Draft vs. draught

In British English, draught is used primarily for (1) a current of air, (2) an animal that pulls loads, (3) a load pulled by such an animal, (4) a portion of liquid, and (5) the act of drawing liquid into the mouth. And British writers use draft for (1) a written plan or preliminary sketch, (2) an order for a bank to pay money, (3) conscription into the military, and (4) the act of selecting someone for a role.

American and Canadian publications use draft for all these purposes. Draught occasionally appears in reference to beer, but mainly in product marketing. Non-British varieties of English from outside North America tend to use the British spellings.


Suddenly I felt a draught, and heard the clunk of the gun thudding against a soldier’s side. [Scotsman]

This latest draft of the rules retains a requirement that all mortgage borrowers must prove their income. [Financial Times]

Go to the football and treat yourself to a draught of invigorating winter escapism. [Guardian]

The son of a shoemaker, Hawelka opened the coffee house in 1938, only to close it a year later when he was drafted into Hitler’s army. [Irish Times]

I can remember Dad and Grandpa hitching up the two semi-draught horses we had. [Waikato Times]

The AFL’s No 1 draft pick Jonathon Patton will be sent to Sweden for treatment after experiencing problems with “jumper’s knee”. [The Australian]

See also

Plough vs. plow

14 thoughts on “Draft vs. draught”

  1. And yet it is a draughtsman who might be responsible for the draft in meaning (1)…

    Also, don’t forget the board game ‘draughts’, the individual pieces in which are often called a draught (or, again, draughtsman). Do Americans call this game ‘drafts’?

    • No, it’s known as ‘checkers’; though weirdly the separate game known by extension as ‘Chinese checkers’ is called the same thing in Britain, not ‘Chinese draughts’. As far as I know, it’s not actually Chinese, so what they may call it in China isn’t as applicable as might seem the case…

  2. The statement that “…Canadian writers use ‘draft’ for all of these purposes” is blatantly incorrect. In the case of ‘Draft vs. Draught’, we in Canada use the same spelling and definitions as in the Oxford Dictionary. Americans just like to think that Canadians spell certain words the same as they do in a vain attempt to convince the world, and themselves, that “everyone” in North America uses the American Webster’s Dictionary. In fact, in Canada, we use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

    • This site is about reporting how English speakers use the language. It’s not about saying what’s right and wrong. That statement about Canadian writers using “draft” is based on extensive searches through current Canadian publications that make their content available online. We don’t use dictionaries for research, as they are historical documents (recording how words have been used but not necessarily as they are used) and generally not meant to be prescriptive.

      We found almost no instances of “draught” in any of the Canadian sources we checked, which is not to say that there are not many Canadians who prefer the British spellings.

      We actually encounter this a lot–Canadians who dispute our data-based findings because they personally do not use the American spellings. Obviously there are many Canadians who resist going along the Americanization of their language, which, perhaps sadly, has accelerated this century. But while individual preferences are great, they don’t change the fact that the British “draught” is almost nowhere to be found in 21st-century Canadian publications.

      We take your point, though, so we have changed that phrase to say “Canadian publications” instead of “Canadian writers”.

      And for what it’s worth, we certainly don’t lump Canadians in with Americans as a rule. If you look around our site a little, you’ll see we have many posts delineating the many differences between American and Canadian English. The differences are shrinking, but that’s true of all varieties of English in the internet age.

      • I’d hardly say that the differences between American and Canadian English “are shrinking”. Try crossing the border sometime – you’ll find that Canadian English is a unique blend of both British and American English, both in spelling and pronounciation usage. Recent immigration from Commonwealth countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and many Caribbean islands has likely reinforced the British influence in Canadian English. It is also regional. Ontario, BC and the Atlantic provinces tend to be more “British” in their usage as opposed to Alberta for example, which has seen a large influx of US immigration in the past few decades, bringing their spelling and pronounciation conventions with them.

  3. Don’t forget the draft or draught of a boat or ship. The distance from the water line to the bottom of the hull, or the distance required given a load in the boat or ship

  4. These changes in Canadian spelling are almost entirely due to the prevalence of MS Office and the ubiquity of spell check. I’d bet if you looked at publications from pre-1990 the old UK spellings would be more prevalent. Often Canadian dictionaries don’t exist or are not available for software/hardware. Left to decide between UK and USA many Canadians choose american dictionaries, especially since our publications are more likely to be read in the states than overseas. My own university had to be prodded (by me) to change the campus default spell check dictionary in MS Word to Canadian English from US English in all computer labs. I like the nuisance of the UK spellings as they don’t rely on context to let you know which of the many drafts/draughts are meant. I can live with draft and plow, but if we ever switch to signing “checks” I think Canada is done and we may as well merge with the US at that point.


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