Practising The Defence Of The Australian Way To Spell Licence

Practising The Defence Of The Australian Way To Spell Licence

Can’t tell ‘practice’ from ‘practise’? Don’t know whether to use ‘licence’ or ‘license’? Don’t know why the Department of Defence isn’t called that in the US? Mind Your Language is here to help.

Picture from Department Of Defence

For Australian English, the basic rule for all these words is simple:

  • the spelling which uses a C is the noun form.
  • the spelling which uses an S is the verb form.

Thus a doctor runs a practice during the week, but practises golf skills on the weekend. You license software under a licence agreement. And there is no defence for getting the word ‘defence’ wrong, as there isn’t a parallel verb form (the relevant word is ‘defend’).

One reason people get this wrong so often? US English inverts those rules and uses the ‘s’ spelling for nouns, and those spellings are commonly encountered online. That does not make them correct in Australia. Unless you’re writing for a completely American audience, or referring to the US Department of Defense, you should use the Australian spellings, especially in a professional context.

Two other related traps:

  • The correct expression is ‘practice makes perfect’. While the action involved is practising, which might make you think the verb form is needed, the expression describes the ongoing activity of doing that, which is a noun, not a verb.
  • The one time an s does show up in ‘defence’ is when you turn it into the adjectival form ‘defensible’.

How can you learn this? Through repeated practice.

Lifehacker’s Mind Your Language column offers bossy advice on improving your writing.


      • Essentially, there’s no such thing as Australian English, it’s just British English or Standard English, however you seem to have decided to call collectives “it” rather than “they” which does cause annoyance, example being Australian Broadcasters would say ‘Leeds United has won it’s Champions League final against…’, whereas the BBC would say “Leeds United have won their Champions League final against…”.

          • Correct English is British English – it is our language, after all. A collective is singular, not plural. The BBC uses [or used to use ] the correct form, which is “Leeds United has won its Champions League final against…’. Its not hard, just think whether the noun is in the singular or plural. Leeds United is a club – one club, therefore singular, therefore ‘its’. Easy.

          • The language belongs to all who speak it, irrespectiv (sic) of where it originated, or which variety of it they speak..

    • UK English also differentiates between ‘to practise’ and ‘a practice’, which is utterly pointless and causes endless spelling errors. In the US they get by with just ‘practice’ for both noun and verb. We all also do perfectly well with just the <-ce> spelling for ‘ a service’ and ‘to service’, and just <-se> for ‘to promise’, ‘a promise’. The ‘to practise / in practice’ distinction is nothing but pedantic madness.

      We should consider making English spelling a bit more regular. The likes of ‘to practice/ a practise’, ‘promise’, ‘service’ should all follow the pattern of ‘basis, pelvis, iris, oasis’ and ‘tennis’. The whimsical nature of English spelling is responsible for making learning to read and write English much slower than need be, as I have explained on my ImprovingEnglishSpelling blog.

      The spellings of ‘to advise’ and ‘give advice’ make sense, because they are pronounced differently. They follow the patterns of ‘ice, mice, rice’ and ‘rise, wise, apologise’. Spellings which are completely unrelated to pronunciation are hard to learn and serve no purpose. They are not fit for purpos.

        • +1 EMC2. Makes sense for non-native English speakers, as all those rules do is serve to confuse and irritate. But how often would you correct a non-native English speaker on such a small spelling error anyway?

        • Think of the subject u wer least successful in at school, and then imagin being told u “could just learn how to master it”.

          Not being able to spell “correctly” is not that important if u can still get your message across. But it is extremely important for learners, to enable them to decode and encode new words with confidence.

          A chaotic non-system does not encourage them to persevere.

  • Totally agree. However our Print conglomerates have already changed to US spelling checkers (organise is now organize) and very soon our language will become amercaniZed. I mourn the loss.

    • I remember once reading an article by the gentlemen from the Oxford English Dictionary something or other. They stated that the use of Z was the more correct or original spelling (what England used to use) and that the use of ‘S’ was a bastardisation brought in by the French a 100 odd or so years ago. The U.S. continued to use the original form. They also believed we should go back to using ‘Z’.

    • -z- is not a sign of US. The default position for most such words is -ize in the OED.

      It’s only a clutch of teachers in recent decades (post-WWII) who decided on -ise (against actual etymology) and then that got propagated by many as a US vs UK thing.

    • I absolutely agree Bernie. I believe that the first and foremost objective of language is communication or otherwise being understood, not pedantism . We may not always spell things the same across the populations that use a language, however this does not mean that our brain somehow struggles to understand what is being communicated. There is an innate resistance to change. This is very normal, as all people have some resistance to change, some more than others.

