-IZE versus -ISE endings

As an author, editor and proofreader, two of the most invaluable reference books for use in British English are Hart’s Rules and the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, published by the Oxford University Press. I always encourage authors to invest in these for they give guidance and information on everything from spellings of difficult and unusual words, alternative American forms, hyphenation, publishing terms and all things concerning layout within writing, printing and publishing, whether for students or professional writers. It’s also the Holy Grail for editors.

The latest editions have recently been published so I was disappointed, if not surprised, to see a review put up on one of the major sales sites for Hart’s Rules. The reviewer stated that the contents page had capitalisation spelt “capitalization” and that if they had got this wrong at this early stage of the book by using the American spelling, he now distrusted all the content of this book totally “especially when compared against the current OSG where they have spelt it correctly.”

Oh dear! What a misinformed person. For if this reviewer had bothered to explore the contents of the book, in particular the section on verbs ending in -ize or -ise, they would have learned that, and I quote from Hart’s Rules (2005), p.43:

“the ending -ize has been in use in English since the 16th century, and is not an Americanism, although it is the usual form in American English today” but “The alternative from -ise is far more common in British than it is in American English.”

This opinion isn’t just the OUP’s. The Collins Dictionary (2007) p.862 also states:

“In Britain and the US -ize is the preferred ending for many verbs, but -ise is equally acceptable in British English. Certain words (chiefly those not formed by adding the suffix to an existing word) are, however, always spelt with –ise in both Britain and the US.”

For example: revise. Hart’s also makes the point that:

“For some words, however, -ise is obligatory: first, when it forms part of a larger word element such as -cise (= cutting), -mise (= sending), –prise (= taking), or -vise (seeing); and second, when it corresponds to nouns with -s- in the stem, such as advertise and televise.”

(For a full list of words that always take an -ise ending, click here)

As a point of interest, going back in history whether a verb took the -ize or -ise spelling was once determined by the word’s route: taking one form if it came from Latin, taking the other if from Greek. Of course, nowadays that etymology doesn’t come into the equation. What does and always will is the point I constantly make to writers and one that is most important, as quoted in Hart’s, not just for -ize versus -ise verb endings, but for any spelling or format:

“Whichever form is chosen, ensure that is applied consistently throughout the text.” [my emphasis]

So, it really doesn’t matter which form you use. Simply decide if you are going to use the British English format or the Amercian style, add those spellings to your wordprocesser dictionary, and stick to it throughout your text. If you are taking the British English stance, you should also take the British English style for ANY word you use that has an American English counterpart. Consistency is king.


About Kit Domino

Author and acrylic artist who loves travel, gardening, nature, good food and wine and a whole more besides.
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