It is sometimes said that the United States and the United Kingdom are two countries separated by a common language.

Whether we agree or not, there’s one thing in the statement that is undoubtedly true—English is the most widely used language in both countries.

Still, a distinction is often made, with the English language used in the United States being called American English, and the English language used in the United Kingdom being called British English.

The differences between the two varieties of English are usually subtle, but they exist nonetheless. And that brings us to the problem at hand: which spelling is correct, “favorite” or “favourite?”

The answer to that question might depend on where you are.

If you’re in the United States, you would hear that “favorite” is the correct spelling. If you were pretty much anywhere else in the world where English is spoken, you would hear that “favourite” is the spelling you should use.

“Favourite” or “favorite” mean the same thing, are pronounced the same way (FAY-vuh-rit or FAY-vrit), and are both correct spellings.

Key Takeaways:

  • “Favorite” is the preferred spelling in American English, while “favourite” is used in British English and other English-speaking regions outside the US.
  • Both spellings have identical meanings and pronunciations, serving as both a noun and an adjective to denote preference or likelihood of winning.
  • The divergence in spelling reflects broader differences between American and British English, influenced historically by lexicographers like Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster.

The Meaning of the Word Favorite

“Favorite” (or “favourite,” if that’s the spelling you favour) is a word that can be used both as a noun and as an adjective. When used as a noun, “favorite” can have two meanings:

  • A person or a thing that is liked more than other people or things; a preferred person or thing:

“On Wednesday mornings at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, she often sits rocking an unhappy infant, whispering the antics of siblings Jack and Jill, the tale of the pumpkin-eater who had a wife he couldn’t keep, or her favorite: the yarn about horn-blowing Little Boy Blue.” The Columbus Dispatch

  • A person or an animal that stands the greatest chances of winning a competition:

“Djokovic ‘is going to be the big favorite’ at the French Open, Wawrinka said this week.” OregonLive
When used as an adjective, favorite has only one meaning:

  • Most liked, preferred:

“Do you have favorite colors? So does a bed bug.” Science News for Students

History of the Split

“Favorite” and “favourite” share a common backstory with other words in the English language. The word “color,” for example, is spelled with an “-or” ending in American English, while in British English it’s spelled “colour.” There are plenty of other examples: “flavor” and “flavour,” “honor” and “honour,” “rumor” and “rumour.” The list could go on and on.

For a long time, there was no consensus on how words ending with -or or -our should be spelled in Britain.

We know that Samuel Johnson, the famous British lexicographer, had a strong preference for the -our versions of words, as is evident from his 1755 dictionary. On the other side of the pond, an equally famous American lexicographer, Noah Webster, wanted to make the English language used in America truly American.

So, his 1828 dictionary recommended the -or spellings of the disputed words. To this day, Webster gets a lot of credit for influencing the way Americans write English.

Modern Examples

The easiest way to notice the difference in spelling and its national character is by looking through different national publications or international editions of media outlets.

“For the first time in four years, TJ’s did not earn the title of favorite supermarket in America, despite its cult following.” The Huffington Post, US edition

“To help kick off the delicious cake feast, top chefs and cooks have shared their favourite (and easy to make) recipes.” The Huffington Post, Australian edition

“To celebrate HuffPost Canada’s fifth anniversary, we’ve compiled some of our favourite splashes.” The Huffington Post, Canadian edition

“Current odds are making Russia’s superstar Sergey Lazarev the hot favourite, with the UK’s Joe and Jake coming in at a respectable seventh place in the bookies’ list of favourites.” The Huffington Post, UK edition