American vs. British spellings – don’t let spell check fool you!

When I was just starting out as an associate, I proudly handed in a draft brief to one of the partners on a case I was working on.  I was convinced that this was a shining example of spectacular legal writing; the partner was certain to be impressed.  Imagine my disappointment when she handed the draft back, with the word “benefitted” circled, and a nasty note scribbled in the margin: “Benefited.  Spell check your brief before handing it in.”

I was mortified and outraged.  I did spell check my brief!  There were no other spelling errors.  How, how, could I have missed this one?  I jumped onto my computer, booted up Microsoft Word, and typed in “benefitted.”  No squiggly red line appeared underneath it.  Ha! I thought, I caught the senior partner in a mistake!  But then, I typed in “benefited.”  Again, nothing happened.  No squiggly red line appeared.  How could both of these words be correct spellings??

The answer, I soon learned, is that one is the American spelling, and the other is the British spelling.  And spell check on Word does not necessarily alert you if you are using the British spelling, so it is good to know the rule.  Here’s how it works here in the United States:

If the syllable immediately preceding the -ed is emphasized, the last consonant in the word should be doubled before adding -ed:

Occur ~ Occurred

Embed ~ Embedded

Excel ~ Excelled

Patrol ~ Patrolled

Beg ~ Begged

If a syllable other than the one immediately preceding the -ed is emphasized (usually the first syllable), just add -ed to make it past tense:

Label ~ Labeled

Total ~ Totaled

Target ~ Targeted

Focus ~ Focused

And of course, the example that is seared in my memory for all eternity:

Benefit ~ Benefited

That is all for now …

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