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?”

  • Jamea Watkins

    Maeve, I don’t admire your snide comment. You’re born, you live, then you die. I don’t see any uncertainty here.

    Yes, in the USA, my standard is American English.

  • Maeve

    Jamea,
    I admire your certainty in an uncertain world.

    If your standard is American English, then by all means, go with judgment. The Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary gives judgment as the first spelling and judgement as a variant.

    The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, gives judgement as the preferred spelling and judgment as the variant.

    Your argument that a preference for judgement will lead to writing rong for wrong puts me in mind of the Pool Hall song in the Music Man.

  • Jamea Watkins

    Right is write and wrong is rong.

    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.

    By some of your reasoning, I should have changed a few things in my prior paragraph because it is too difficult to remember the proper form of “to” to use in my second sentence. An apostrophe would have been too difficult to type, so I should have made the second word in the second sentence dont instead of don’t. If we made our own rules as we saw fit, our language would be in chaos.

  • Don James

    One of the first things they teach you when you study linguistics is that all usage is correct (actually referring to different ways of speaking).

    I think it is perfectly acceptable for organisations/bodies/people/etc. to prefer one spelling or to provide a distinction between both spellings (as in this case in the UK courts). But it is unacceptable to apply one’s own rules to the usage of others.

    Personally, I have always prefered ‘judgement’ and have never been told it is wrong.

    One final thought is that words define rules, not the other way around.

  • Jamie

    Thamur, i think you have a few mistakes in your observatios. First, there are many words that begin with the letter G and sound like “j”
    gem, giant, generous, generic, (i think most GE or GI words sound like J). Whereas Gut, gone, goo, good, god, gorgeous, glad, gloom, groom, grove, grave, grumpy, ghost, give (though give is odd, since it has a short i sound), gave, graze, grim, great, etc. they sounds like “GUH”.

    ING is not in any way, shape, or form a “hard” g sound. In fact, “ng”, as a pair of letters, is its own phonetic sound.

    I like judgement. It looks like management (which oddly, appears normal in MicrosftWord, and doesn’t piss off Autocorrect!! hehe) But Managment is flagged as wrong.

  • Thamur

    Rules are all and good. But it’s true that English has many contradictions and exceptions to how spelling and phonetics are handled. Purely on observation of day to day English, you can see that in many words the soft “g” sound is prevalent in the middle of the words in syllables containing “i” or “e” (imagine, logistics, etc.), never as the first letter. So, for example, there can be no confusion between the sound of “impinging” and the sound of “give”. The other observation is on verbs ending in a hard “g” such as “to sing”. If you add “…ing”, that does not modify the pronunciation of the root word in the form of “singing”. This same characteristic applies to many similarly ending verbs. So it’s clear that, where the sound of the root word calls for a soft “g” (j sound), then an accompanying “i” or “e” should be present. Otherwise it may lead to misunderstandings and confusion (such as the hard “g” in cognizant). English is not my first language, but this much I can gather on observation alone. Please leave the “e” in judgement 🙂

  • Ian

    I like judgement for general use and judgment in a legal sense; reminds me of disks for computers but discs for music (although I think the former is short for diskette)

    My train of thought has just been through these stations:
    Badging, Dredging, Bridging, Dodging, Judging
    Fledgeling
    Banging, Singing, Longing, Bunging
    Bingeing, Singeing
    Changeling
    Bagging, Wagging
    Aging, Raging, Waging
    Leopardgut

  • Lenoxus

    Even if all the mathematicians in the world said 2+2=5 and had always said so, they would be wrong.

    Likewise, the correct spelling is JUDJEMENT, with a J in the middle. I know this because I have actually dissected samples of judjement in a laboratory environment and looked under a microscope; they all contain a central J.

    Clearly, the two situations are exactly parallel.

  • William D’Onofrio

    I usually would agree with Maeve Maddox’s thinking, paraphrasing: “why have something if it has no evident purpose…being an american… “. But, the problem with this type of thinking is that each person has their/his/her (?) own definition or vision of “purpose”.
    I say instead: if the root is “judge” and the “e” causes no problem then keep it in “judgement”. As one said it feels and looks better with the “e” breaking the heaviness of all those consonants…but then, that might also be a judgement call affected by the fact that I’m of Italian origin in Canada since 1959 (52.5 years!!) and I’ve gone through a very beneficial “renaissance” in latter years.

