Espresso vs. expresso

Expresso started as a misspelling of espresso, which came to English from Italian and refers to a strong, pressure-brewed coffee. But because expresso has so often appeared in place of espresso, we can perhaps consider it a variant. And indeed, some dictionaries now list it as such. This doesn’t change the fact that many English speakers consider expresso wrong, however, and some will no doubt continue to do so no matter how common it becomes. So if you don’t want anyone to think you’re wrong, espresso is the safer choice.

It’s also worth noting that expresso is the French word for the pressure-brewed coffee, and this perhaps has had some small influence on English usage.



Although espresso remains far more common, examples such as these are not hard to find:

For their Christmas market, families can look forward to a Wiggles jumping castle, expresso coffee at $1, free express knife sharpening and a gold coin donation BBQ. [Southern Courier]

[S]itting down to order an expresso or a cappuccino was the height of cosmopolitan sophistication amongst the young at the time. [In Search of Fatima, Ghada Karmi]

This year, he imposed an “impolite” tax. The ubiquitous expresso, for which he charges 1.80 euros (R20), rises to two euros if customers forget to say “please”. [News 24]


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  1. reardensteel says:

    I think it’s more of a mis-hearing than a misspelling.

    And did you mean to say that espresso is far more common?

    • Grammarist says:

      Yes. Thanks.

      And for some reason, we’ve had trouble bringing ourselves to use the word “mishearing,” even where it’s more accurate than “misspelling,” because we just don’t like how “mishearing” looks or sounds. Perhaps there is a better word.

  2. It’s peoples lazy attitudes and lack of attention to big obvious details let alone fine ones in this case,and that seems to be the way society is becoming…

    • Understatement. I regularly process written orders for espresso machines. On the printed form is says “Equipment; espresso ” and directly next to that countless people write “expresso.” Right next to the correct spelling! Gaaaah.

      • Colin Sinclair says:

        Indeed. And I agree with you. But in terms of how language develops, usage trumps every dictionary ever printed.

        • I dont know says:

          And the lazy ones are those who fail to adapt….. lazy people always make 1000’s of excuses to get out of doing something. Either need to start saying ESSpresso and making it clear or spelling it expresso. Somehow i think it will be easier to correct the spelling.

  3. Caroline D. says:

    I found your post while comparing the two spellings for a coffee blog I’m working on for a friend.

    I have to correct one thing, however: just like in English, «expresso» can also be spelled «espresso» in French. Both spellings are considered correct, but it may be hard to establish a preferred use of one over another (except when considering the uses in various French-speaking countries).

    In France, «expresso» is perhaps more common, but in Québec, both spellings coexist, with a preferred use of «espresso» among coffee lovers, foodies and perhaps scholars.

  4. I do not like it when people make words sound like they belong to their own language while it is a part of another language’s culture. But on the other hand, is it not annoying when people try to order an “espresso” while stressing the word so much that it ruins the flow of their speech?

    In my language I would rather order an “expresso” because people would find it odd if I said “espresso” regardless of my love for Italian language.

  5. I take one small exception to the idea that there is a correct spelling for loan-words in English that fall significantly outside of our language’s orthography.

    In the case of espresso and expresso, we have a clear difference in pronunciation that a person-of-learning-and-International-experience would be sensitive to. However, in bog-standard English, there is no “espress-” anything, in common parlance. Just as people pronounce actually “ackshully”, softening the [tua] to [shoo] (which has plenty of precedent in the rest of our quixotic orthography), there just aren’t any ess-press combinations.

    Express. Expression. Expressive. FedEx. The prefix “es-” has no readily identified English meaning. Ex- tho’ does. Ex-presso seems to mean “to press out”, which rightly or wrongly kind of fits what the machine does. Presses out liquid coffee extract in an inscrutable European way.

    Now it is blôody convenient that the French have “expresso” to back this up a bit. They’re keen to recount-and-conserve the underlying Latinate and Greek roots of words, even if half the letters are silent.

    I feel the same way about loan-words taken from almost any foreign tongue: initially its “nice” to conserve the original language’s orthography (if it is in the Roman character space, AND the native language’s pronunciation kind of is what you’d expect, reading it in English), but if the pronunciation is way off … then its time to break out the All American Creative Spelling manual, and let the spelling change a bit.

    The best argument against this is when phonetic transliterations are attempted for non-roman glyph languages. There’s something like 30 different ways in which “Moammar Gaddaffiye” is spelled. Most of which kind of sound the same (because English is such a multi-talented language? LOL), but to an Arab speaker, none of them sound like the Martyr’s actual handle.

    Yep… yet another self-hobbled comment.


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