Program vs. Programme

By Ali Hale

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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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117 Responses to “Program vs. Programme”

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • thorinii

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Richard Lynn Paul

    @Fowler Man, How can ‘programme’ be “really the only way”, if even British English used to use ‘program’, if this statement in the article is true (‘The word “program” was predominant in the UK until the 19th century’)? And would that not explain why the US did not follow the British way, since they were already independent of the UK?

    Furthermore, what about the Oxford study that showed that US English was closer in spelling an pronunciation to Shakespearean English, than even British English is? Could it be that British English kept on innovating in the language, while American stayed more traditional, in part due to lack of books other than the Bible in many 19th century homes?

  • rlpmjp

    @Heather & @Guest1,

    The USA is not monolithic and some of us pronounce the noun:
    PROgram, but the verb proGRAMming (but with the accenting almost equal between the 1st and 2nd syllable). The accent often changes between nouns and verbs.

    “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.”

    “…AND PROGRAMING IS PRONOUNCED PROGRAYMING.”

  • Gayle

    Does MS Word word check dictionary imagine Australian English is the same as British? It seems that increasingly Australian MS Word texts are being ‘corrected’ to the English/French ‘programme’ In the 1951 I was a proofreader with the iconic Melbourne daily newspaper ‘The Age’ and we used Webster’s dictionary as did all newspapers. I see Australian publications of more than a century ago used ‘program.’ The cure is to change Australian to US spelling in the Word preferences and add the correct metric spellings in place of the US meter for metre, etc. I have no issue with theatre or theater.

  • Garry Smith

    Program’ v ‘Programme’
    I respond concerning the spellings ‘program’ and ‘programme’. The spelling ‘program’ has always been the officially preferred spelling in Australia and is one of the few examples where we have not followed the British lead. In this regard we should note that the Australian states moved away from the British educational system during the early twentieth century.

    My earliest and somewhat vague memory of the word ‘program’ is my father and his visitor expressing concerns in 1949 that the recently seen spelling ‘programme’ was contrary to their education at Fort Street High School in the 1930s.

    My recollections of my school years in the late1950s are clear. We were advised when preparing for our NSW matriculation exams to use the Australian preferred spelling ‘program’. We were not to use ‘programme’ but would not be penalised if we did because it had British use at the time. It is apparent that the spelling ‘programme’ was relatively unknown in Australia until the period of post war immigration.

    The position since then has not changed. There has been continuing support for ‘programme’ from Britain but ‘program’ has remained the official and preferred spelling in Australia in all situations and at all levels.

    While there would appear to be no disadvantage in using ‘programme’, it creates the impression of being unduly conservative. In addition, ‘program’ is now considered to be the more appropriate spelling for electronic use in Britain to the point where many consider it to be the more appropriate spelling for general use.

    One matter that requires correction is that ‘program’ was introduced by U.S. use and, by inference, that it reflects lower quality standard English. This is incorrect. Although finding examples in original eighteenth and nineteenth century British material is difficult, the few examples found show that that ‘program’ was initially the preferred spelling in Britain. For example, the Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson and John Walker, published by William Pickering, Chancery Lane, London, 1828, lists ‘PROGRAM’ as the first spelling, followed by ‘PROGRAMMA’ (pronounced pro-gram-ma) as the second spelling. The spelling ‘programme’ was not listed.

    It is apparent from historical scrutiny that the spelling ‘programme’ was advocated by those who considered it to be intellectual and derived from classical Greek, a superficial claim that had little merit but eventually prevailed.

    It is clear that we should use the preferred Australian spelling ‘program’ unless quoting from a specific source that uses the other spelling.

    Garry Smith
    (submitted as a supportive response to claims that ‘programme’ is a contrived, dated spelling that should not be used)

  • Sumit gupta

    I belongs to India but I am a software engineer. Therefore, I always speak and write American english. Once upon a time, I did homework to my cousin and wrote program word instead of programme, and I saw later that their mam cut that word and written this is not correct spelling. I confused and search it on Google. Thanks

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