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Pretense or Pretence—What’s the Difference?


  • Pretense and pretence are both correct spellings of the same word.
  • Pretense is the spelling used in American English.
  • Pretence is the spelling used in British English.

English spelling can be confusing, especially when you realize that certain words are spelled differently by various English-speaking countries. You can read an article in a respectable paper like The Guardian, for example, and see that they spell pretense as pretence. But before you take up your pen to write them a strongly worded letter about their editing and proofreading practices, give it a thought. It might be one of those American English vs. British English things.

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Is it pretense or pretence?

Yes, this is one of those pesky little differences between American English and Everywhere Else English (Americans are pretty much alone on this one). Both spellings are correct.

It’s just that when someone’s writing in the United States, or for a US audience, they are more likely to use the spelling pretense. If someone is writing in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, or Australia, they are more likely to use the spelling pretence.

What does pretense mean?

However you spell it, you can use the noun pretense to say a couple of things. In one sense, a pretense is a claim that’s made without proper factual support.

It became obvious that his theories were nothing but pretense .

You can also use the word pretense as a synonym for guise or simulation. In this sense, a pretense is a false claim intended to hide the true purpose of something.

They entered the country under the pretense of being journalists.

And it can also be used in the sense of fiction or make-believe:

It’s normal for children of a certain age to be very interested in pretense .

You’ve also probably heard the phrase “under false pretenses,” which means “with intentions other than those professed.”

Examples of pretense in a sentence

Sheridan understood that in their social lives people will default to affectation, artifice and pretence—in the gold-fish bowl of Bath these traits are magnified.
The Telegraph

If the government earmarks the new revenue it makes from cap-and-trade for transit projects planned prior to cap-and-trade, it will be taking money from the public under false pretences.
Toronto Sun

Cotton’s unapologetic love of luxury, in other words, is free of pretense.
The New York Times

Most of the time, these sorts of solutions are a kind of insulting pretense and a checked box on an amenities list rather than something of satisfying function.
Daily Herald

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