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sacrilegious or sacreligious?

There is only one spelling: sacrilegious.

safe-deposit box or safety-deposit box

The strong box where you keep your valuables is for safekeeping, not for 'safety'. That's why it is called a safe-deposit box. The confusion probably comes from the sound of "safe-de posit box".

Saudi Arabia or Saudia Arabia?

Be careful if you are unfamiliar with Saudi Arabia, don't spell it 'Saudia Arabia'.

savanna or savannah?

The typical US spelling is savanna and the usual spelling in all British forms of English is savannah. The word derives from Old Spanish zavana and Taino/Carib, later sabana in modern Spanish. Neither of these have -h endings. The only US exception is in the regional name found in Savannah, Georgia.

There is no need to capitalise savanna, such as in "standing in a South American savanna".

save + off

Advertisers should beware writing 'Save up to 30% off'. It is either save 30% or 30% off.

saviour or savior?

It is saviour in British English and savior in American English.

sawn off or sawed off?

Sawn is correct for the pt. of to saw (sawn branch, sawn-off shotgun etc) and sawed is an alternative US spelling, e.g. sawed-off shotgun.


The Scandinavian countries are Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finland is not a member of this club, but joins them in being a Nordic country. See Lapland and Nordic.

sceptre or scepter?

Sceptre in British English and scepter in US English.

sceptic or skeptic?

Sceptic is the British spelling and skeptic is the US spelling. (Sceptical UK, skeptical US)

scepticism or skepticism?

Scepticism is the British spelling and skepticism is the US spelling.

sea or Sea?

Use a capital s: Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea etc.

services or service?

If a bus company withdraws a number of routes, it is a cut in service, not services. If they no longer provide onboard toilets or music, it is a reduction on services. The same goes with train companies and airlines, as well as broadband and network providers.

set to?


shaken up or shook up?

Blame Elvis for this one, with his song "All shook up". The past tense of shake is shook (I shook the bag), and the past participle is shaken (I have shaken the bag). Therefore, it is correct to say of write: He is pretty shaken up after the attack and I am shaken up.


Girls and women are she. Countries and modes of transport are no longer referred to as 'she' just it. Also, many people consider it rude to use "she" when talking about a person who is in your presence – use their name instead, or you may hear them say something about "she? the cat's Mother?"

Shetland or the Shetlands?

Use either Shetland or the Shetland Isles, but not ‘the Shetlands’.

shiatsu or shih-tzu?

The massage is shiatsu with a small s; and shih-tzu is the dog, not spelt ‘shit-zu’.

to ship

Have you noticed how many companies use the term 'Your order has shipped'? Not only is this poor English (they could at least add been) but is an insult to the word despatched. The word ship suggests shipping, which will undoubtedly not apply in most cases.

The problem here is not just the word order, but the unintended suggestion that It is the object doing the doing. An item you buy or order cannot 'ship' (nor can it 'launch', for that matter). It can only be shipped. A company, or the people working for it, can ship something.

shoo-in or shoe-in?

A shoo-in is something regarded as 'a safe bet or certain outcome', especially in terms of s race, contest or elction. A shoe-in is the incorrect spelling, although it is a surprisingly common one.

shrank or shrunk?

The past tense of shrink is shrank not ‘shrunk’.

Siamese twins

The correct term is conjoined twins. Stick to it.

siege or seige?

The only correct spelling is siege.

signalled or signaled?

The British spelling is signalled and signalling. The US spelling is signaled and signaling.

singing from the same hymn sheet

Unless we are talking about the church choir, can we please stop using the overused and (often) meaningless phrase?

sizeable or sizable?

The standard British and Australian spelling is sizeable and the standard US and Canadian spelling is sizable. The trend in Britain, however, is moving towards sizable becoming standard – might as well start now!

skeptic or sceptic?

Sceptic is the British spelling and skeptic is the US spelling. (Sceptical UK, skeptical US)

skepticism or scepticism?

Scepticism is the British spelling and skepticism is the US spelling.

skillful or skilful?

The British spelling is skilful, skilfully and skilfulness. The US spelling is skillful, skillfully and skillfulness. (Never skillfull or skilfull.)

slither or sliver?

Do not use "slither" to describe anything on your plate unless it is alive and snakelike. Only sliver means a "thin strip". Slither, off course means "move in a slip/slide manner".


Often redundant unless used to introduce new words with quotation marks, e.g. so-called "dark-pool trading".

smooths or smoothes?

