using -ize or -ise endings
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To utilize or utilise? – that is often the question...

Reaching a decision on the use of ‘–ize’ and ‘–ise’ word ending forms is a topic which must always be addressed in the preparation of professional house style guidelines. As this is a subject which often arouses controversy and about which misunderstandings are rife, this edition of Client & Partner Briefing shares our advice on the subject.


Let’s get these out of the way first.

1. One of them is just wrong

One of the most common misconceptions in this area is that one is always ‘correct’ and the other is always ‘incorrect’. In fact, from an ‘International English’ point of view, either form is entirely acceptable.

2. Americans use –ize and the British use –ise

It is true that the consistent use of -ize in ‘American English’ was one of the conventions that became established when US spelling went through a process of standardization in the 19th century. The esteemed American lexicographer Noah Webster was largely responsible for this, and some would argue we owe him a debt of gratitude for it. It is only comparatively recently that the use of -ise has grown more popular in some circles in the UK, but in ‘British English’ both forms are widely used and accepted as being correct by almost all authorities. Interestingly, it’s only in Australia and New Zealand where native English speakers prescribe the use of -ise as a general rule.

The client is King, but consistency comes close

A number of our clients have already committed to the use of the -ise suffix in their house style guidelines. We naturally respect their decision and rigorously apply the rule in all the copywriting and editing work we provide for them. Others have the majority of their audiences in the UK, and some of them choose to use the -ise suffix exclusively for that reason. We must admit that we have yet to work with a client whose principal audiences are Antipodean (although we’d certainly welcome the opportunity – Ed.), but if we did, we might well even advise them to use -ise.

There is an overriding rule however. Whichever form you decide to use, be consistent. Since in general either form is regarded as acceptable, there is a problem that is liable to arise when editing is less than meticulous. We see it all too often in the work of our peers – your communications are published containing both forms, sometimes even in the same document.

OK, so what do you advise?

You’ve guessed it – you know we have strong opinions. We certainly do favour one form over the other, for linguistic, stylistic and commercial reasons. Unless a client has committed to using -ise or has other good reasons, such as those mentioned above, we always recommend that they use -ize.

Why should we use -ize?

Here are five of our reasons:

1. The Oxford English Dictionary prefers -ize. In common with many other professional English writers, we regard the OED as the ultimate arbiter.

2. Actually, all Oxford University Press reference publications recommend the use of -ize. The latest (2000) edition of the Oxford Dictionary for Writers & Editors goes further. It actually prescribes the use of -ize and proscribes the use of -ise.

3. Most of our clients operate internationally, and some are truly global players. Especially in the increasingly internationalized business environment, it makes commercial sense. As ‘American English’ only uses -ize, and as both options are acceptable in ‘British English’, -ize is the better choice for publications designed for an international audience.

4. We believe that these words read better this way, because the sibilant is voiced ‘z’ and not ‘s’ - they look more logical when reading and, when pronounced, the way they look and the way they’re spoken is more consistent. This observation tends to be welcomed in particular by our many clients and partners in the Netherlands. We agree with them that the relationship between the spelling and correct pronunciation of many English words appears much less logical than in Dutch.

5. From an etymological point of view, the -ize form derives from the Greek suffix –izo. Use of the s spelling came about via linguistic developments of the French language, which changed the Greek z to s (eg realisation). This form was then imported into English usage, probably via the Normans.

House style guidelines

Oake Communications advises a number of corporate clients on the consistent use of house styles. In cases where a house style has yet to be formalized, we offer as a distinct service:

  • the development and production of detailed house style manuals and

  • training on their application in all corporate communications.

Once your enterprise has its own house style guidelines, they can be:

  • referred to and strictly applied by third party agencies – ourselves included, we hope – in the preparation of a wide range of corporate and marketing communications materials, including Annual Reports, press releases, house magazines, investor and analyst materials, etc.

  • published – and their content updated as and when necessary – on your intranet.
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