Submitted by sigurd  •  March 7, 2011

Rules for -ise and -ize

How does one know exactly when a word is supposed to end with -“ise” vs -“ize” in Oxford spelling?

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Sorry, but this is one of the things I love about English: the fact that it doesn't follow cold logic. Language is as much about the heart as the mind; if we were going to be logical about it, we'd all be speaking Esperanto. But, thank God, we're not.

I agree that historically the -ise/-ize thing was not an AmE/BrE difference, but language changes, and a lot of people in Britain do see -ize as somehow "American" and as I've said before, the mainstream quality press in the UK tend to use "-ise", Oxford notwithstanding. For the life of me I can't see the harm in using the prevailing spelling of my own language community. Americans are quite happy to assert their language differences from us, and good on them, so why can't we?

In any case there are plenty of other examples in English where "s" has a hard /z/ sound, and I'm sure people are quite used to this. I looked up words ending in " -ise" at MoreWords, and couldn't find (m)any with a soft "s". The final "e" seems to have the effect of hardening the "s", like the "e" after a consonant changes the vowel sound of a word, eg "fin" to "fine". So I'm afraid I don't even see a phonetics argument for ditching "ise".

http://www.morewords.com/ends-with/ise/

Personally, I like the fact that our spelling reflects the diverse origins of our language (even when wrongly corrected); that we spell certain words coming from Greek with "ph" or "ps". How is this confusing? "ph" is always pronounced like "f", and as far as I know, the "p" in "ps" is always silent. What's more, many of us see certain uses of phonetic spelling, such as "Krazy Kuts", plain ugly. We simply like our language the way it is, warts and all.

As for literacy rates, although it may well have a slowing effect on reading, the crazy English spelling system doesn't seem to have much of an overall effect on literacy rates. According to a table at Wikipedia, all the main English-speaking countries are at 99%, while Spain, with a much more phonetic spelling system is at 97.7%, with Argentina at 97.2 and Chile at 95.7. Nearly all the countries with over 99% are ex-Soviet block, but English-speaking Barbados manages 99.7.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_...

There are now more non-native English speakers in the world than native speakers and they seem to manage OK. My students have some problems, yes, but not serious ones. And certainly not enough to put them off the language.

Finally, if you really want to change the spelling system, what we do in Britain is totally irrelevant. The US is in such a dominant position that it could do what it liked. But I imagine there isn't much more appetite in the States for change than there is in the UK. So stop blaming us, please! :)

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I'v been offline for a while and won't be back online for about a week after this. I don't know about the "hunt and peck" typists, but I'v been typing since high school and hitting the 'z' key is as easy as hitting the 's' key for me so I don't think that is a big reason for it.

To me, the -ise rather than -ize is a step backward from a more fonetic and better spelling way. I guess what gets me on this one is that the -ize spelling was the standard even in BrE ... Heck, even the OED givs preference to the -ize. Somehow, this has become a BrE vs AmE thing when it truly isn't.

And yes, adding the 'c' to scissors was one of those odd "reforms" ... as was changing ake to ache on the mistaken belief that the word was rooted in Greek (it's not).

Spelling in English is an embarrassment and it's wrong to try to blame the education system. The teachers didn't come up with this crazy system. There are 561 spellings in an abridg'd dictionary for the 40 common sounds of English, or about 14 per sound. If we take only the 10,000 most common words, as found in a sample of 100,000, there are still 361 different spellings, or 9 per sound. … In an abridg'd dictionary there are 43 spellings for "schwa". (Dewey, 971; 8, 110-1)

Though the rough cough and hiccough plough me through,
O'er life's dark lough I ought my way pursue.
— 1842, Horace Mann, first Commissioner of Education of Massachusetts, publish'd this to show the problems in relations of spellings to sounds in English.
... That's eight ways to say the -ough. That means there are eight to the eighth power ways (64,000) one could say this couplet.

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Hi everyone - I generally use -ise because, when touch typing, the s is easier to get at than the z on the keyboard ... I wonder if that was anything to do with the change from -ize to -ise in English?

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@AnWulf - I take your point about the spelling system, and also about the "reforms" of the classicists (I think the c in scissors is part of that). I suppose I'm just too old to change (and I'm a product of a very traditional education, so spelling has never been much of a problem for me).

