Judgement or Judgment?

By Maeve Maddox

Reader John Moss wonders about the spellings judgement and judgment. His Word application flags judgement as an incorrect spelling, but when he searches the word online,

both judgement and judgment occur with seeming equal frequency. Is one English and the other American? What a bother! If both are OK, I guess I could update my dictionary by adding the ‘judgement’ spelling – but doing so might lend assistance to spelling inconsistencies. You’re probably going to tell me this is a ‘judgment call’, but I’m still wondering why the two spellings.

Yes, I’d have to say that judgement is British spelling and judgment American, but in the early twentieth century when H. W. Fowler was writing his influential book on usage, the spelling judgment was evidently being used by a lot of British writers. According to Fowler “modern usage” favored judgment.

Nevertheless, Fowler and the OED preferred judgement:

judgement is the form sanctioned in the Revised Version of the Bible, & the OED prefers the older & more reasonable spelling. Judgement is therefore here recommended… –Fowler p. 310.

Wanting to see how Shakespeare spelled it, I looked up that line in The Merchant of Venice in which Shylock praises Portia, thinking she is ruling in his favor. I found it online at the Literature Network:

A Daniel come to judgment! yea, a Daniel!

Not wanting to rely solely on an online source, I also looked it up in the First Folio:

A Daniel come to iudgement, yea, a Daniel.

Yes, that’s a letter i.

The OED still prefers judgement, but acknowledges judgment as a variant spelling.

That venerable pronouncing dictionary by Daniel Jones covers both bases by printing the entry word as judg(e)ment.

Merriam-Webster prefers judgment and lists judgement as a variant.

The words abridgement/abridgment and acknowledgement/acknowledgment follow the same British/American dichotomy as judgement/judgment.

Fowler offers a rule and an exception to the rule for dealing with words ending with a Mute e:

RULE: When a suffix is added to a word ending in mute e, the mute e is dropped before a vowel, but not before a consonant.

EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: The e is kept even before a vowel if it is needed to preserve or emphasize the soft sound of a preceding g or c.

I suppose it’s because I’m an American, but I can’t see any reason to keep the e before a consonant if it’s not needed to soften the g.

Still, these are useful guidelines for spelling the many words that end in silent/mute e.

For example, reader Suresh was wondering about adding a suffix to the word cache:

I would like to know whether, I can use the term: “cacheing.” Example: Google is cacheing my website/page.

The word cache follows the rule and drops the e to give caching.

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52 Responses to “Judgement or Judgment?”

  • Craig Hemphill

    I’ll agree with John Clark for the reasons set forth in his 2/28/2011 post. Although I have been unable to find another source, as a lawyer I have dealt with judgments as documents representing the judgement of judges, all from the root word “judge.” Having also read British authors extensively, I am sure that my judgement has been influenced by their usage. At some point in time judgement seems to have been favored, and then someone (in USA?) decided to make a rule — after Fowler. my style model. Since I was not given a vote on the matter, I don’t feel bound by the change. Back to John Clark — there being a useful distinction between judgment for pieces of paper signed by judges reflecting their judgements, that is how I shall continue my usage.

  • Samuel Mansfield

    In response to his comment about not seeing a reason to ever keep a mute “e” after adding a suffix, the reason is parsing the word for pronunciation. For example, if I have the word “humble,” it parses into two sections: “hum” and “ble.” Now, if I add the suffix “ness” to make the world “humbleness,” I need to keep the “e.” If I don’t, the word becomes “humblness,” and this word has four consonants without any vowels in between them. While the word is still easy to pronounce, this breaks a basic rule of the English language, and must therefore be remedied.

  • David

    As a rebellious act of consistency, I hereby pledge to henceforth prefer judgements to judgments. I would be horrified if lodgement, acknowledgement in particular were abandoned. Abridgment is an abridgement of my freedom to be consistent in my usage of silent e’s.

  • AnWulf

    @Tim Lyons … Thank you! I can hardy believ that this blog was here for five years before someone explain’d that simple rule.

