One “L” or Two?

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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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21 thoughts on “One “L” or Two?”

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


  2. 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!

  3. 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.


  4. Graham,
    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, โ€œtravelerโ€ would be the only correct spelling inside the US, but not outside where โ€œtravellerโ€ 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…


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

  8. 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.

  9. American, but often favor cancelled over canceled.

    traveled/travelled – one L’s enough; 2 is good too ๐Ÿ™‚

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

  10. “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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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

  13. Definitely the British style is the only correct form, since there is only one genuine English language, it is and was spoken and written by the English. It evolved in England. The name gives a clue to the origin as well as the ownership !

    Of course ‘out there’ it surely all depends on your likely audience, unless you are brave enough, or foolish enough, to face notoriety for overturning conventions ? As a part time, mostly unpublished, author I offer my own unique view, whilst accepting that some may find it non PC, I claim the absolute right to write whatever the damn I like, always guided by my ancestors and kin. Reader beware, you are of course free to agree or disagree, as we all are ! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Given that we now live in a very international world, interconnected as it now is, then writers, authors and the like clearly come under pressure to conform. Surely that is a pity. One cannot imagine William Shakespeare looking up words to justify there use, rather he coined them himself if he could not find a suitable alternative. His considerable volume of output plus the vast readership he achieved over so many years, led to some 1,700 new words being added to the English language. Many where no doubt controversial at the time, some still are depending on where you live and were educated, or perhaps subjugated and brainwashed.

    For anybody who does not already know; Will changed nouns into verbs, treated verbs as adjectives, connected words never previously used together, added prefixes and suffixes, and devised wholly original words into the bargain. Are we now all so cowardly that we cannot imagine continuing that trend ?

    It is sad indeed if modern practitioners of the art of storytelling are so constrained that they may not follow suit. But of course they do, though perhaps in less direct ways, they have to be more subtle. For better or worse the film industry and Internet age have added significant numbers of words, phrases and modified usages at a blistering pace.

    Of course rules, laws, custom and practice only have relevance if the majority follow them. Any time there is a sufficiently large resistance witnesses a revision of all the above. Individually we are insignificant, however en masse the voice of the people is all that matters. As an old man I have seen the language of my birth mutate to a point where I am often baffled, always saddened and even in despair.

    Without intending direct offence, speaking as an old Brit, Briton if you prefer, I must say that I find the idea that the citizens of the USA are somehow fit to be arbitrators as native speakers of English is laughable. They do not, nor was it ever likely they would do since they decided to break with the mother country some years ago. Despite being established as a British colony over the centuries there was considerable influence from French, German, Italian, Spanish and numerous other nationalities. Not that long ago Congress voted on adopting a national language and German came very close to being chosen; which would surely have had huge consequences of the following centuries. Actually no single language was ever formally selected, but English simply dominated for a variety of reasons, as it still does, worldwide.

    There are those who claim US hegemony simply because of the larger population of the USA compared with England, or the UK, but they overlook the huge effect of the Commonwealth, which vastly outnumbers all rivals. The head of that august body is of course Her Majesty, the Queen of England; you can be quite sure she uses two LL’s!

    PS – it does say, ‘Speak your mind!’ ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. I find that British prescriptivism (as promoted by Charles) is horribly nationalistic, and perhaps even imperialistic. Regardless of who had helped found various Anglophone countries, they have no say over the country once it has become independent. Absolutely none. While I haven’t asked many Mexican Spanish speakers if Spain Spanish speakers harass them the same way that British English speakers harass US English speakers, I sincerely doubt that it’s quite on the same level.

    If you’re so mucked up over US English bearing marked differences to British English that you feel you MUST harangue people over it, you may wish to seek counseling for it. It sounds very much like a personal issue that you should quite plainly work through on your own, rather than subjecting others to your prescriptivistic hang ups.

    And Charles, if you want to talk about the US variant having influence from other languages, let’s discuss how British English uses a number of French words for vegetables: Aubergine (did you know there are in fact small, egg-shaped, white eggplant? which is where it got that name?), courgette, and yet, I imagine you’re skipping over the heavy influence of multiple languages in your own form of English, such as heir apparent (adjective following noun is a mark of Romance languages, not Germanic, which is the root of English), battalion, macaque, tax, theatre, arch, just to toss out a tiny handful of examples. English as a whole, no matter which format, is a Germanic language heavily influenced by many other languages. There is no purity anywhere in it.

    Seek counseling, please, if you wish to hold to prescriptivism. It’s a terrible weight to carry around on yourself, and no matter how many times you attempt to correct others, it will never change them.

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