Always spell it smooths, never "smoothes" (or "smoothe", for that matter).

smoulder or smolder?

The British spelling is smoulder and the American spelling is smolder.

sneaked or snuck?

The past tense/past participle of sneak is sneaked. The variant 'snuck' is of US origin and is not considered anything other that colloquial.

snowplough or snowplow?

The British spelling is snowplough and the American spelling is snowplow. (plough UK and plow US)

speak to or speak with?

There is growing influence from the informal US use of speak with and talk with. The correct forms is all forms of English remains speak to and talk with in examples like "I spoke to your neighbour yesterday".

Although many Americans will insist that speak with and talk with are perfectly acceptable, such constructions should still be compared with correct forms like speak with a lisp / speak with confidence as well as talk with an accent / talk with a whisper.


Avoid. An empty word that today has almost the opposite meaning. Saying that something is special usually means that the writer/speaker cannot think of anything else – but It is better than not saying anything at all. So, just how special is it? (Women be warned.)

spelled or spelt?

If you are a regular visitor to this site, you’ll notice that the British spelling spelt is being used throughout. Spelled is also acceptable in British English. In the US, however, the only correct spelling is spelled.

split infinitives

See the split infinitive myth: can I split an infinitive?

squids or squid?

The correct plural of squid is squid, not squids.

-st or no -st?

Like whilst, amidst and amongst, 'unbeknownst' harks back to an older form of English that sounds overly formal and stilted in today's usage. Few people say 'hither' and 'thither' like they did not so long ago; we say 'here and there'. Using -st forms like these are still popular -- championed, even -- in pretentious language. The more modern forms are while, among, amid and unbeknown. It is much easier to say "amid the confusion" than "amidst the confusion". Take note, too, that the -st forms are rarely encountered in American English, no matter how much they are loved by a minority few in Britain. Use superfluous -st endings by all means, if you really want to, but there is absolutely no need for you to use them -- nor obligation.

stationary or stationery?

A car with its engine turned off is stationary; and writing materials are called stationery.

stepchange or change?

Stick to the word change.

still lifes or still lives?

The plural of still life (art) is still lifes.

storey or story?

The British spelling for floors of a building is storey and the American spelling is story. The word story, as in a tale, is the same in both.

style guide or styleguide?

style guide

suffice to say, suffice it to say or it suffices to say?

This one needs a little critical unpacking. First, suffice on its own means "enough", "adequate" or "be enough".

Chances are, you are here looking this up right now because you want to know whether it should be suffice it to say or suffice to say. First of all, this expression dates from around 1640, when it was introduced as the the former. A decade later, in the 1650s, this became the shorter, latter variant. This newer version was the more common of the two until the late 1700s, when suffice it to say overtook and became the more popular of the two for the best part of the nextcentury before once again being overtaken by its near-twin.

The answer that you may be looking for is that suffice it to say has been the more frequent of the two since the 1970s and the one that the books recommend. But neither is "correct" – both, however, are equally legitimate. If you want to take sides, stick to suffice it to say; if not, either one is fine.

[For those interested in what it actually means, it means something along the lines of "for reasons that I need not/will not/should not need to say, elaborate or go in to ..."] The above expressions are in fact subjective forms of it suffices to say.

sulphur or sulfur?

The standard British spelling in ordinary contexts is sulphur and in the US it is sulfur. However, internationally, chemists recognise sulfur as their standard spelling when used specifically in chemistry (including sulfate, sulfide, sulfuric and sulfurous).

In other scientific contexts (outside the field of chemistry) the British spelling remains sulphur (US sulfur) and its derivatives, such as sulphur dioxide. Curiously, there was no constant spelling of the word in Latin, which is found as sulphur, sulpur and sulfur. In medival French it was spelt sulfre and in Middle English it was spelt soufre. The variant sulphur entered use around the 1300s and was the only choice featuring in Johnson's dictionary in 1755, from where the preferred British spelling arose. The choice of sulfur in the US is a result of spelling reforms introduced by Noah Webster.

Superbowl or Super Bowl?

The correct spelling is Super Bowl, with two words instead of one.

supersede or supercede?

The correct spelling is supersede.

surge or upsurge?

Careful writers would choose increase or rise over surge. But surge is far better than ‘upsurge’, which is a word not to be encouraged.

swap or swop?

The British spelling is swap, the US spelling is swop.


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.