    The ‘dg’ is a ‘j’ sound in English thus the ‘e’ is unneeded: judgment, lodgment, acknowledgment, abridgment.

  • Larry

    Upon further inspection I see that both of my prior examples have alternate spelings. I think I’ll go vacuum.

  • Larry

    I certainly understand that the English language has many rules and maybe just as many exceptions to those rules because of the influx of words fron other languages and other reasons, say lawyers deciding to change the spelling just because they feel they can.

    I only noticed one correct spelling for acknowledgement and dislodgement. Perhaps some of you would like to drop the e from these words as well. These examples seem much closer than others I read for obvious reasons. Are we still in a grey ( gray) area ?

    My judgement has been made. Go USA

  • Tim Lyons

    It is the d – the D – before the g that affects the soft g sound. Keeping or dropping the silent e is of no consequence in this case. Other words like management, estrangement, etc., need the e, since it could be read as a hard g (managment, estrangment) because the vowel or n before g would not force a soft sound.

    All this “impinge-ing’ stuff is nonsense. When necessary to differentiate meaning, then OK (bingeing vs. binging [as in, “to make a bing sound” — OK perhaps marginally a word, but it could be]). But dropping the “e” before “ing” is the norm: bridging, staging, raging, bulging, divulging, changing … need we go on?

    Also someone wrote “fledgeling,” which is wrong, by the way. It’s fledgling. (See the D there before the g?)

  • Kieran Saighir

    I never understood why a few scholars from Great Britain and the US couldn’t get together and make one consistent spelling for each word. Although I was taught ‘judgment’, I wholeheartedly agree judgement makes much more sense. I would hope that our cousins would agree that our maneuver look’s much better than manoeuvre. Of course there are thousands of differences, but I think agreement could be gotten without too much hassle. I believe such an endeavor (that’s our spelling) would be worth the effort.

  • John Ritter

    I came here because I was blogging just now and someone else wrote the word as “judgement.” I thought that was wrong and of course it is. That is, it is wrong according to standard English spelling.

    But the comments here helped me to realize that “judgment” should not have become the standard spelling. It is not consistent with what we do with other words that end in e and are followed by suffixes like “ment.” Management is a great example.

    So I suggest that we all begin spelling the word judgement, as it should be. Then it will become the standard American spelling!

  • Jared

    Why in the world would you refer to Shakespeare as an authority on spelling? English spelling wasn’t standardized in the 1600’s, and in fact, Shaekspeare spelled his own name a couple of different ways in his will.

  • Stephen

    P.S. God forbid we ever debate how words should be spelled. Language should never change. In fact, the problem is much worse than anyone here seems to realize. The very existence of this word is due to those meddling Normans in 1066. They introduced all kinds of horrible Frenchified vocabulary into our language: unacceptable mutations of English such as beef and pork. We should be calling pork swineflesh, the way our Germanic ancestors would have wanted it. And whether we were in the United States or anywhere else, it wouldn’t be a question of judgement or judgment! If it weren’t for William the Conqueror, we could be using a word similar to the German Urteil.

    To lose the sarcasm, the prescriptivists ARE going to lose the battle. It’s simply not how language has ever worked. Standardization HAS increased since the advent of the printing press, but things like the internet WILL change how people utilize language. Only a descriptivist stance makes sense unless we are to live our lives as hopeless luddites, pulling our hair out every time someone says “LOL” or shortens “your” to “ur” in a text to save money on their cell phone bill.

    And as much as you may want to talk about logic, Bob Jones, while other languages may have spelling that adheres to consistent rules, English spelling is absolutely horrendous in that regard. When I lived in Germany as a child, I discovered that they DON’T HAVE a special class to teach spelling in elementary school because they simply don’t have to. They don’t have to explain that it’s OK for a language to apply one set of rules to “bough” and another to “trough”. You will never be able to apply logic to English and argue for prescriptivist spelling according to that standard.

