Realise vs. Realize

People associate a lot of things with British culture. According to the 2016 Britishness Audit, a nice cup of tea and a roast dinner with Yorkshire pudding are definite icons of Britain. If you ask Americans, they could propose a few contenders for next year’s list. One of them is the tendency to spell words with an -ise ending. Americans take notice of this ending because it differs from the usual -ize ending common to their verbs. Let’s compare realise and realize.

Whether the ending is -ize or -ise, the meaning of the verb is the same. To realize means to notice or understand something, to achieve something that you wanted, or to obtain profit. Here are some examples:

“People do not seem to realise that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“We’re living in science fiction, but we don’t realize it.”
Terry Pratchett
“Adding this up, Woolworths could realise up to $1bn on the sale.”
“Woolworths Could Realise $1bn from Masters Sale,” The Australian
“Worse than not realizing the dreams of your youth would be to have been young and never dreamed at all.”
Jean Genet

The -ise ending is actually newer than the -ize ending. In Britain and other countries, it became popular after 1875, when it began appearing in news articles. However, the -ise ending didn’t catch on in the United States or in British publications such as science periodicals and professional journals. For that reason, you will see both verb endings in British literature.

Which ending should you use?

Consider your audience. For American readers, -ize is probably the way to go. While both endings might be correct according to your dictionary of choice, you could unnecessarily alienate your audience if you insist on using -ise. Elsewhere, preferences might not be as strong, but they might view -ize as an American spelling. What is important is that you are consistent. For example, if you decide to go with realize, you should use the -ize ending for all verbs that can be spelled with either -ize or -ise. By doing so, you will minimize the risk of someone thinking you’ve made a mistake.

Oxford University Press, a British publisher, expresses a preference for the -ize ending for some words that derive from the Greek suffix -izo. More than two hundred verbs have etymological roots with this ending. The influential publisher prefers to reflect the original spelling of these verbs and associated nouns, such as realization, organization, and privatization. An -ise ending could erroneously suggest that the verbs derive from the French verbs réaliser, organiser, or privatiser. That’s not to say that Oxford style condemns all -ise endings. To illustrate, the -ise of televise doesn’t have a Greek origin, so that -ise ending is A-okay.

What do you associate with British culture? Forming a queue for nearly anything? Dry humor? These things made the top ten responses to the Britishness Audit. What did not make the top ten was the -ise ending, and now you know why!

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