Plough vs. plow

In American and Canadian English, plow is the preferred spelling of the farm implement and its related verbs. Plough is the preferred spelling in the main varieties of English from outside North America.

The spelling distinction applies to all senses of the word, including figurative ones. British and Australian writers always use plough, along with ploughed and ploughing; American and Canadian writers always use plow, plowed, and plowing. Both spellings are pronounced the same.


North America

In winter he plows the streets, and in spring he trims the trees. [The Atlantic]

Russell confronted a man who had stolen a snow plow and was driving across the city. [Toronto Sun]

Plowing through a stack of mail, he came to an envelope that read “This is not a bill.” [Washington Post]

Outside North America

The larger ones had been removed by the boys, swinging pickaxes into the iron land before the ploughing began. [Independent]

It was me that opted to plough through the storm. [Sydney Morning Herald]

A man who ploughed into a crowd of revellers outside a bar in Rochdale has been jailed indefinitely. [BBC News]

36 thoughts on “Plough vs. plow”

  1. No!!!! Canadian and American spelling of Plow are both exactly the same! It’s just old mother England Who likes to do everything the hard way :)

  2. If a writer chooses to use plough in Canada, then all other words in the piece of writing should also follow British spelling. This is common practice in academia. The rule is, once you pick a spelling style you need to stick with it. Some professors will even circle words if you switch from American to British or vice versa.

    • I guess then in academia I would be wrong. No wonder I didn’t finish college. I know the difference between American and British/Canadian spellings of plough vs. plow, but when writing, for some reason I would “plough” the farm field before I “plowed” the street in winter. Thank you for educating me.

  3. I’m Canadian, and automatically write “plough”. Surprised to see ‘plough’ acceptable on a variety of auto spell checkers on sites and services, but not ‘ploughed’. But OpenOffice allows both but rejects both ‘plow’ and ‘plowed’. If this means OO’s spell-check is Canadianized (or: Canadianised, Brits), then ‘plough’ is proper Canadian, eh?

  4. “Plough” and “plow” are both acceptable in American English too. At least, I am definitely American and the former looks more correct than the latter. My instructors have never corrected me and my peers spell it the same way. I suppose I should disclose that I’ve lived my whole life in the far North of the country, never more than a few hours from Canada.

  5. Surely if it is ‘plowed’ then shouldn’t it sound the same as ‘blowed’? blow, low, flow, plow?!? It shouldn’t even be a word?

  6. Bow, sow, cow, how, now, pow, vow, wow
    Bow, low, mow, row, tow.
    Though, Dough,

    I prefer “plough” though (npi)

  7. I’m in rural Central NY, and I have always spelled a thing for moving snow a plow, and a thing for farming a plough. So for me, it is two different words

  8. I am Canadian and when I read plow or plough, either way looks normal. So I’m going with “both” being correct. That being said, “our” as in favour, drives me crazy with the auto correct so I use favor and I also say ‘z’ as opposed to zed, so all you grammar fans, have at it. Also I may have some of my commas and quotation marks incorrectly placed, so no comments about that please.

  9. I grew up stateside, but always saw / wrote plough until Chrome corrected me recently…Guess I read a lot of Canadian / British books.

  10. Canadian (and proud of it – don’t let the Colonel fool you – just a moniker), and we’re having a snow storm (go figure). I just tried to text ‘ploughed’, and my Blackberry didn’t like it. Doesn’t look right with relation to snow removal anyway. For the record, Google won’t recognize it either, so I’m going to side with Jacob from New York, and plow snow, or plough land, separately. They really aren’t the same anyway, and this is a good way to make the distinction, eh. Lol!
    Happy spelling folks.

  11. There is only ONE English: British English, the rest are American, Canadian, Australian, South African, New Zealander or whatever you care to call them… just as there are only ONE each of French, German, Spanish, Portuguese… AND we have Quebecois, Belgian Swiss French, Swiss German, Swiss Italian, Colombian, Mexican, Uruguayan, Brzilian etc.

  12. KISS! As for our Canadian cousins, I suspect the customs (not the rules) are different in Alberta as compared to Quebec, Nova Scotia, or Ontario.


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