    Again, thank you for the article and the lively debate, Maeve.

  • Stephen

    I’m responding to what was written two years ago but here goes:

    Jamea: “The correct spelling of the word is judgment. We don’t get to make up the rules just because something looks awkward in our language. We don’t have to like it, but we should follow it.”

    What you’ve somehow failed to grasp is that this particular “correct” spelling only came about because someone decided to “make up the rules” and omit the “e”.

    Maeve: Thank you for writing this article. Your snide comment was obviously not mean-spirited. You needn’t have apologized. Jamea, on the other hand, was quite rude and condescending. Furthermore, she was being condescending without taking the time to try to understand the complexities of the issue. Perhaps in the last two years she has discovered that linguists use a couple of interesting terms: descriptive and prescriptive. Hmmm… food for thought, people. Perhaps she has looked at Chaucer and reflected on how the English language has evolved over time. But mostly I would hope she doesn’t go around being rude towards people on the internet then calling others out for impoliteness simply because they employed a witticism to make an innocent, playful jab at her.

  • Colin Edwards

    Did nobody think to check wikipedia?

    “In a non-legal context, spelling differs between countries. The spelling judgement (with e added) is common in the United Kingdom in a non-legal context. In British English, the spelling judgment is correct when referring to a court’s or judge’s formal ruling, whereas the spelling judgement is used for other meanings. The spelling judgment is also found in the Authorised King James Version of the Bible.

    In American English, judgment prevails in all contexts. In Canada and Australia, in a non-legal context both forms are equally acceptable, although judgment is more common in Canada and judgement in Australia. However, in a legal and theological context, judgment is the only correct form.[citation needed] In New Zealand the form judgement is the preferred spelling in dictionaries, newspapers and legislation, although the variant judgment can also be found in all three categories. Usage in South Africa is similar to that in Australia and New Zealand.”

  • Kara Taylor

    For me, there’s an E in judge and there’s an E in judgement. I had no idea that people spelled that word so differently. I was reading a friend’s school paper and saw the word judgment. I assumed it was wrong but then looked it up and came across this page. After reading all the comments, I’m still not sure which spelling is correct but I like the E in there.

  • Ledrias

    Another important thing to note for the rule, this dropping of the e does not apply to words whose dropping of the e would phonetically change the word. e.g., noticeable and changeable. Otherwise they would be pronounced Notickable and chang-able.

  • Bob Jones

    I disagree with your statement in your newsletter that there is no moral superiority attached to one usage or the other.

    I believe in the rule of logic and reasoned arguments – where the weight of arguments and premises are carefully evaluated.

    To me, just because a lot of other people are doing something does not make it acceptable nor right.

    We see examples of stupidity on a daily basis where people are lulled into doing idiotic things on Facebook and Twitter and Infogram simply because somebody has made it seem normal due to repetition without anybody bothering to object.

    Take a look at the language used in certain popular songs which people now feel emboldened to use at awards ceremonies like the Grammies. The “F-word” has a place, but it should not be on public broadcasts in primetime – and we will all pay the price eventually for the ways in which our values are continuously stretched by those who profit from crossing boundaries.

    According to Maeve’s logic, there are not too many people who would mispronounce the “g” sound in judgment in the absence of an “e.”

    That is not sufficient justification for changing the rule.

    There are not too many people who would mispronounce “easment” either, but it is not correct to drop the “e” simply for convenience or conformity.

    I believe that suffixes like “ment” are meant to be added to verbs in a logical, consistent manner.

    I believe that there are logical reasons to keep the spelling of the root verb intact, in order to avoid problems such as what happens when there is an “infringement” versus an “infringment.”

    We do not accept “managment” for good reason, even though most people would know what was intended by that spelling.

    We already have analogies with “singing” and “singeing.”
    Binging is using the search engine Bing, bingeing is what you do excessively.

    Just because some Legal types several hundred years ago wanted to drop the “e” from their judgements does not mean that it should be commonly accepted.

