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Aluminium vs. aluminum

Aluminum is the American and Canadian spelling for the silver-white metallic element (number 13 on the periodic table) abundant in the earth’s crust. Aluminium is the preferred spelling outside North America. Neither term is superior to the other, and both are etymologically and logically justifiable. Aluminum is older, while aluminium is more consistent with other element names such as helium, lithium, magnesium, and so on (though let’s not forget there are other -um elements—molybdenum, tantalum, and platinum).

Aluminium has the edge in scientific writing even in North America. This is primarily because several influential scientific organizations and publications prefer the spelling.

Examples

Nonscientific American and Canadian publications prefer aluminum in all contexts—for example:

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Aluminum has replaced steel in roof panels, saving another 15 pounds. [New York Times]

Aluminum shields fashioned from the remains of the Twin Towers have been on Mars with the rovers Spirit and Opportunity since 2004. [CTV.ca]

The exterior is covered entirely in aluminum foil. [USA Today]

Also of importance for the north, the value of aluminum exports to China increased by 176 per cent. [Vancouver Sun (article now offline)]

And outside North America, aluminium is preferred—for example:

This sleek duo are both constructed from aluminium. [Financial Times (U.K.)]

It feels disloyal to English to point out that it is an alien thread, a strand of aluminium running through the tapestry of our national consciousness. [Irish Times]

Mr Howes said the contract was for 80 tonnes of aluminium extrusions. [Sydney Morning Herald]

The Airport police on Tuesday arrested three people for stealing aluminium parts worth Rs 3.60 lakh. [Times of India]

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Comments

  1. Isn’t this more a case of decidedly region-specific pronunciation differences? 

    Aluminum in North America is pronounced “uh-LOOM-i-num”.  One-for-one correspondence between the letters and the syllables. 

    In Britain and her colonies, Aluminium is pronounced “al-oo-MIN-e-um”, again with the syllables corresponding to the letters. 

    The stress in the middle is consistent in both cases to 4 and 5 syllable prosody rules. Your examples of platinum, molybdenum and tantalum further underline the correlation between pronunciation and spelling for scientific descriptive naming.

  2. Nicholas Young says:

    Canadian usage favoured aluminium for quite some time. I know that that the Encyclopaedia Canadiana used this spelling. My great uncle J. Cromwell Young was the assistant editor of this publication. Have you any idea when Canadians decided they wanted to be just that little bit more American?

  3. tomo008866 says:

    It was originally known as “aluminium”, so that’s the way I say it.

  4. IUPAC uses the term Aluminium, and should be seen as the definitive spelling of the word for all scientists. Similarly, they have adopted ‘sulfur’ as the correct spelling, and this is slowly gaining traction within science.

  5. Neil McMillan says:

    The metal was named by the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy.Sir Humphry made a bit of a mess of naming this new element, at first spelling it alumium (this was in 1807) then changing it to aluminum, and finally settling on aluminium in 1812. His classically educated scientific colleagues preferred aluminium right from the start, because it had more of a classical ring, and chimed harmoniously with many other elements whose names ended in –ium, like potassium, sodium, andmagnesium, all of which had been named by Davy.

  6. Aero Windwalker says:

    The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) officially standardized on aluminium in 1990. This is why it is technically speaking incorrect to use aluminum in academic papers. Ironically Chromium and many other browsers will try to correct the spelling when you type aluminium.

    • “correct the spelling”? Aluminium, pronounced al-you-min-ium, is the correct spelling. Aluminum is incorrect, and my spell-checker (in Chrome) agrees.

  7. Hayley Anderson says:

    Help!! I need to do an a to z assignment of aluminum and i just need f,g,h,i,j,k,q,x,y,z

  8. I Probably Don't Like You says:

    this is simply wrong, canadians use the extra eye.

  9. Timothy Bates says:

    Look at the Periodic Table, you will see all other Post-transition Metals in group 13 use the ending -ium. The -um ending is used sparsely and inconsistently, its usage likely denotes no similarities.

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