When isn’t it -ize?

When you’re using the -ize spelling rather than -ise, there are some words that retain the -ise ending nevertheless. How can you tell?

The simplest way is to see if there’s an -ization form of the word. If there’s no such word, it keeps the S even when you’re using the -ize spelling (someone will maybe come up with an exception, but it’s a good rule of thumb):

  • civilize, realize, santize, organize
    No problem with civilization, realization, sanitization and organization, so these words can be spelled with a Z
  • appetiser, circumcise, advise, advertiser
    You can’t have appetization, circumcization, advization or advertization and so these words retain the S
  • and various short words like rise, prise, raise and praise, of course

While we’re on the subject, please note that it’s not simply that the Z is American usage, as the Dutch often seem to be taught. It’s fine in British usage too – just choose one and stick to it, and if you get an editor who wants the other simply let them get on with it.

Prevalence: low. The most common issue for -ize/-ise is just that people mix the two up in the same document, which is bad style.
Frequency: medium. Someone who isn’t clear on this will generally make the same mistake multiple times.
Native: rarely. Though American spelling will occasionally include an incorrect Z.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

One thought on “When isn’t it -ize?

  1. Can we have your thoughts about “burglarize”, “at a great rate of speed”, “arugula”, “you guys/y’all”, in fact I feel an entire new series coming on… The use of “veryvery” by UK tv presenters… Why do we say “mictie”, but you say micturition? Why is a verruca specifically a foot wart in UK usage, when it just means wart? Ah, language, endless source of mystery and fascination…


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