backwards or backward?
The only time that British English uses backward is before a noun, such as "a backward country". What this entry is referring to is where these types of words appear after a verb.
British practice is to use backwards while the Americans prefer to use backward, though the variant backwards and afterwards is common.
back or forward?
This is not a maths question: If your wedding was two weeks away and you suddenly had to postpone it by two weeks, would you be moving the wedding forward or back? If I said that I would like to push my appointment forward, do I mean bring it forward or move it forward? Is that sooner or later? When you move your clocks forward at daylight saving, you are making time later, and when you move your clock back you are making time earlier. Confusing isn't it.
There is no consensus on these matters, just be careful to avoid being ambiguous.
backup or back up?
The verb is back up, as in go through the motions of backing something up. A backup is the noun, such as something stored on disk. Other types of backup include police backup, emotional backup and toilet backup.
The word bacteria is plural of bacterium, so make sure that you write: 'The bacteria are...'
Since most of the world is unfamiliar with baseball, can we please stop using the overused and (often) meaningless phrase? Is a ball park figure larger or smaller than a cricket-oval figure? Or how about a squashcourt figure?
balk or baulk?
Balk is the US variant of the British spelling of baulk.
barbecue or barbeque?
The only correct spelling in British English is barbecue, not 'barbeque'. This is true also for Australian and Canadian spelling.The US spelling is also barbecue though Webster's-Merriam allows barbeque as an alternative variant spelling. The confusion behind -cue/-que is presumably because of the word 'queue'.
bare or bear?
Click here for details.
barista, baristi or baristo?
The plural of barista in English is baristas, not the Italian plural baristi or feminine form bariste. Barista is used for both male and female baristas, and baristo is incorrect and comes from the mistaken view that -a is feminine form.
Barista is originally the Italian word for coffee-bar employees who serve the counter and make espresso-based drinks, but now also acknowledges the fact that a level of skill is required to make the glorious drink.
based on or based around?
Based on is correct, 'based around' is not. This is similar to focused on and centred on, both of which are the correct expressions.
This is one of those words that is frequently overused and provides only empty linguistic calories.
bated breath or baited breath?
The word bate means hold or cease, so it is with bated breath that you wait to find this out.
bath or bathe?
depends: A 'bath' in British is a bathtub, an object, and is either ("eye-ther") pronounced to rhyme with 'car' or 'sash'. As a verb, Brits also say they'll 'have a bath' or (less frequently) 'take a bath'. Americans, on the other hand, never call a bathtub just a bath. They do 'take a bath' like they do a shower, but they never 'have a bath' like the Brits. What they will do though, is 'bathe' a baby -- something Brits also never do. Brits use 'bathe' to mean go swimming themselves, usually in the sea.
-based, Britain-based or British-based?
Some people get it wrong with nations and use the noun form when they should be using the adjectival form, so say things – incorrectly – like "Britain-based company". Click here for the full explanation of British-based or Britain-based.
on behalf or in behalf?
The British only use on behalf. Americans use on or in behalf. Don't confuse on the part of with on behalf of.
beg(s) the question
This is one of those phrases that careful writers and speakers not only avoid using, but often dislike with a passion. It is a pointless phrase because what its users usually want to say is: ... it raises the question.
behove or behoove?
The British use behove and the Americans use behoove.
This word is often spelt in all sorts of ways, but rarely the correct way. The word does not come from a combining of bell and weather, but from the name for a sheep that leads the herd.
Be aware that beneath is a chiefly British word. The more common equivalents in the US are underneath or below.
bevelled or beveled?
It is bevelled (British spelling) and beveled (American spelling).
bevelling or beveling?
It is bevelling (British spelling) and beveling (American spelling).
biannual or biennial?
Biannual is twice a year; biennial is every two years. It might be suggested, that since most people won't automatically understand which is which, that using twice-yearly and two-yearly is more clear.
biased or biassed?
The correct spelling is biased.
biased toward or biased against?
To say that someone is or acts biased against something means that will oppose it; to say that someone is or acts biased towards something means that they will be in favour of it. Don't confuse the two. See also prejudiced.
bicentenary or bicentennial?
Both words have the same meaning, but only in their respective regions. British use bicentenary and Americans use bicentennial; while 'bicentennial' in British English is only (if) used as an adjective. The same is true of 'centenary' and 'centennial'.
bicep or biceps?
Biceps is both plural and singular. There is no such thing as "a bicep".
Careful writers make sure that they associate the word bid with auctions, financial or sporting circumstances. In all other circumstances, it is advised to use another word such as attempt or effort.
blameable or blamable?
The standard British and preferred Canadian spelling is blameable and the preferred US spelling is blamable.
block or bloc?
A block is usually something square in shape or a collective number of items; a bloc is only used in the political sense meaning a collective of people or nations.
blond or blonde?
These words can be tricky. A woman with blond hair is called a blonde, while a man with blond hair is called a blond.
blood~ words: one or two words
blood bank, blood-bath, blood-brother, blood cell, blood count, blood-curdling, blood donor, blood feud, blood group, bloodhound, blood-letting, blood-lust, blood orange, blood-poisoning, blood pressure, bloodshed, bloodshot, blood sports, bloodstain, bloodstream, bloodsucker, blood supply, blood test, bloodthristy, blood transfusion, blood vessel
Can we please stop using the overused and (often) meaningless phrase? If you are going to insist on putting this to paper, use a hyphen at the very least.
Bombay or Mumbai?
Nowadays, a majority use Mumbai. The latest to make the sheepish switch was the Times newspaper, which was the only national news medium to write about the 'Bombay' attacks in 2008, making it the odd one out among its peers.
bored with or bored of?
The correct usage is bored with and bored by, but expect frowns if you use bored of. However, if you are under 40 years of age there is a good chance you use nothing else but 'bored of', just keep it to your selves.
Unless we are discussing accounting terms, can we please stop using the overused and (often) meaningless phrase?
boxset or box set?
A box of DVDs is called a box set, not a boxset.
A Briticism is a term used in the US to refer to examples of British English that have begun to filter into American English, where usage would normally not be recognised or use different forms. For example, "go missing" and "coffee shop" have come from British English into American usage. Briticism is normally used to describe or state that a particular form is "not American".
BSc or BS?
BSc in British English and BS in American and Canadian English.
bouillon or bullion?
The salty, tasty liquid is bouillon, and the heavy gold bars are bullion.
bumblebee or bumble bee?
It is perhaps a surprise to many that bumblebee is not spelt with two words.
burned or burnt?
Click here for details.
busses or buses?
The plural spelling of bus is buses in British and American English. Busses is a rare variant (it might as well count as a mis-spelling), although it is the correct plural of buss, a word for kiss.
When it comes to adding -ed and -ing to bus, there are signs of divergence. Americans and Canadians appear to prefer bused and busing ahead of bussed and bussing. In British English, if this form is used at all, the only spelling is bussed and bussing.
This page last updated: 15 November 2014
Jesse Karjalainen is the author of The Joy of English: 100 conversations about the English Language, Cannibal – the language and history of the discovery of the New World, and Roanoke – the language and history of Early Colonial America.