This word is a student’s best friend and a concertgoer’s most dreaded nightmare. Take these two examples of words that might appear on signs:
So which spelling is correct? The answer depends on where you call home.
Canceled or cancelled is the past tense of the verb to cancel. Both spellings are correct; Americans favor canceled (one l), while cancelled (two l’s) is preferred in British English and other dialects. Canceling/cancelling and canceler/canceller follow the same pattern. However, cancelation is rarely used (though technically correct), and cancellation is by far the more widely used spelling, no matter where you are.
For a more in-depth explanation of the spellings and the exceptions, keep reading.
Why cancelled and canceled are different
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Way back when, a man named Noah Webster (of Webster’s Dictionary fame) decided that some words could get along just fine without as many letters as our friends the Brits put in them. That’s why many American spellings look different from their British counterparts: Think color/colour, honor/honour, rumor/rumour.
American English is all about one l, and British English goes for two.
For similar word-shortening reasons, Mr. Webster decided to chop the past tense of cancel down to one l. This variation first showed up in the 1828 edition of Webster’s Dictionary, though it didn’t fully beat out the double-l spelling until about the 1980s. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s the accepted form in American English to this day.
Cancelled vs. canceled: American examples
And some extra-American examples:
However, for any Briton, cancelled has two l’s and always will.
Cancelled vs. canceled: British examples
Spelling exception: cancellation
Now that we’ve traveled (and not travelled, thanks to the same rule) through the spelling rules of British vs. American English, let’s look at the exception. Yes, there’s always an exception.
The word cancellation is solidly spelled with two l’s, no matter where you are.
Think of it like this: When you turn the verb cancel into the past tense, the word stays the same number of syllables (two), so it’s a matter of location whether you use two l’s or one. The -ation that turns the word into a noun, on the other hand, puts adds two whole new syllables after the l. The double l is a like a bridge to those new syllables. At least, that’s one way to keep your l’s in line.
Now you can consider your confusion about these words canceled. Cheers!