One “L” or Two?

By Maeve Maddox - 1 minute read

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Lisa wrote:

We’re having a bit of an issue here at work. Can you address the usage of canceled vs. cancelled?

If you’re using a U.S. version of Word, typing cancelled will get you a wiggly green underline. However, both spellings, canceled and cancelled, are acceptable standard usage in English.

The doubled l in cancelled is British usage; the single l is American usage.

In British usage, words of more than one syllable ending in l double the l before the addition of such endings as -ed, -ing, -ist, -ize, and –ise.

in American usage, the final l is doubled only when the stress falls on a syllable other than the first.

Where British usage calls for levelled, libelled, quarrelled, and travelled, American usage has leveled, libeled, quarreled, and traveled.

American usage agrees with British on annulled, controlled, patrolled, and extolled because the stress falls on the second syllable of these words. It should agree on enrolled as well, but I see enroled in many publications.

On the other hand, British usage draws the line at adding still another l to parallel in paralleled and parallelize.

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17 Responses to “One “L” or Two?”

  • Brendan

    What is more appropriate in American usage: “He pled guilty” or “He pleaded guilty”?


  • Grace S.

    I am amazed–I have never seen “enroled,” and I assumed it was because the base word is spelled with double “l” at the end (and, of course, the accent is on the second syllable). However, I just looked it up, and find that “enrol” is an acceptable spelling of the base word! You learn something new every day!

  • Graham Strong

    Great post — I think this gets many people confused in this Internet age!

    A side note here: in Canadian English, as in the English grammar systems of most (all?) other Commonwealth countries, the correct spelling is with a double “L”, not the single.

    As for “enrolment” — that’s one of those weird ones where the “L” is doubled in American English, and single in all other forms (that I’m aware of).

    Lastly, I think it is a little inaccurate to say that “both spellings… are acceptable standard usage in English” — actually I’m not sure this is exactly what you meant to say Maeve. There are several different spelling and grammar systems in English, and each particular spelling is correct within its respective system, but not outside of it.

    For example, “traveler” would be the only correct spelling inside the US, but not outside where “traveller” would be correct.


  • Maeve

    I know that what you say about conforming to the different spelling systems is the sensible way of dealing with spelling differences like the ones discussed here:

    There are several different spelling and grammar systems in English, and each particular spelling is correct within its respective system, but not outside of it. For example, “traveler” would be the only correct spelling inside the US, but not outside where “traveller” would be correct.

    Although I write within the U.S., I think traveller “looks better” than traveler and that’s the form I prefer. I can even justify using the double l spelling because when I look it up in that all-accepting U.S. authority–Merriam-Webster–I find it listed as “a variant spelling” of traveler and not as “the British spelling of.” If it’s a variant, I can use it, no?

    When I write for publication, of course, I follow the designated style guide.

    You speak of the internet age. It’s not just on the web that the different systems of English are colliding. The U.S. entertainment industry is studded with British, Canadian, and Australian actors. They’re very good at adopting American accents, but they appear on talk shows where they speak in their native accents and vocabulary.

    U. S. television commercials feature British and Australian voice-overs that project not only the accents, but some of the idioms as well.

    Is it perhaps possible that this cultural cross-pollination will make all the variants acceptable for writers regardless of place of residence?

    It seems to me that as long as one is consistent, not writing “traveler” some of the time and “traveller” other times, the writer of English ought to be able to choose the forms he prefers–never forgetting that when writing on assignment one follows the style preferred by the publisher or employer.

  • PreciseEdit

    Overall, this discussion reminds me of two points we often have to address:
    1. Select (or agree to) a particular style guide.
    2. Follow it consistently.

    As you point out, consistency may be more important than accuracy in cases like these. (Read Eats, Shoots and Leaves and note how often Truss neglects to follow her own admonition to place a comma before a conjunction that joins two independent clauses.)

    We see these issues frequently when assisting British writers, Australian writers, and Canadian writers (each of which has a unique style) and when assisting doctoral candidates with dissertations (MLA vs. APA, for example).

    Even individual writers have particular styles (semi-colons vs. colons vs. periods, for example.)