      Language, like all living things, is constantly evolving. Simply looking at the etymology of words that we use today can prove as much. We often forget that in the end all of these beautiful “runes” we recognize whilst reading all came from simple guttural sounds. We’ve come a long way from ooga-booga (and that’s an onomatopoeia, something that Japan is very fond of in their language).

      Sure, language is a beautiful thing and there is joy to be found in the many ways to say and write ideas. It is fascinating to see how many words can be twisted and shaped into several different meaning depending on context or spelling. I am not saying that we should suddenly abandon all manner of grammar simply to spite pedantic types. Rules are important as they create conformity, thereby allowing easier understanding across a vast sea of people that need a somewhat uniform medium of communication (if only we all spoke in mathematical terms, the closest thing we have to an universal language).

      That being said, even though the media seems to be gushing over any change in language with cries of the end times coming culturally and literally, we should not be so rigid to stand in the way of our collective brains working to create new forms of communication , be they new languages entirely or mutations of what already exists. This process is how we came to communicate today after all.

      We can only connect the dots looking back.

      • Filip (i luv that spelling!): I agree with most of what u say, but i’d emfasize that spelling is not the language. Language and speaking it ar (sic) natural. Language evolves naturally. Spelling and riting ar not natural.

        Someone has pointed out that there is no part of the brain specificly dedicated to learning literacy. It has to make use of various parts of the brain whose main functions ar something else, eg, memory.

        Spelling and riting ar artificial, invented conventions. They do not evolve in the same way as language. They can be controlled.

        We need to use our ability to control spelling by upgrading it and making it a help for learners, so that our dismal literacy rates can begin to match those of languages which hav logical, predictable spelling systems.

    • As an American that lives in Australia (and has to write copious amounts of documentation), I can tell you that the fundemental difference between US spelling and UK/AUS spelling is that the US changes are mostly just phonetic ones. Ergo: Americans have done away with many silent letters and in some cases replaced letters on the basis of their sound (as, substituding ‘z’ for ‘s’ in words that actually have a zed sound).

      I have to say, I believe it’s actually more correct and intuitive to use the American spellings and I’m sad that even in the US the move to modernise the English language never fully took off (there’s actually a somewhat funny piece that Mark Twain wrote at the time lambasting the idea of phoentic spelling in general… alas).

    • Tony: I don’t know about others, but I do not spell things differently to you or to anyone else. However, I may spell things differently than you. And please remember what Mark Twain is supposed to have said, and which gives me a great deal of happiness and solace, “If you can not spell a word more than one way, you lack imagination”. I, for one, learned that I was loaded with imagination, where before, with head hung down, I believed I was simply a poor speller.

  • Easy trick: think of ‘device’ and ‘devise’; noun and verb, but with different pronunciations to guide you. It works for me to remember ‘c’ for noun, ‘s’ for verb.

    • I always offered “advise” and “advice” as a more common way of distinguishing what’s correct for verb and noun forms respectively. The adviCe of Cameron below to “Write it however you want. People will understand you.” is just another call to ignorance by someone who’s not confident he understands why “alot” isn’t “a lot”, or when “then” should be “than”, or that “everyday” isn’t the same thing as “every day” … it’s not his fault his teachers let him down. They told him he could write it however he wanted, and people would understand him …

  • Do you have problems identifying the verb and noun in these sentences? If not there’s no need to have different spelling. It’s just another stupid part of the English language that needs to be phased out. Write it however you want. People will understand you. It’s only neckbeards on the Internet that care.

    • Depends on the context. In your texts, do whatever you like. But on your CV you better get it right or lots of people won’t hire you. If you are drafting legislation you better get it right too: ambiguities end up the subject of litigation all the time. Basically, you don’t need to care about your spelling only if you never have to deal with any kind of authority. For most of us that means spelling does’t matter for people who don’t much matter.

  • Cool. As a yank down under, I never knew there was a distinction. I just always put a c in instead of an s. Now I know that substitution rule is not universal. Thanks.

  • Not to nitpick Angus but defense can be used as a transitive verb as found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary:

    defense (vt)
    defensing, defensed.

    : to take specific defensive action against (an opposing team or player or an offensive play)

  • I am usually a bit of a grammar nazi but I tend to use the s and never use the c versions unless doing so changes the way its pronounced like practice [pract-ice] vs [pract-ise] i use ice there.), but i usually never use the z version of words (except in the software i develop for a primarily US market).

  • A lot of nit picking! English is a world language, for which we English speakers should be grateful. So why do we get our nickers (sic) in a twist with jingoistic defense of “our spelling”? English spelling is a mess, anyway. It is a major problem hindering literacy learners.