    Maeve’s assertion that no native speaker would mispronounce “judgment” points to the subjectivity which people tend to get trapped in when you adopt notions that nobody is “right” and that nobody should be certain about anything.

    Just because I understand what you are trying to say does not entitle you to say it the way you are saying it. To me, there is a moral justification for trying to ensure that communication is clear and effective.

    What she is really saying is that things seem simple to people who already understand them. Spend some time talking to people immersed in the world of computer “coding” and you will see that they cannot see why “newbies” would not understand various concepts.

    The reality is that there are a lot of “native speakers” who are not familiar with all of the vagaries of English and who are not skilled readers and writers. I see some in my classes who would indeed stumble if asked to read out loud and they tried to break down the word phonetically.

    We do them a disservice when we abandon logical linguistic frameworks and patterns in favor of being too lazy to apply the rules consistently.

    I really do not see how dropping the “e” from words like judgment contributes benefits which outweigh the benefits of logically consistent application and extension of meaningful patterns of word construction.

    Those who insist that a spelling is correct simply because that is the way we do things here risk confusing ethnocentric arrogance with logical justification.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The abbreviations U.S.A., D.O.D., I.B.M., N.S.W. (New South Wales), W.Va. (West Virginia), P.E.I., U.K., R.C.A., and E.S.A. are spelled with periods, no matter what such oddities that the British might think of.

    Some exceptions to this come when the initialisms are pronounced as words, such as NATO, NASA, and NORAD. Also, quite long initialisms have had their periods dropped, such as in ICBM, BMEWS, and USAFA (United States Air Force Academy).

    The word “radar” used to be an initialism, but it has been a common noun for along time now (ever since about 1943).
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The expression “bow legged fellow” is incorrect because the word “bowlegged” is spelled BOWLEGGED. In other words, it is a compound word, and it has been for centuries.

    I live in North America, and I cannot grasp why foreigners who live elsewhere cannot keep it straight about compound words. Take the word “miniskirt” which was written this way from its birth in the 1960s because “mini” is a prefix, as in “minicomputer” and “minivan”.
    Now why on the face of the Earth would someone want to write “mini skirt”, “bow legged”, or “egg head” ?

    D.A.W.

  • Gerry Keating

    Byron’s “Vision of Judgment” was a riposte to Southy’s Vision of Judgement”. So were both versions used at the time, or was Byron the first to omit the “e”? I always include the “e, and, though I do not sit at the celestial gate, note that the “e” is usefully and usably dropped before consonants, but not vowels, but that this rule may be moveable.

  • JoeBob

    I use “judgement.” While we can go back and forth about “American” versus “English” (I’ve lived in both countries), and the constant dumbing-down of language rules versus teaching proper use, I believe I can distill this argument down to a simple case of laziness and lack of will: “basement.”

    Is “basment”acceptable? I think not. Nor is “easment,” or “casment.” Somehow, it’s rationalized (or -ised) that constructing a triple-consonant combination by dropping the silent e is not just acceptable but desirable?

    Besides, if it was good enough for Gerald Ford, it should be good enough for everyone!

  • Les

    My goodness. I tried using judgment in a report and it didn’t look right. Now look what I’ve googled upon. If I have one thing to add to this long running discussion is that the rule to use the silent e to soften the g is probably optional due to the dg combination. Almost all cases of words with dg have the soft g with a silent e and the e is optional when adding a suffix starting with a consanant. Although I’m American I’m going to use judgement with the e in because it looks better to me which is likely due to my British heritage.
    I worked with a guy that always spelled wrong worng.
    I found 573 examples of dg words

  • Maeve

    Jamea,
    You’re right. My comment was snide. For that I apologize.

    I do think that equating an acceptable spelling variant like “judgement” with an inarguably incorrect spelling like “rong” for “wrong”is a tad extreme.

    But perhaps I misunderstood your original comment. Perhaps when you wrote “The correct spelling of the word is judgment.” you were speaking in terms of American English only.

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