What you say about foreign students is interesting though, because my experience is rather different. I've been teaching foreigners full time for over twelve years, and spelling doesn't seem to be such a huge problem for my students. What they find difficult is mostly to do with tenses, conditionals, etc. But admittedly we concentrate mainly on conversation. But in what written work I do get, spelling is not a big problem - the main problem is to do with forming natural-sounding constructions.

But you're probably right that has an impact on literacy rates amongst problem among native speakers.

I was only joking about your "weird" spelling; I know your predilection for all things Anglo-Saxon. I just wanted to stress that my use of "-ise" verbs is absolutely standard in my cultural environment.

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Quick answer since I'm on borrow'd time ... I spend a lot of time outside of the US in Latin America ... I also spend a lot of time tutoring folks who want to learn English. I hav known folks who hav given up on learning English owing to the spelling. A few odd ones here and there aren't bad ... but English has a lot ... and I mean a lot of contradictory spellings.

Also, study after study has shown that illiteracy among nativ English speakers is higher than among those whose spellings are more fonetic. English spelling is always cited as one of the reasons for this high illiteracy rate. English speakers waste time and brain cells in order to memorize odd spellings.

Spelling reform has been push´d by many in the US, England, and Australia so it isn't a US thing, tho the US seems to be more open to the more fonetic spellings than others. BTW, many of my "weird" spellings were once as mainstream as the unfonetic ones. Island was iland til some reformer wanted to link it to Latin (it doesn't come from Latin so that was a mistake as well). When Johnson publish'd his dictionary, the spelling he choose were ones that he like'd rather than ones rooted on fonetics.

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@AnWulf - because it's part of my identity and part of the language I see all around me every day. I simply use the same forms that practically every British publication (apart from those of the OUP) uses. I deeply respect American English, and if I were American I would be proud to use American forms and Americanisms, but I'm not, so I happily use the language forms of my own culture, just as I use British expressions such as "spot on" and "don't get your knickers in a twist". Not to mention Scotticisms like "doing the messages" (for the shopping) and "outwith". I'm afraid logic doesn't come into it much, it's just a matter of being comfortable with your identity. It seems to me that language and identity are deeply entwined. Much more so than language and logic.

In any case, as you hinted at, English is very much a non-phonetic language, so I don't think the odd -ise for -ize or u in colour is going to make a lot of difference - think of all those bough and rough and through words, for example. In any case, I don't really go for your phonetics argument, as verbs such as advertise, advise, apprise and arise end in -ise, on both sides of the Atlantic, and I can hear no difference in sound between them and other verbs with an -ize ending. And we have plenty of other examples of hard s in English.

Now you tell me why you like using these weird spellings of yours.

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@Warsaw Will ... Why do you like to -ise rather than -ize? Why go against the more fonetic spelling? ... Ísn't English spelling bad enuff without adding more unfonetic spellings? Two of the the stronger spelling reform organizations aren't in the US ... They're in England and Australia ... yet the Brits are the most resistant to spelling reform and, in the case of -ise, are actually going the opposit way.

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@Skeeter Lewis - No, sorry but I like my -ise verbs, as evidently do a lot of other Brits. And if anything the trend is going against you. The (London) Times, which use to use -ize, has now followed most other British newspapers in using -ise. Most TEFL books I work with use -ise. "Correct" doesn't only depend on etymology.

And anyway, in BrE you have a choice: if you don't like -ise you can always use -ize, except for the verbs I listed in my previous comment, which are -ise on both sides of the Atlantic.

And Sigurd seems to be correct about -yze/-yse endings, such as analyse (BrE) /analyze (AmE), which according to Oxford Dictionaries are always -yse in BrE (including Oxford English) and -yze in AmE. Thanks Sigurd, I didn't know that.

http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/verbs-endin...

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Our grandfathers and great grandfathers in Britain used the 'ize' spelling. It's strange that we went over to the Frenchified 'ise'. I hope we return to the correct 'ize' form.

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Fower describes analyze/analyse as "... two equally indefensible forms that has won. The correct but now impossible form would be analysize (or analysise), with analysist for existing analyst."

Oddly, the Greek root means to "loosen up".

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Replacing the 's' with a 'z' came about as a result of Scrabble players being stuck with 10 point penalties at the end of games.

The OED lists both analyse (noun and verb) and analyze (verb), and includes a mention of ise and ize versions as now non-standard.

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To clarify, "analyze" is correct because it comes from a different root. "Analyse" is incorrect worldwide, except in Britain, where it is correct. Just remember the following rule: -ise is correct in Britain; -ize is correct everywhere else.

