Perfecting your English

By Stewart Clark
If there are particular problems in English or matters you would like this column to take up, contact Stewart Clark, International Office, NTH, tel. 95245.


There are many ways of spelling English, not all are correct. There are also degrees of correctness as some people have discovered with a spell-checker that has an unyielding mind of its own. The two main authorities for English spelling are generally regarded to be the Oxford English Dictionary (British English) and Webster's (American English). ISO 31-0 1992 (E) has given the Oxford English Dictionary a boost by using its spelling of the names of units in the English versions of ISO 31-0 to ISO 31-13. The Oxford is also the British English dictionary in other ways. An example is creating a spelling change to make English spelling agree slightly more with its pronounciation, such as preferring the spelling of organize to the more old-fashioned organise.

-ize/ -ise

Many people feel that these spellings are alternative forms of American and British English. They are not. For once, the Cambridge University Press, the Oxford University Press, The Times (London) and American usage all agree on this point.

-ize spelling is preferred when the ending is pronounced eyes, such as organize, symbolize, recognize. Note that these verbs are sometimes confused with nouns pronounced eyes which are correctly spelt -ise (for example: enterprise, exercise, surprise).

-ise is the correct spelling when the ending is pronounced ice, iss or eez, as in precise and expertise.

Note that verbs that are formed from nouns with -is-, keep the -ise spelling (for example: advertise, advise, improvise, televise).

New verbs with -ize

There is a tendency particularly in American English and advertising jargon to add -ize to create new verbs. This is an on-going process so that hospitalize rather than be admitted to hospital is generally accepted. Randomize is also accepted because the alternative is not easy. Advertisers, and others, promote such new words to make a product "more attractive", such as: customized solutions.

My general advice is use such new words with care. Before using words like slenderize (perhaps meaning "become more slender") check whether there is a better alternative, such as slim . Often such new verbs such as burglarize can be replaced by an infinitive: to burgle . Some authors have produced homemade horrors such as trialize or costwize, these are more likely to amuse your readers than enlighten them.

-yse/ -yze

The situation with these verbal endings is very straightforward.
British English uses the -yse spelling: analyse.
American English has the -yze spelling: analyze.

Enlightening English

Some companies start to think about what to put in their Christmas cards about this time of the year. A few years ago, the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment created some aromatic smoke signals in the international diplomatic community by the following translation of a poem by Herborg Kråkevik that was used as their Christmas text:
One Earth
One Sun
One World
That's what we've got.
They need tender, loving care
just like a pot plant.
Look after them.
They are precious things.

Updated 28.02.95, Christian Viken,