Curb vs. kerb

  • In American and Canadian English, the noun meaning the edge of a sidewalk or roadway is spelled curb. In varieties of English from outside North America, the word is spelled kerb. But everyone uses curb for the verb meaning to check or restrain and for the verb’s corresponding noun (e.g., curbs on spending).



    For the noun meaning edge of a roadway, North American writers use curb—for example:

    Authorities said they were on the sidewalk when a car jumped the curb and struck them. [New York Times]

    Shoma Okamoto stands by one of those now-pointless curbs that border a paved road that meanders through the featureless landscape. [Vancouver Sun]

    By mid-January, millions of trees have been dragged to the curb, where they wait unceremoniously to be picked up with the trash. [Chicago Tribune]


    Outside North America, it’s kerb:

    By hugging the kerb and not pedalling furiously to keep up with traffic they placed themselves at greater risk … [Guardian]

    The bus is believed to have mounted a kerb before striking a wall and then overturning near Central Station. [Irish Times]

    Eyewitnesses said the Ford Fairmont hit the kerb before swerving across the street and into a fence. [New Zealand Herald]

    And all use curb for the verb meaning to check or restrain and for its corresponding noun—for example:

    A slew of new laws taking effect this year aims to curb distracted driving. [Los Angeles Times]

    Kim is believed to have curbed his indulgent ways in recent years. [Telegraph]

    But there is no Egyptian Robespierre, and in 2012 it will be the army’s own reign of terror that needs curbing. [Sydney Morning Herald]

    Should there be tougher curbs against people taking out mortgages they can’t afford? [BBC News]


    1. James Langford says

      I’m an American ESL teacher in Europe. When I ask my young British colleagues how they spell this word, they are often unaware that ‘kerb’ exists and have even laughed at me for suggesting that it is the traditional way of spelling the noun in the U.K.

      • Until yesterday I had never come across the use of ‘curb’ instead of ‘kerb’. Have your colleagues read the Highway Code?

      • FredNerx says

        Perhaps it is more a reflection of how poorly educated your colleagues are than anything else.

    2. CVBeethoven says

      In Australia, the signs that tell you how to park say ‘Park rear to kerb only’. But then again, Australian still officially spell ‘jail’ as ‘gaol’, but no one really does…

    3. Maximilian Bui says

      How about Americans spelling it the non-American way? I spell most words “wrong” like tyre, kerb, or grey…and it feels weird here in America but I like it that way

      • I don’t do this with all words that have a spelling variation, but I have adopted ‘kerb’ for this word despite having learned it from childhood as ‘curb’. Somehow ‘kerb’ just looks cooler to me… :)

    4. I am the guy who studied British English in school and now working with American company. Most of the time I am confused about words like “kerb/curb, color/colour, neighbor/neighbour”

      • CVBeethoven says

        why do you find it confusing? They seem like easily overcome impediments to me.

    5. James Langford says

      They’ve all graduated from British universities.

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