Cancelled or canceled – Which one is right?

Cancelled or canceled is the past tense to the word cancel, which means to decide not to conduct/preform something, usually suddenly. Depending on what you are reading, who you are talking to, and where you are, you have probably seen the word spelled in two different ways. One with a singular “L,” the other with two. That may leave you puzzled when you want to write it yourself.

You do not want to mess up and get it wrong, leading to an embarrassing correction by a colleague, friend, family member, or acquaintance. So which one is actually right? The short answer to this question is both are correct.

In America, people prefer to use the spelling with only one l, canceled, but in Britain and most other English dialects, people will swear it should have two ls. For a more in-depth look into the question, continue reading.

Why are there two different spellings

Before America (and more specifically before Webster’s Dictionary), pretty much all English speaking people spelled words the same. That remained true until around the year 1806 when Noah Webster (the man who wrote Webster’s Dictionary) decided that some words had too many letters, and they simply were not needed.

He changed many words, most of which he removed a ‘u’ from. For instance, colour became color, and rumour became rumor, and humour became humor. He also decided that the word cancelled did not need two ‘l’s, so he shortened it to canceled. He made this change in 1898, and by the 1980s, it caught on and became the accepted version of the spelling in America.

People have a wide variety of opinions on this change. Some people think that it is dumb that anyone would ever change the original spelling, especially when it made it, so people in one country or place spelled the word differently than everybody else. Other people think the change makes sense. Why would you include extra letters? These people typically would argue that shorter spelling makes English easier, faster, and more efficient.

If you can get across the same word and same meaning with fewer letters, why wouldn’t you? Some people may even argue that the rest of the world should switch their spelling too; that it is outdated and illogical. On the other hand, there are some people who do not even know there are two different spellings. They grew up with one, and if they see another, they will dig their heels in and claim that it must be simply incorrect. The number of people in this category is probably larger than you would expect.

Beyond the word canceled or cancelled, there are other forms of the word ‘cancel’ that have two different correct spellings. For example, the word cancelling/canceling can is spelled with one l by people who speak American English and two by people who speak other dialects. The same is true for the word canceller/canceler, though that word is used much less often as a whole.

Let’s look at some examples of these words in sentences:

British: Your refund has been issued via Stripe and subscription cancelled.

American: Your refund has been issued via Stripe and subscription canceled.

British: She cancelled her party because her boyfriend got sick.

American: She canceled her party because her boyfriend got sick.

British: The governor is cancelling all events because of the incoming storm.

American: The governor is canceling all events because of the incoming storm.

British: They used an automatic canceller in case of emergency situations.

American: They used an automatic canceler in case of emergency situations.

Exceptions

Of course, as we all know, there are exceptions to every rule to make our lives much harder. (Just kidding, kind of.) There are two exceptions to this rule.

The first exception is the word cancellation. No matter where you are in the world, this word should have two ‘l’s. You may run into people who try to use one, but that never caught on, and most linguistics would consider that to be completely and utterly incorrect. A good way to remember this exception is by remembering that the word cancellation adds two syllables onto the end of the word cancel. Two more syllables mean two, required ‘l’s.

Here are some examples of the word cancellation used in a sentence:

  • The cancellation was inevitable; we just did not want to admit it.
  • Due to the cancellation, we have a spot open for you if you would like it.
  • Unfortunately, because your cancelation was made so late, you are not eligible for a refund.

The second exception to the rule is the root word. The word cancel is always spelled with one l. The reason for this is that the original spelling (before Webster made any changes) had one. There was no reason for Noah Webster to make it any shorter, and, in reality, he could not have. If he had removed an l, he would have been left with a completely new word: cance.

Recap: The word canceled, canceling, and canceler can all be spelled with either one or two ‘l’s, and they are both correct. If you are in America or talking to someone who speaks American English, you should use one. If you are pretty much anywhere else or talking to anyone who speaks a different dialect of English, you should use two. This difference is due to the fact that in the 1800s, a man named Noah Webster decided to shorten various British words that he believed had unnecessary letters. The exceptions to this rule are the words cancellation and cancel. Cancellation always has two, and cancel always has one.

The English language can be tricky, but the good news is the more knowledge you have, the easier it gets. Now you have all the information you need to make an educated spelling choice for all forms and tenses of the word cancel and back up your decision if anyone tries to correct you. You can officially cancel all future embarrassing English moments (at least about the word cancel) goodbye! Congratulations!

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Brian Jackson

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