Favorite or Favourite – Meaning & Difference in Spelling

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

American and British English are the same, aren’t they? Not quite. Although most words are the same, a handful of word pairs are spelled differently yet mean the same thing.

This spelling conundrum has much to do with certain letters being dropped in American English to create a more phonetically sounding spelling compared to British spelling. But this can lead to a bit of confusion even though the words can technically be considered interchangeable.

Favorite and favourite are great examples of the British practice of using the -ou pair rather than just -o. Let’s take a look at these words so you know which is the most acceptable in America.

What’s the Difference Between Favorite and Favourite?

Favorite or Favourite Meaning Difference in Spelling

Favorite and favourite are different spellings of the same word. Favorite is the preferred spelling in the U.S., while favourite is preferred in Britain and some other UK-inspired English-speaking countries. These preferences extend to all derivatives, including favorites/favourites, favoritism/favouritism, and favorited/favourited.

Favorite Spelling and Use

Favorite is the preferred American spelling. It works as both a noun and adjective to mean one who is regarded with special favor or treated better than others. It also is used to describe a competitor judged most likely to win.

For example:

  • His favorite ice cream flavor is chocolate, and he requested it to be served alongside chocolate cake with chocolate frosting for his birthday.
  • The horse in the number seven slot is the favorite for the noon race; he has placed in almost every race he’s been in this season.
  • Waking up early for work is everyone’s favorite, said nobody ever.

Favourite Spelling and Use

Favourite has the exact same definition as favorite. It is the British spelling of the word that was more widely adapted to American English during the mid-18th century through the exclusion of the extra -u.

For example:

  • My favourite fish and chip stand is on the way home from work, so I often stop there to pick up dinner.
  • The Saturday evening podcast on channel 9 is my favourite.

Origin of Favorite

The mid-14th century Latin fautor, meaning “a person who promotes the interests of another,” is the corresponding and influencing noun that gave rise to the 16th-century French favorit and Italian favorito.

It was used to explain a person who had dominant influence over another until it was adapted in a broader sense in the 18th century to mean a “particular liking, esteem, or preference.”

It was used in horse racing in the early 1800s to explain a race’s likely winner.

Is Favorite or Favourite More Popular?

Favorite and Favourite Ngram
Favorite and favourite usage trend.

Favourite has been the preferred spelling in British English for several centuries, but this does not mean that favorite is a late arrival to the language or even American in origin. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary lists instances of favorite from as long ago as the 17th century.

Milton used it in Paradise Lost and, and William Wordsworth used it around 1800 (and many more examples are easily found in historical Google Books searches). The preference for favourite was not well established in British English until the first half of the 19th century, which, as the ngram shows, is around the same time Americans settled on what is now their spelling.

British English Favorite and Favourite Ngram
British English favorite and favourite usage trend.

Today, favorite is the more popular spelling overall, with many British English-speaking countries accepting both options.

Let’s Review

Although favorite and favourite are the same word, favorite is preferred in the U.S. while favourite is still popular with certain British English-speaking countries. The dropped -u is a common spelling difference between these two countries, with most changes occurring around the American Revolutionary period.

The words mean the same and can be used interchangeably, although using the American spelling is more popular overall and is considered the acceptable spelling in the U.S.

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