    The sooner we can upgrade it, modernize it, and rationalize it so that we dont hav these silly arguments, and we make it possible for our learners to match the progress of learners in other languages with logical spelling, the better!

    • I agree.
      This whole thread and article is really stupid.

      Every single country that adopts a language from another modifies it somewhat.
      You have dialects and modified sounds in other forms of the same language all over the world.
      Sorry, except Australia…..

      In my opinion, Americans fixed English.
      Quit crying for the queen about z’s and c’s and use the ones you like. I make an effort to use american spelling sometimes to spite people like this.
      The minute you accept that this garbage doesn’t matter, is the minute we can start being actually Australian.

  • A ‘c’ looks somewhat reminiscent of a goal, thus suggesting defence. But an ‘s?’ – in the words of an old Western: “somethin’ snakey goin’ on.”

  • Use it or lose it. Up until recently the English language was growing steadily, and the average English speaker’s vocabulary also. Language, well used by many, reflects the sophistication of a culture. Americans have shown us how quickly a language can be reduced to a primitive form – reflecting the limitations of their culture. The average American vocabulary has dropped significantly in recent years, along with even basic abilities to spell and use grammar correctly. The average American is now only semi-literate. He uses filler words like ‘you know’,’like’ and ‘sort of’ far too much because he doesn’t know the right words to express himself clearly, he doesn’t know his tenses and grammar, and is becoming lazier. He doesn’t read good literature much, and he writes far less. He’s rapidly losing what little verbal communication skills he might have once had. He is only exposed to low quality language through the media and internet, and has little chance to improve once he’s left the education system.

    Unfortunately, this problem is spreading to other parts of the world, as misguided education authorities fail to recognise the trend and raise the standards that have been allowed to decline so much.

    Give the Americans [and other English-speaking countries?] another century or so and they’ll be back to Pidgin English. You may laugh, but do your own research, and you’ll see what I mean.

    • What planet ar (sic) u from? As a Kiwi, i often think such thots of British pronunciation and spelling, but try to put them aside, because we’r all in this together. Our spelling, because we hav followed Britain, is atrocious, and we need to fix it.

  • You only have to listen to the younger generation (of any English speaking country) to realise that the English language (written or spoken) will continue to deteriorate if they are allowed to get away with it. Days of week have now become ‘dy’s’ as in Sundy, Mundy, etc. Most don’t know the difference between “there”, “they’re” or “their”. “Cool” means “hot”. “Hot” means “hot”. “Wicked, sick and evil” mean “awesome”. They often use double negatives such as “I’m not doing nothing”, and swearing is used as commonly as “the”, “it”, “and”, etc. Don’t forget the way these future leaders currently communicate when texting or emailing. Face it folks English is a dying subject, unfortunately. By the way, shouldn’t “He doesn’t read good literature much” be written as “He doesn’t read good literature often”? It appears that no-one gets it all right every time.

  • What exactly have the Americans (old Noah Webster) fixed? For example colour vs color. If you think about how we actually pronounce the word (in Australia). We say cull-ah. You wouldn’t dream of spelling it like that. So colour is as close as color (sound it out coh-lore) to the pronunciation. So here is the thing… taking on the American spellings may well be about efficiency and simplicity. But first and foremost it is representative of poorly educated kids (and adults) who easily go with the flow (well the flow is overwhelmingly American… so what else would you like, arse becomes ass, Prime Minister becomes President, where do you take a stand?) and it is also representative of a differing point of view… look at the precision in German… it reflects who they are, English should reflect who we are and who we are not is an outpost of America, merely the closest of friends.

  • Perhaps, before getting into detail about how to spell words, Australians should first come to terms with how to PRONOUNCE words.
    For example –
    Weymouth. It’s pronounced Way-MUTH. NOT Way-MOUTH.
    Launceston. It’s pronounced LAWN-STUN, NOT Lawn-ces-stun.

    I could go on, but I have not the energy.

        • And we know it’s Scottish because it’s in Western Australia????? While in WA, Derby is pronounced Derby while in England it’s pronounced Darby – Albany is pronounced Al-ban-ee while Albury in NSW is pronounced All-bu-ree. Wauchope in Northern Territory is pronounced War-chop while in NSW it’s War-hope. The English speaking world, (not just Australians) can’t even agree on the way words are pronounced, what chance do we have in spelling them.

  • Cameron wrote above ‘…it’s only neckbeards on the internet THAT care…’ but should that not be, ‘’s only neckbeards on the internet WHO care…’?

    I always thought that when the subject was not human, you would use the term ‘THAT’ and when speaking of people, you would use the term ‘WHO’.

    Am I correct?

    And can anyone enlighten me on the correct use of who and whom? I know several Primary School Teachers who cannot.

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