    I am always amused to see inconsistencies in spellings and punctuation, or when a writer of one nationality has text that adheres to conventions of a different nationality (such as American authors with British English spellings).

    I generally blame the editor, not the writer.

  • Dottie

    I prefer the double “L” – of course I also prefer “Saviour”, etc. …

  • Graham Strong

    Hi Maeve,

    As both you and PreciseEdit said, you do have to agree upon a style guide with your client/employer before setting out.

    That being said, professional writers are also expected to be the “expert” in this area. The Chicago Style Guide may differ from, say, the US Government Printing Style Guide in small ways. But generally speaking, spelling is consistent. The word “traveler” will be “traveler” in any US style guide. Yes, your dictionary may list the double-L version as a variant, but it is likely referring to the fact that the UK spelling is traveller. It does not mean that it is a correct way to spell it within the US. (BTW, I agree with you — the word seems more balanced with two Ls, doesn’t it?)

    Incidentally, there are many words that do not yet have an accepted and consistent spelling like “Internet” vs. “internet” and “website” vs. “web site” etc. What I usually do is look at a client’s past use of these words, and keep consistency moving forward.

    As for the effect of the Internet: I think that what is more likely to happen is that US spelling will become the “accepted” grammar system internationally. You already see this happening in Canada — all word processors have US dictionaries by default, so when all these non-writers do their spellchecks, suddenly they have squiggly lines under words that are actually spelled correctly (like “traveller”). I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see this happening — my wife gets mad at me now anytime I point it out in Canadian signs and advertising, it happens so much.

    This change will happen slower in places like the UK and Australia (further away from US influence) but I wouldn’t be surprised if, for example, places like Hong Kong and even perhaps the European Union eventually switch to US spelling and grammar.

    In the short term though, yes, you can see the hodge-podge of styles in blogs and other social media already. People are used to seeing and reading different spelling styles. It certainly makes for a more exotic Global Village, doesn’t it?

    TV commercials — lol — in Canada, we see the original UK commercial on Canadian channels, and the dubbed ones on US channels. For example, that Cheerios commercial where the husband asks his wife if she’s losing weight. (“The box says: ‘Shut up, Steve’.”) The dubbing is a little off in the US version…


  • Maeve

    I knew someone would get me on the “manly.”

  • PB

    I prefer the double “L” – of course I also prefer “Saviour”, etc. …

  • Pete

    Trivial this, I know, but… I think ‘parallelise’ is the preferred British form, rather than ‘parallelize’.

  • Peter

    Preferred by whom? Oxford spelling always prefers (insists on) the “z” form.

  • umber

    This “preference” issue is out of place. There are some things that are a matter of style, and writers can properly choose what to write. Other things are not. Rules of spelling that differ e.g. in UK vs. US English are not matters of preference. “Travelling” is wrong if writing American English. Period. So are theatre, grey, and kerb. If you are writing in any form of standard English, you don’t get to pick whatever spelling strikes your fancy just because it is standard in a different dialect. Likewise, you don’t get to spell it “independance” because that’s how it’s spelled in French. Nor do you get to say someone is “in hospital” if you are speaking American English. To do so is simply affectation.

  • Harvey

    American, but often favor cancelled over canceled.

    traveled/travelled – one L’s enough; 2 is good too 🙂

    it’s just weird how enrolled can be spelled ‘enroled’ in the UK; installment here is instalment there.

  • Carla

    “enrolled” is not a good example in this case, because the base verb is to enroll, with double l! I’m afraid that “enroled” is wrong on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean 😉

  • Dawn Austin Locke

    I have been researching the British English spelling of ‘journalling’ for a book I’m editing. The use of this word as a verb is in evolution and is not thoroughly addressed by the OED or other. I have stuck with the basic rule of doubling the L for a British audience, but am the focus of some contention! Any insight? (I am using the verb ‘to journal’ in the creative writing sense, not the machinery one.)
    Thanks for any comment 🙂

  • Steve

    Can anyone explain why Americans spell ‘controlled’ “correctly”, ie with a double ‘l’, but then say traveled, leveled, etc.

  • Steve

    Hang on, I should have read the full article

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