In this edition of Grammar Corner, we discuss some of the most widely used grammar errors in the English language. We don’t just correct you, though; we pinpoint exactly why a particular word/phrase/idiom is used incorrectly, while providing the context for each mistake, and then providing the right word/phrase/idiom.
Most of the time, a grammar error occurs because of homophones. Homophones are two words that sound exactly the same, but mean vastly different things. But it’s not just their meaning that’s different; homophones can also function as vastly different parts of speech.
In this edition, however, we discuss two words that mean the same exact thing, with the only difference being spelling and, more importantly, cultural context: cancelled vs. canceled.
At the root of this discussion is less about meaning, context, or even homophony; in fact, the only discussion to be had is the cultural aspect of each spelling variation. If you’re still wondering which one is correct, cancelled or canceled, let’s answer that now: both are correct, but only if using each spelling variation’s version of English.
To note: canceled and cancelled are both correct depending on whether you’re using primarily British or American English, but there is only one acceptable and correct spelling for its verb: cancellation
Why are Cancelled and Canceled Spelled Differently?
To understand why cancelled and canceled (along with many other words) are spelled differently, we need to go back all the way to the 1820’s, when renowned lexicographer Noah Webster (of future Merriam-Webster fame) pioneered the English-language spelling reform movement in the then-new United States. Noah Webster was a true blooded American patriot, and he believed that, despite using the same language, Americans should show their nationalistic spirit by spelling things differently from their former colonial overlords.
In 1828, Webster published the American Dictionary of the English Language, the first dictionary to pioneer “American” spellings of English words. Aside from his love of all things American, Webster also had a more practical reason for dropping letters: making it easier for printers to print. Back in the 1800’s, mass printing was still a cumbersome and expensive profession, with most printers charging authors per letter. To go around this, Webster proposed dropping certain letters, like the extra L in cancelled, to not only be more American, but also to save money.
Cancelled vs. Canceled: Which One to Use?
Always remember: if your audience is using British English (i.e. Australians, Canadians, or any of the former Commonwealth countries), then use ‘cancelled’. If your audience is using American English, then use ‘canceled’.
British = 2 L’s
America = 1 L
Here are some examples of how to use each spelling variation:
Canceled: The American Version
I had to cancel my subscription to The New Yorker because, let’s be honest, I didn’t actually read it; I just wanted people to think I was smart.
Why are you still giving me a salad? I canceled this order!
Hey, what are you up to? My flight just got canceled; do you want to hang out?
I want to cancel my barber’s appointment, seeing as my hairline has receded past the point of no return already. But I don’t know, what do you think?
Would you do me a favor and cancel that movie I just ordered through the Hotel TV?
Cancelled: The British Version
Lord Crawley had never cancelled a dinner before in his life, and he certainly will not start now, no matter how badly the Great Room stunk of bath water.
Due to the Queen’s Visit, we have cancelled our planned Spoken Word/Interpretative Dance open mic competition.
What do you mean they cancelled the party?! But I already bought the 20 jars of vegemite you requested! Why is it cancelled, then?
In a rare display of competency, Ryanair cancelled all of its outbound flights from Heathrow, citing the relatively high danger levels Mothra presented to Europe.