Canceled or Cancelled? How to Spell it Right Every Time

You may have noticed that the past tense of the word “cancel” is sometimes spelled with one ‘l’ and other times with two ‘l’s. What’s going on? Is one variation an error, or do they have different meanings? When should you use which spelling?

In fact, they are both correct and have the same meaning. Whether you write “canceled” or “cancelled” generally depends on where you live or what variety of English you speak.

British English and American English are two of the most commonly known varieties of English that have distinct differences from one another. The spelling of the past tense of the word “cancel” depends on which variety of English you are using.

What is the story behind these differences? Are there other words that are spelled differently by British English vs. American English speakers? Let’s find out.

Variations of Regional English

Since English is the global lingua franca, it has nearly as many varieties as it does speakers. However, in countries where English is spoken as the main or only language, its varieties tend to be more distinct.

Common varieties of English that vary from one another include American, Canadian, British, and Australian English. However, generally, the broader divide breaks down as “American” vs. “British”, with other countries, like Canada, mixing elements of both in their use.

So what are the differences between American and British English? One major one is vocabulary. A number of common words differ between American and British English, including:

American English British English
Elevator Lift
Cookie Biscuit
Vacation Holiday
Caravan Trailer
French fries Chips
Apartment Flat

In addition, there are some spelling differences between American and British English. American “humor” becomes “humour” in British English, and “recognize” becomes “recognise.” And, as we’re about to discuss, sometimes the past or gerund forms of some words differ as well.

The Origin of Spelling Differences in the UK and US

Both “canceled” and “cancelled” are correct spellings of the past tense of “cancel.” However, the British favor the double ‘l’ spelling while American English prefers just one ‘l.’ Let’s check out an example:

UK: I cancelled our reservation after the car accident.

US: He canceled our date after his wife found our text messages.

What accounts for this difference? Like many words that are spelled differently in the US vs. the rest of the world, we can probably blame (or credit, depending on your perspective) Noah Webster, esteemed writer of the well-known Webster’s (nowadays, Merriam-Webster) dictionary.

Since many people refer to the dictionary when writing and spelling, dictionary spellings tend to become authoritative over time.

According to Merriam-Webster, Noah Webster spelled “cancelled” with two ‘l’s in 1806, but just one ‘l’ in 1828. However, the truth is Mr. Webster was also likely considering what spelling had become common in the US when updating his dictionary. He (probably) didn’t just have a weird grudge against the double ‘l’ spelling.

Cancelling vs. Canceling and Other Notes

You’d assume that the single and double ‘l’ spelling distinctions with “cancel” would be consistent across tenses between British and American English.

But as we all know, English is quite famous for breaking all of its own rules and just being generally inconsistent. Even differences between regional forms of English are no exception! What do we mean?

While American English favors “canceling” and the British variation uses “cancelling,” in fact, both regions use the double ‘l’ when transforming the word ‘cancel’ into a noun. “Cancellation” is the standard in both types of English. For example:

UK: I will be cancelling my order immediately.

US: I cannot believe they are canceling the wedding.

UK: You will be reimbursed for your flight cancellation.

US: Please provide a reason for your cancellation here.

While you can actually spell “cancellation” with one ‘l’ in the US, most people don’t use that spelling. We advise you to avoid it.

How to Keep It All Straight

So, how can you keep all these confusing rules straight in your head? Let’s review:

  • US: Use one ‘l’ for canceled and canceling.
  • UK: Use two ‘l’s for cancelled and cancelling.
  • No matter where you are, use two ‘l’s for cancellation.

To be honest, you can use either spelling a lot of the time. But if you’re working on formal or academic writing, always make sure to use a spell checker or an AI writing tool like Trinka to ensure that your writing and spelling stay consistent.

Both US and UK style English are “correct,” which is to say, neither is wrong. However, it’s usually best to stick to one style and stay consistent. Now that you know which is which, you don’t have to worry about mixing these two words up again!

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