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now i'm surprized and confused

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Maybe there's some other affix ending knocking about in English which could be used instead of both -ise, ize? Ugly little buggers.

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Generally, "-ise" is British (though I heard even in the UK, "realize" is correct), while "-ize" is American (except for "advertise", which is proper spelling in the US).

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The z vs s rules aren't the same. The -ize rule might be, but the -yze endings of American English, for example, are always spelled -yse in Oxford spelling.

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@sigurd, you are no doubt right on point one, and I rather regretted having written that, but that is how it is often perceived in the UK. This from Wikipedia -

'In the last few decades, the suffix -ise has become the more common spelling in the UK. Many incorrectly regard -ize as American English, though it has been in use in English since the 16th century'.

But are you sure about 'advertize', which neither Merriam-Webster (US) nor my US spell check recognise?. This is listed in Wikipedia among those verbs that always take 's', whatever side of the Atlantic we live on. That's why I say the rules for z or s in Oxford English (as opposed to standard British English) and American English are probably exactly the same.

Verbs like this listed in Wikipedia include;
advertise, advise, apprise, arise, circumcise, comprise, compromise, demise, despise, devise, disguise, excise, exercise, franchise, guise, improvise, incise, merchandise, revise, rise, supervise, surmise, surprise, televise

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_Briti...

As for preserving the language's identity, that's a bit prescriptivist for my liking.

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I disagree with Oxford spelling's -ize being an Americanism (because it isn't). Oxford spelling has -ise endings for some words that end with -ize in American English. For instance, 'advertise' is spelled with -ise in Oxford spelling, which is 'advertize' in American spelling. Also, I think the original -ize Oxford spelling better preserves the language's identity than using the rather recent -ise Frenchism in words.

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I can't answer your question (well maybe I can) , but I can answer @Remek and @terence. Oxford English uses standard British spelling - colour etc, but American -ize verb endings, so it is different from standard BrE, where we have a choice -ise or -ize.

So I Imagine the z/s rule in Oxford English is exactly the same as American English and @NClose has probably hit it on the head.

Personally I use -ise as a matter of principle, and will continue to use 'merchandise' as both noun and verb. l've read somewhere that -ise is actually on the increase. Probably because just as Americans aren't too keen on British imports such as 'amongst' and 'forwards', we also like to keep our language identity, and -ise is one way we do it.

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I recognize that there are those who use -ise for both forms of the word, but its origins are just as unclear from what I have read.

Merchants were (are) the ones who merchandise, but the merchandise can refer to both the goods and the transaction and perhaps were one in the same.

I haven't been able to pin anything down, but the word may arose to communicate an exchange of goods for money (by merchants). This would be different from money changing (trading) and barter, which are money for money and goods for goods, respectively.

I think another piece of this puzzle is that merchandise may indicate mobility. Merchants typically travelled of old and usually moved goods from surplus areas to scarce areas. People who sold goods locally were usually the producers of those goods and referred to by that product (cooper, potter, etc.).

Well, now that we are well off-topic, who's looks to be a good prospect in spring training?

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Red, I don't want to put words in someone else's mouth, but I think AClose's point is that merchandise as a verb may not have arisen by adding a verb ending -ise (or -ize) to the noun, merchant (and, er, changing the "t" to a "d"?). Instead, it may have come about by verbifying the noun, merchandise.

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Merchandise is a noun.

To merchandize is a verb.

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To clarify, Oxford spelling is British English - just without the much later -ise Frenchism when -ize should be used. That said, I still don't know exactly which words should end with -ise vs -ize in Oxford spelling.

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Red, "merchandise" isn't a verb that is arrived at by adding a suffix to a different root, so -ize is incorrect.

You could further distinguish words by their origin, e.g. if it's of French origin you could use -ise (in British English only) and -ize if it's of Greek etymology etc., but in being consistant, -ize should be used for all these verbal forms, and the nouns that are made form them: realize, realization; organize, organization. These can be spelled with -ise in British English, but worldwide -ize is used.

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merchandise vs. merchandize

What will the merchants do?

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According to the OED the correct suffix is -ize, because of the Greek root it comes from. -ise is a more modern British spelling, but originally both sides of the Atlantic used to spell it with a 'z'.

"Analyze" however is incorrect. It should always be spelt "analyse" because it's not derived from the same root.

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I thought the same as well.

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I thought the rule was rather about the language being American English vs. British English...

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