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TWTS: If you drive a lorry, take the road less “travelled," not "traveled"

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If you take the road less traveled, the country you’re in while on said road will make all the difference in how “traveled” is spelled. If you’re in the U.S., it’s spelled with one L, but in the U.K., the L is doubled.

Of course, there are plenty of other differences between British and American English. People in the U.S. eat French fries; people in the U.K. eat chips. We drive trucks; they drive lorries.

However, in American English and British English, we use the same word to refer to the building where we watch plays or other performances — we just spell it differently. You can thank Noah Webster for that.

In the 19th century, Webster was interested in reforming American spelling as a way to assert an American form of English. That’s why the aforementioned building is spelled “theater” in the U.S. and “theatre” in the U.K.

Webster decided that for words like “cancel” and “travel,” the past tense should only have one L, as in “canceled.” This was also true for the progressive form, as in “traveling.” However, this rule only applies when the stress isn’t placed on the final syllable — the one with the L.

Words like “expel” and “control” are examples of words that do have the stress on the final syllable. When written in the past tense, these words become “expelled” and “controlled,” and in the progressive tense, “expelling” and “controlling.”

When we were checking out lists of other commonly misspelled words, we noticed that many of them contain an R or two. To hear our discussion about these R words, and why we often misspell them, listen to the audio above.

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Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.