    Those people, like Katy, that say “IT IS WRONG BECAUSE THAT’S THE ACTUAL SPELLING” need to soften up a bit since they do not have the answer to what is ACTUAL…unless they have some direct link to the CREATOR. In answer to Robert: let”s change the rule!

  • Robert

    Dallas: ‘If you learn a word correctly, then it looks wrong when it IS wrong. It looks wrong with an “e” in it because it IS wrong. For people to change how a word is spelled just because others don’t like how it really IS spelled is ridiculous in my opinion.’

    I’d just like to point out that this discussion is about the correct spelling not just the most favoured spelling, and as it stands there is no CORRECT spelling. Judgment may be favoured in America, and it is used in England too. However, just because you were taught that ‘judgment’ is the CORRECT way to spell it, doesn’t mean it is. I don’t think people spelling it as ‘judgement’ means that they are trying to change how it is spelt, they are simply applying a different linguistic rule to the word.

  • Kevin

    I was searching the spelling due to Judgment Day, which is tomorrow, I hope I’m not too late to learn the true spelling… From what I read, it seems “judgment” is widely accepted over “judgement.” I personally prefer judgement with the “e.” English is not my first language and it took me a while to realize “judgment” is pronounced “judgement.”

  • Joline

    Thanks for all that interesting information. This particular issue arose on a Cambridge Proficiency exam so the above discussion was very helpful in shedding some light on the matter.

  • Katy

    Well, “judgment” is more widely accepted than “judgement”. In the US, “judgement” is always wrong, although I guess you could say it’s a British spelling if you like the “e”. However, I think that English speakers should just use “judgment”, regardless of what it should be (soft/hard g) because that’s the actual spelling. English is a language of exceptions and contradictions, so there’s no point in insisting on spelling other words wrong just to fit the rule.

  • thebluebird11

    @John Clark: I like that distinction. If I adopt your stance, it would allow me to keep the “e” for the most part, since I don’t much dabble in legal matters relating to judgments. I more often discuss someone’s poor judgement.
    @Jeremy: I understand your desire to draw a parallel between impinging and enraging because they both end in “e”, but there is something about the former that makes me want to keep the “e” in it. Maybe it’s just for easier readability. We don’t want our eyes to be tempted to draw parallels between bringing, singing, pinging and impinging. Except perhaps in esperanto, any time you have a rule, you have exceptions to it. So I don’t mind if there are certain words that aren’t treated like others. Also, there is a difference between singing and singeing, and to keep the soft “g” sound (ie, make it sound like a “j”), we need to keep the “e” in there. IMHO, we would be better served by keeping uniformity for these similar words, by which I mean binge, singe, impinge, even lunge and sponge (and any others I can’t think of right now). I am thinking that I would also make a distinction between feeling grungy (dirty, smelly) and music that is “grunge-y” (which I hesitate to write as “grungey”), even though when I see the word “grungy,” I am at first tempted to pronounce it with a hard “g.” Sigh. Like Outback restaurants, no rules, just right 🙂

  • Jeremy

    I agree with Fowler’s 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,” except I would extend to say e is only dropped before ‘e’ and ‘i’.
    So:
    “Judgement” because ‘m’ is a consonant.
    However, “judging” because of ‘i’.
    Impingement/impinging, enragement/enraging…

    But:
    “Courageous” and other words ending in ‘e’ with the suffix ‘ous’ (or any suffix starting with ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’ would keep the ‘e’ since these letters cause a hard ‘g’ sound. “Couragous” would be pronounced “kur-ay-gus.”

  • John Clark

    Having represented myself in California courts a lot the last decade, I always came across the “judgments” of the court, as the court always wrote it in their orders. But outside of the court, in non-judicial everyday matters, I always see “judgement” with an “e”. A distinction with a useful purpose.

  • Kirk Bryde

    The beauty of the evolution of the English language, be it British or American English, is that in the long run majority rules. The correct spelling is determined by the frequency of the way a word is spelt (or spelled). Now let’s not get started on how to spell “spelt”. 🙂

  • thebluebird11

    @Dallas: Grrrrrrr.

  • Dallas

    Sorry to all you “e” lovers, but just because you like it and you “think it looks better,” does not make it correct. If you learn a word correctly, then it looks wrong when it IS wrong. It looks wrong with an “e” in it because it IS wrong. For people to change how a word is spelled just because others don’t like how it really IS spelled is ridiculous in my opinion.

  • Jennifer

    I’m a firm holdout for “judgement”.

