Offence vs. offense

Other than how they are spelled and where they are used, there is no difference between offence and offense. Offense is the preferred spelling in the United States, and offence prevails in all the main varieties of English from outside the U.S.

The American spelling gained steam through the 19th century, after being promoted in Noah Webster’s 1831 dictionary and all later editions, but didn’t become the more common form in the U.S. until the early 20th century. The spelling was not invented in the U.S., however. Webster and his contemporaries, in forging what they viewed as a more logical and more American variety of the language, actually just revived an old spelling that had been appearing to varying degrees since the 14th century, long before the United States existed. The Oxford English Dictionary cites examples of offense from as long ago as 1395—and their earliest instances of offence are from just a decade earlier—though it is true that the modern British spelling was settled by the 17th century and that offense was no more than a rare variant by the time the Americans adopted it.

Regardless of spelling, the word is usually pronounced OFF-fence in sports-related contexts, and off-FENCE in all other contexts. There’s no good reason for this difference. Blame sports commentators.



The veteran tight end never found a home in Mike Martz’s offense and was inactive for all but five games. [Chicago Sun-Times]

No offense to the many women who do far more gaming than I do, but I suspect that males were a not insignificant part of G4′s market. [Time]

If people take offense at hackneyed phrases it’s because they’re hackneyed. [The Atlantic]

Outside the U.S.

Both offences can exploit some areas that play to their strengths. [CBC]

Parents who fail to keep air guns away from their children will be fined up to £1,000 under a new offence from next month. [Telegraph]

Pulpit choice gives offence [Sydney Morning Herald]

25 thoughts on “Offence vs. offense”

  1. LOL… I love how it says “everywhere else”…

     I am embarassed to be an American-English-native speaker… So embarrassed that I even just now spelled “embarrassed” wrong and didn’t even realise it until the red squiggly line appeared underneath the text.

      • Sorry no he didn’t. It is another example of “American English” vs “English in the rest of the world”. Many words that are spelled with a “Zed” in American English are spelled with an “S” in British English.

        • “Zed” is how you pronounce the letter Z in true english. You americans like to say “Zed” because you are not comfortable with it being an actual letter. That would be like me saying that you guys spell the word “realise” with a “Zee” rather than an “S”. The only time you use “Zed” is whenever you inform somebody how to pronounce the letter.

          • Since when are Americans not comfortable with the letter “‘Z” being an actual letter? And “Zed” is how your pronounce the letter in French. What is this “true” English you’re referencing? Why are so many people from the US so ignorant they think that everyone in the US is the same? I suppose people like you think all people from the US use stereotypes as well?

          • I am an American, just so you are positive when you claim I am biased.
            Being a True English language user, as you are. I won’t point out your stereotyping.
            Based solely in your final sentence, your redundancy alone is proof you are not as well educated in true English, as you say. Citing your use of “only time” and “whenever”, your sentence would still be proper with one use of time.
            Such as: You use “Zed” whenever you inform somebody how to pronounce the letter. Removing the “The only time” from how you began your sentence stills holds up, without losing any meaning.
            On another thought… if you are always believing yourself correct, why be on such a website?
            ….aside from that, you let it be known you are on such a page!!?
            The stereotyping and hatred is a common for you to hold against Americans. I believe this stereotyping, and some of the hatred, is based on jealousy. Jealousy stemming from many things, spanning different times in the brief history of America.
            Before the U.S. existed your people hated us, going back to when we were just colonists.

        • I’m a proofreader, and I can assure you that either z or s are appropriate in Br. En. for words like ‘realize’. The z is mandatory in Am. En., whereas in Australia the s is mandatory.

          • I tend to take Oxford as the highest authority on English language and ‘realise’ isn’t in my Oxford dictionary, only realize.

    • The only thing worse than the ‘Murica crowd is the people who act all “ashamed” for every regional difference between America and other English speaking regions. It’s different because we’re different. Get over it.

      If you knew the differences between regional dialects in other languages, you’d be much less self-loathing by the way.

    • They’re close to the same damn measurements! It’s not worth it to spend billions to change all the signs, packaging, cooking supplies, ovens, computer programs, textbooks & sports configurations! Who cares if we drink from a quart or pint (1 quart = 1.0567 liter) carton of juice!

      • Because a centimetre is nowhere near close to being an inch, I can see how you arrive at the conclusion that they are “close to the same damn measurements”.

        • 4″ is approx. 10 cm. 1′ is approx 30 cm, 1 m is approx 1 yard. It’s not hard to convert them. And I’d have to agree with Dolph Rudager – it’s too costly to switch everything everywhere just to appease the crowd that can’t measure things unless they’re decimally divisible. That would be like forcing everyone to convert to a hexadecimal numbering system in order to conform to the digital age. It’s more efficient, more logical, and compatible with computers, but it would cost an arm and a leg to make the switch and confuse anyone with a low IQ.

          • yeh lets insult anyone that does things differently specially if they’re right lets all just keep to the archaic ol ways to save some money that’s the smart move.

          • Saving money is smart. And there’s nothing archaic about our system. It’s just different. It can be used to measure and express anything the metric system can, and it happens to be used quite happily by one of the most advanced civilizations the earth has ever seen. The metric system was developed by a megalomaniacal French dictatorship two hundred years ago, so let’s all stop pretending it’s modern and high-tech and superior to anything.

  2. Nice. I never considered that the sports commentators could be the cause for the schism in pronunciation. Of course, there’s a reason why they stress the “OFF” in Offense, it’s for emphasis. Notice that they do the same thing with the word “Defense.” In courts and legal settings, it’s pronounced more like “Da-FENCE” whereas in sports it’s pronounced “DEE-fence. In sports, Offense and Defense are more emotionally opposed to each other and since the words are so similar (only differing by their first parts, “Off” and “De”), it makes sense that people in sports stress the “OFF” and the “DE” when pronouncing the two words.

  3. The emphasis on the first syllable in sports terminology is pretty logical – the two terms are used frequently in that context, and emphasizing the first syllable minimizes the amount of misunderstanding – especially harking back to the time of radio announcers. Also, the sports-specific use of these two words is technically slightly different in meaning than the traditional offENSE and deFENSE use. Heck, ‘offense’ and ‘defense’ in football are quite different than ‘offense’ or ‘defense’ in basketball – an entirely new lineup of athletes takes the field in the former when the two are switched on the field. There’s nothing wrong with pronouncing them differently in order to convey a completely different concept.


Leave a Comment