago. (I was taught in school and have always seen it spelt “program.”) But, then again, I often see colour spelt minus the “u” and centre spelt with an “er” around here, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised!

  • Ashley Pomeroy

    “So, if you’re writing in British English (either as part of an examination, if you’re studying English, or for a British publication)…”

    This almost implies that actual British people – who use British English because they are British – don’t exist.

    Which is not the case; I know several British people, and I am one. Of them. I have always thought of programme in the posh French restaurant menu sense, and program in the modern computer sense.

    Of course nowadays few people actually program a computer. That dates from the days when you literally had to write a short program in order to do anything with a computer, even if it was just e.g. LOAD “Manic Miner”. People still write code, but it’s “writing” or “developing” rather than programming.

  • Peter

    I learned in 8th grade English grammar class that with two or more syllable words, you only double the consonant if the last syllable is accented. So, for example, the word traveling does not have two l’s because that would imply that it’s pronounced traVELLing.

    But in proper English it does have two ‘l’s, and the US form looks like it should be pronounced “traVELing” (not “traVEELing”). I’ve never heard or read anyone trying to explicitly state the rule for this, but there clearly is a rule which I’ve just absorbed by osmosis, which the US spelling breaks.

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  • Sophiex

    Enthralling debate! Does anyone have a JPEG of a yawn?

  • Scotsman

    Interesting and entertaining reading. I have become so confused as to when/whether to use “program” or “programme” that I generally look up a thesaurus to try to avoid using either spelling!

    I do love though, when reading all these comments from people, so adamant about grammatical correctness this way or that, that they forget the basic usages of language such as “your” or “you’re”, “there” and “their”, etc. and at other times just blatantly misspell words such as “dont” (rather than “don’t), and ignoring through likely arrogance the capitalisation (note the “s” not a “z”) of personal nationality, i.e. “American”.

    On a point of grammar, does the comma/full stop go inside the quotation marks (whatever their correct linguistic name is), or outside as I have written above? (I am constantly being corrected regardless of which way I write it…)

    Also, with the discussion on doubling consonants: I have always thought of myself on my travels as a traveller, regardless of where I’ve been traveling. I think I maybe just break/create my own rules…

  • Nick

    Ok,

    I would point out that Programme entered British English after Canada and the US had been established, and so it is not surprising that it is spelt in the old fashioned way in North America. The antipodean situation is more confused of course, having been more influenced during the 19th century (as the colonisation only began in the late 18th) and so it is the American Hegemony of the late 20th century that is bringing influence to bear —-

    Excuse my spelling and grammatical errors – as the French say

    l’orthographe est la science des Anes –

  • Hajime

    Scotsman,

    Full stops always go outside the quotation mark unless you’ve included it in your quote (i.e. copied and pasted). I used to get confused about this too. XD Year 9 English teacher was awesome, however, so she set it right for me.

    On the topic of program/programme, as an Australian, I don’t think I’ve ever really noticed anyone use “programme”… I’d say this “official use” status has set in rather quickly then. XD

    Oh, by the way, on the doubling of consonants, I spell it “travelling” and “programming”, so stick that spelling up your arse. 😛

  • Mikey

    What do you mean British English? How Rude!

    You mean English English. I am English, from England as it is a country, and I speak English which is where the English language orginated from.

    Britain consists of 3 countries, England, Scotland and Wales, which all together is a nation not a country. The United Kingdom consists of Britain, the British Isles and Northern Island. And each country has different versions of English, with Wales and Scotland also having their own native languages.
    Oxford is in England, therefore its an English dictionary, not a British Dictionary (as it does not include Welch or Scottish words).

    So it’s not British English.

    It’s English!

    Any other form is based on our colonial children unable to spell correctly

  • victoria gan

    What’s the meaning of American , British and Australia English ? Straigt to the point , are program and programme the same words ? And which word is more suitale to use internationally?

  • Michael

    Oh Mikey.

    Like it or not, English doesn’t belong to the English alone anymore; it’s a lingua franca with a glorious variety of dynamic forms around the world. ‘British English’ is the term used by the Oxford and countless dictionaries of English for the standard form that coexists with American English. There is no need to be offended, nor—dare I say it—so imperialist. British English is owned and operated by the Scots, Irish, Welsh, Manx and Cornish; not to mention Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Nigerians, Kenyans, Indians, Singaporeans, Malaysians, etc., etc. And each of these has its local variant, of which it can be rightly proud. Some of these mix in some American standard.