    The reason being that the silent “e” is there for the purpose of giving a phonetic cue to the sound of the “g”. To see why it should be considered the more correct spelling, consider the following:

    “lug” vs. “luge”

    “log” vs. “loge”

    “sag” vs. “sage”

    “wag” vs. “wage”

    There isn’t a single instance in English that I can think of with a root word ending in “g” where “g” has the “j” sound. The final “e” is used to cue in the reader to the correct pronunciation of the soft “g” sound. Therefore, “judgment” according to the rules of English phonics would be “jud-GUH-ment”. Clearly WRONG!!

    Add to that the fact that we don’t drop the silent “e” from anything else when forming a compound word with the “ment” ending – atonement, abasement, bereavement, management, etc. – and there seems to be no case whatsoever for “judgment”, aside from the fact that most Americans spell it that way. As our parents taught us, just because “everyone else is doing it” it doesn’t make it right. So I’ll continue to engage in pointless arguments with those who quibble with my CORRECT spelling of the word.

  • Evan Price

    British lawyers use judgment to refer to the decisions of judges and judgement to refer to the decisions taken by others – so, for example, ‘in my judgement, the judgment of Mr Justice X is mistaken’ …

    I suspect that this relates to modern spelling in the UK and the fact that our judicial decisions go back to a time before such standardised spelling.

  • Margaret Walker

    Thank you, everyone, for contributing! I was taught (in the 1950s or 1960s in the Southeast of the USA) that it was spelled “judgment.” I never understood (and possibly I was never told) why at that time. I’m glad to see from the discussion that maybe the correct spelling isn’t as “cut and dried” as I was led to believe way back then.

  • bargainph

    Actually, in the Philippines, the reason judgment is preferred over judgement is that teachers teach that judgement is wrong. Even my browser auto-spellchecker says it’s wrong.

  • Don Nicholls (UK)

    I once knew a chap called Hodgson, a grotesque, bow legged fellow, a tail end charlie on Lancasters during the war. I had trouble with his name for ages, wondering if it was pronounced Hodson or Hogson. As he was a rotten swine I settled for the latter.

  • cmdweb

    I haven’t seen many uses of judgment at all. Probably because I’m in the UK and judgement seems to be the much more accepted form in general here.

  • sherry roth

    To #3 (pulkit): A “g” in front of an “i” does not automatically make it a soft “g.” Namely: Give, gift, girl, giddy, gig, giggle, gimp, girdle…; pinging (as in a URL). What about singing vs singeing? Dropping the “e” in this case, specifically, will definitely change the soft “g” to a hard “g” and of course change the word completely. I believe the “e” has a definite place and should not be dropped, spellchecker be damned!

  • Nils

    I find that judgment (without ‘e’) is the preferred spelling in the admittedly somewhat conservative context of the law. Indeed, I was once instructed to differentiate between general good judgement and judgment as given by the court, where appropriate.

  • Pulkit

    “Judgment” is more prone to mispronunciation: the d-g-m may be sounded as “duggum,” “dugm,” “gum” or simply “dum,” depending on the reader. To ensure the d-g are combined together and sounded “j,” we required a separater in the form of an “e.” Therefore: “judgement.”

    About “bingeing,” “impingeing,” droping the e won’t convert the soft g into hard. From what I understand, g remains soft when followed by both e as well as i. It only turns into a hard g in cases of a, o or u.

  • Maeve

    Sherry,
    I agree that judgement looks better with the e. I just don’t agree with Fowler that it’s more “reasonable” than judgment.

    As for dropping the e from bingeing and cringeing, the speller checker is definitely wrong. Dropping the e in those words calls forth a hard g pronunciation.

    I think that in context the spelling caching works.

  • sherry roth

    Funny, to look at the word “caching,” it seems as if it might be pronounced like “catching,” or even “ka-CHING!”
    I always preferred to keep the “e” in “judgement,” because seeing all those consonants in a row in the middle there (“dgm”) was kind of overwhelming to me…I think I just needed the “e” in there for a break…but my spellchecker kept hounding me, so I switched to “judgment.” I don’t like it.
    I am also kind of a stickler about “bingeing,” “impingeing” and “cringeing,” but my spellchecker snags me and prefers to drop the “e”; it prefers “impinging,” (I do a lot of medical transcription and that’s a fairly common word in Orthopedics and Neurosurgery). According to your rule, it would seem that those “e”s need to be in there (not dropped before a vowel), so I’m sticking with doing it my way. And maybe I’ll go back to putting the “e” in judgement!

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