Words at work

– 6 min read

Canceled or cancelled: what’s the right spelling?

Masooma Memon

Masooma Memon

Remember when you were a kid and the confusion between canceled vs. cancelled got you into an argument with your classmate?

Now that you’ve grown up, you’re likely looking to get over this confusion between the two English spellings so you don’t use it incorrectly on social media or in your professional communication.

So what’s the correct spelling — canceled with one “l” or cancelled with two “l”s? The short answer is: both are correct. The long answer: the preferred spelling depends on where you live and who you’re writing for.

Let’s clear up this confusion by diving deep into the story behind canceled vs. cancelled, so you can know how to use the correct spelling.

Canceled vs. cancelled: which is the correct spelling?

While they use different spellings, they mean the same thing: the past tense of the verb cancel. The difference lies in whether you’re writing for an American audience or a UK audience.

For beginners, here’s the difference between canceled vs. cancelled:

Canceled with a single “l” is the American spelling. Cancelled with a double “I” is used in British English.

The double “l” or (“LL”) version is also the one that’s used in other countries outside the US, including Canada and Australia.

This holds true for most versions of the past tense of cancel such as cancelled and cancelling, and even the word canceller.

However, with the word cancellation, you’ll always use double “l” irrespective of where you live or who you write for. So, in a sense, cancelation is incorrect. Why? Because the generally accepted spelling for cancellation has double “ll” — there’s no American or British English in this case. Strange, right?


Let’s look at examples now:

American English: Maldives canceled island hopping due to the coronavirus pandemic. British English: Maldives cancelled island hopping due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The universal cancellation: You may also receive an email, SMS, and/or a phone call from us informing you about your flight cancellation. (FlyDubai)

Is it cancelled or canceled in Canada?

Canadian English uses cancelled, the same as British English. In fact, double “ll” is used in most countries other than the US that uses single “l”.

When is it okay to use double “ll” in the American spelling of canceled?

Now, here’s where things get complicated (feel free to lean into your screen right about now): in some instances, the American spelling uses double “ll” in variations of cancel.

But before you go all ninja on me, let me explain. When Americans like to stress the final syllable of a word, they add to the effects by using double “ll”.

For example:

Rebel ➡ Rebelled and Rebelling Compel ➡ Compelled and Compelling

Similarly, cancel becomes cancelled and cancelling in American English. This is why you sometimes see cancelled with a double “ll” in American books, captions in your favorite TV show, and publications such as the New York Times.

The root of the different spellings

The difference between canceled vs. cancelled is the same that you’ll find in other American and British spellings. For instance, color and colourhonor and honour, and favorite and favourite are all different.

The canceled vs. cancelled difference, in particular, arose when leading dictionaries started using the different spellings. Brits chiefly use spellings outlined in Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language.

On the other hand, American publications follow spellings given in Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language.

In the 1806 version of Webster’s dictionary, cancelled (double “ll” like in British English) was used. However, Webster — the spelling simplicity proponent that he was — used canceled with a single “l” in the 1828 dictionary version. Following Webster’s dictionary, using canceled became common in American English.

American English: examples of canceled

• For the second year, Boston Calling has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, organizers announced Monday. (Boston Globe)

Canceling the contract would be cheaper but not cheap. (Chicago Tribune)

• The entertainment news show, launched in 1991, was canceled in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, a representative for NBC Universal confirmed with CNN Business in an email. (CNN

British English: examples of cancelled

• Unsurprisingly, the last one caused the biggest backlash, with right-wing pundits claiming that “childhood is cancelled” after the estate of Dr. Seuss quietly removed six lesser-read books which they said featured “hurtful and wrong” racial stereotypes, first published in 1937. (The Independent)

• Then, without any warning whatsoever, your new favourite TV series, is cancelled. (Stylist)

• YouTuber and makeup artist Manny Gutierrez found himself “cancelled” following an online feud with fellow vloggers. (BBC)

When to use canceled vs. cancelled (and how to remember it)

The preferred spelling depends on a couple of factors:

Understand who your reader is.

If you’re writing to apply for a university in the UK, you’re likely going to impress the recipient by using cancelled, the British English version.

Understand which spelling your company uses.

If you’re well into your career already or are starting one as a writer or journalist, understand which spelling the publication or brand you work with uses. Chances are they’ll give you a stylebook that’ll answer this question for you. If not, read internal content and see which spelling is used.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

If you’re not professionally writing or communicating, you’ll want to use the spelling that others who live in your state/region use. For instance, if you’re currently in New Zealand, use cancelled.

Bonus: If the correct spelling confuses you a lot, consider using synonyms such as call off/called off. If the subject you’re talking about has been moved to a later date, use the word “postpone” for it. 

The question now is: how do you remember to use the correct version based on your location, target readers, and publication preferences?

Use Writer to automatically help you correct the version. All you need to do is set up the default setting to US or UK English or make a style guide for your brand and go on to use the right spelling. Kudos! It’s that simple. Start a free trial today.