Canceled or Cancelled: Which Is Correct?

By Alan Reiner – December 18, 2023

You may have encountered the words “canceled” and “cancelled” and wondered which is correct. The truth is, both spellings are technically accurate. The distinction lies in the English dialect used, as each spelling is favored in different regions.

In American English, “canceled” with one “l” is the preferred spelling, as well as “canceling” for the present participle. On the other hand, British English and other dialects typically use the double “l” variations such as “cancelled” and “cancelling.” 

It is essential to recognize these differences and apply the appropriate spelling based on the intended audience for your writing. By doing so, you can effectively communicate your message while adhering to the respected language conventions.

Understanding The Difference Between ‘Cancelled’ And ‘Canceled’

When you write about canceling an event, you might wonder if you should use “canceled” or “cancelled.” The difference between them lies in the spelling and the region they are preferred in.

American English

In American English, it is common to use “canceled” with one ‘l’. This preference developed after Noah Webster published “An American Dictionary of the English Language” in 1828, which aimed to simplify and Americanize the English language. So, in the US, you will often see “canceled” and “canceling” with one ‘l’.

British English

On the other hand, British English prefers “cancelled” with two ‘l’s. This spelling can be traced back to Samuel Johnson’s publication “A Dictionary of the English Language” in 1755, where British spelling conventions were established. In the UK, Canada, and other regions using British English, you’ll find “cancelled” and “cancelling” with two ‘l’s.

In summary, both spellings are correct; choose one based on the regional dialect you are adhering to. For American English, use “canceled” and for British English, use “cancelled.”

Examples Of ‘Cancelled’ Vs. ‘Canceled’ In American English

In American English, the verb “to cancel” often takes the past tense form “canceled” with one “l”. For example:

  • You canceled your gym membership.
  • She canceled the party due to bad weather.

However, it’s not uncommon to see “cancelled” with two “l’s” in American English, although it’s less frequent. The same rule applies to the verb form “canceling” with one “l” being more common. Nevertheless, “cancelling” with two “l’s” is also acceptable.

Historically, Noah Webster, the creator of Webster’s dictionary, simplified English spellings in America, resulting in single “l” spelling variations like “color” instead of “colour” and “favor” instead of “favour”. Therefore, “canceled” and “canceling” follow this pattern.

When it comes to the noun form for an individual stopping an action or event, “canceler” is the preferred spelling in American English. Although you might encounter “canceller”, it’s significantly less standard.

Remember, the American English forms of canceled, canceling, and canceler are more common in the United States, while British English favors the double “l” forms: cancelled, cancelling, and canceller.

Contrasting ‘Cancelled’ And ‘Canceled’ In British English

In British English, the verb “cancel” is spelled with a double “l” when forming the past tense and gerund forms. Hence, you’ll see ‘cancelled’ and ‘cancelling’ used in British grammar and usage. British dictionaries typically list these double “l” forms as standard.

This spelling difference can be compared to other variations in British English, such as the use of ‘colour’ instead of the American ‘color.’ It’s essential to recognize and use the correct spelling when writing for a British audience to avoid accidently using the American form.

In contrast, ‘canceled’ and ‘canceler’ are more common in American English, although the double “l” forms are still accepted. But when focusing on British English, it’s best to stick to the standard ‘cancelled’ and ‘canceller’ for clarity and consistency.

An Exception To The Rule: The Spelling Of ‘Cancellation’

The Consistent Use of “Cancellation” in Both American and British English

While spelling variations exist for “canceled” and “cancelled,” the spelling of the noun “cancellation” remains consistent. You should always spell it with a double “l” regardless of your target audience or dialect.

This is a vital exception to remember as you navigate through the differences in spelling between American and British English.

Variations in Spelling for Verbs with Second-to-Last Syllable Stress

In cases where stress is on the second-to-last syllable, verbs like compel, counsel, fuel, marvel, model, and quarrel typically use a single-l suffix when adding suffixes such as -ing or -ed. For example, you would write “counselor,” “fuelling,” “marvellous,” “modelling,” and “quarrelling.”

This exception helps you avoid errors and confusion when dealing with spelling variations. Always keep in mind that while “canceled” and “cancelled” may differ, “cancellation” remains the same, proven by the consistency in its spelling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is canceled or cancelled preferred for American English?

In American English, the preferred spelling for the past tense of “cancel” is “canceled” with one L. However, the double-L spelling “cancelled” is also acceptable, but less common.

How to use canceled and cancelled in British English?

In British English, the double-L spelling “cancelled” is more common for the past tense of “cancel.” On the other hand, the single-L version “canceled” is not as widely used and may seem unusual to British readers.

What is the AP Style rule for canceled versus cancelled?

The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, primarily used by American journalists, recommends the single-L spelling, “canceled” and “canceling,” for the past tense and present participle of “cancel.”

What’s the difference between cancellation and cancelation?

While both spellings are correct, “cancellation” is more common in American English, whereas “cancelation” is more common in British English.

Do you spell cancelled cheque with one L or two?

The preferred spelling depends on the dialect you’re using. In American English, it’s usually spelled “canceled check,” and in British English, it’s “cancelled cheque.”

Has the spelling of cancelled changed over time?

Yes, the spelling has evolved over time. Historically, both single-L and double-L spellings coexisted, but consistency emerged with American and British English settling on “canceled” and “cancelled,” respectively. However, both variants are acceptable and understood in either dialect.