John Larrysson Column: -ize Endings Are Not American English

English speakers create new words by taking a noun and adding –ise or –ize to the end of the written word. An –eyes sound is added to the end of the spoken word. This allows the person to create new words. I can change a traditional British dinner by making it in small separate pieces useful for eating with chopsticks. There is no word for this process, so I have to describe it or create a new word. I can add –ise or –ize to the end of dim sum to create this new word. I will dim sumise that dinner. This is a newly coined, or created word. It is not wrong, but it is not standard.

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Many Hong Kong people believe that words ending in -ize such as organize are US spellings, and that the standard spelling is o-r-g-a-n-i-s-e. This belief is wrong! The –ize ending has been in use in British English for about 500 years and before that spelling was very inconsistent. Today spelling has been standardised, with only a very few variations. In some of those variations the British use two spellings and the Americans only use one of the two. For example, the British use both spellings organise and organize in a ratio of 1:1.5 using the so-called American spelling more often. The US only uses the spelling organize.

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Many respectable British publishers, including Oxford University Press insist that words such as capitalize, computerize, organize, organization, privatize, publicize... should always take the -ize ending. However many people still use the -ise ending thinking that they are being British. In the case of realise and realize the use in the UK is at a ratio of 2:1. For the word analyse compared to analyze the use is 11:1. British English sometimes uses the -ize ending.

Many common words always end in –ise in both British and American English. These include, advertise, advise, apprise, arise, comprise, compromise, despise, devise, disguise, enterprise, exercise, improvise, merchandise and surprise. These are mostly not words coined by adding –ise to an existing word.

Some words such as revise, supervise, and televise do not have an –ise ending, they have a –vise ending. There is no difference in spelling between the UK and the US for the –vise ending. All of these words relate to seeing something and are the descendants of the Latin word for seeing. Where the stem word, usually Latin or Greek, uses –ise, keep the –ise form.

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Check the words in a good dictionary. You will often find that both spellings are correct in British English - realise or realize, organise or organize. The entries for some other words list the second spelling using -ize as unmistakably American, example: analyse = British English, analyze = American English. American dictionaries usually also include the second UK spelling (or the –ise spelling) as a British variant.

There are many complicated rules for deciding which spelling should be used. For example: In British English words ending with –yse, such as analyse, hydrolyse and paralyse cannot be spelt -yze. In America English the same words end with -yze. The problem is that there aren’t many common words with this structure and you don't want to create large numbers of rules.

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Here is a general guideline:

Noun and verb: Where the noun and verb are the same (like exercise), use -ise.

Pronunciation: Anything that doesn't sound like “-eyes” uses -ise, such as promise.

Stem: Where the stem word, usually Latin or Greek, ends in -is, then use -ise, as in -vise, to see, gives televise.

Anything else: Use –ize

If you are unsure, check a dictionary.

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by John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for more than a decade.