    The Americans, by the way, deserve our gratitude for expanding and colouring and carrying the language forward into the world. Many of the words used by Englishmen and women today have their home in the United States, e.g. ‘bulldozer’, ‘airport’, ‘ice cream’, etc. The various streams are all from the same river, and all lead to the same sea. Revel in it!

  • MacDonald_Canada

    Mikey,
    As a Canadian, it seems as though our colonial “masters” do not know about their very own sovereign state! The UK does not consist of the British Isles – the Republic of Ireland is not part of the UK but is part of the British Isles. The UK is Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
    Also, I think it should be said, that there are many reasons for the lexis and orthography of other forms of English being different which do not include your colonial “subjects” not being able to spell correctly.
    It is indeed British English – British is the demonym for the UK and the spellings used are uniform throughout the UK thus making it the British form of the language.

  • Lizzie

    Michael,
    I enjoyed your comment at the end of all this bickering greatly; it was like a breath of fresh air! I agree we should stop debating whose version of English is ‘the right one’ and embrace change. I am English and hear a lot of complaints about Americans and how they speak English but I feel people are quick to criticise others with no thought that language should be allowed to be dynamic. After all we don’t speak at all like Shakespeare & his contemporaries, but nobody bleats about that.

  • Michael

    @Victoria gan:

    ‘program’ is standard in American English, for all uses.

    ‘programme’ is standard British English for all uses except those relating to computers.

    Australians tend to use ‘program’, but ‘programme’ is perfectly acceptable. I’m Australian and I prefer ‘programme’.

    Both British and American English are used internationally, though the latter is more common. The UN and many other international institutions use British English. If you work in the Commonwealth of Nations you can use ‘programme’.

  • Albert D.

    @Michael

    The exception to the Commonwealth is in Canada, where it is always (as far as I’ve seen it) “program.”

  • Michael

    @Albert D. I defer to your local knowledge, and that ‘program’ prevails, though I did see it spelt ‘programme’ whilst I was in your fair land. I understand, moreover, that the Canadian Oxford Dictionary makes no distinction between ‘-gram’ and ‘-gramme’, and that at least some government departments prefer the latter.

    To avoid confusing folks, I think the point to make is that ‘programme’ is generally acceptable in Commonwealth countries and preferred in some, but completely unacceptable in the United States.

  • Albert D.

    @ Michael

    Fair enough. Although I, as a Canadian, find the “-gramme” ending rather jarring. It seems pompous and archaic to me, but then this is just my opinion. (I do think that many here would feel the same, though.)

    As a side, I just visited the homepage of my university (http://www.utoronto.ca/), and see they use the -“gram” spelling. Perhaps this indicates little, but it’s interesting to note.

  • Michael

    @Albert D. I think you’re point is well made: ‘programme’ is far less common in Canadian English, and a lot of Australians would feel the same way you do about it. I find ‘program’ as dry and dull as you find it ‘pompous’, so I choose ‘programme’.

    But, if we’re trying to help our friends whose first language isn’t English, then I suspect it’s safe to say that they can legitimately use either spelling in your country and mine. It may raise eyebrows, and it may not be a particular house’s style (e.g. Uni. of Toronto), but it’s not ‘incorrect’.

    By the way, I quick google turned this up http://groups.chass.utoronto.ca/canengglobal/programme.htm

    Another way of putting this is that we have options, whilst our American friends do not. (He says, tongue firmly planted in cheek.)

    Now then, about Canadians’ use of ‘tire’ for ‘tyre’… 😉

  • Albert D.

    @Michael

    Well said, sir.

    In regard to your last comment, a lot of the automotive terms here actually are the same as in the U.S. Our cars have hoods and trunks, not bonnets or boots. We spell the edge of the sidewalk “curb,” not “kerb.” And some Canadians drive pickup trucks, not utes (the Australian and New Zealand term, I understand).

    As you can see, we also punctuate a bit differently than you do with double-apostrophes almost always following the comma or period. As well, we use suffixes like “-ize” and “-yze” rather than “-ise” and “-yse.” It’s funny how much of a mishmash Canadian English is.

    Anyway, I digress. I blame my fatigue. Which reminds me: I should get some sleep!

  • Michael

    Yes, it’s a long way past your bed time young man!

    I learnt the Canadian meaning of ‘truck’ the hard way; got hit by one of the buggers in Edmonton! God bless the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia!

    By the way, ‘-ize’ is an accepted (though less common) variant in British and Australian English, and Oxford’s preferred spelling. ‘-yze’ is pure Yankee. We often use double quotes too.

    All English is a mish-mash old mate—a wonderfully horrendous mish-mash!

    Carry on.

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