Friday, August 16, 2013

Random-ised thoughts: -ize verbs and -ise verbs - the basics

There is a large group of transitive verbs formed from nouns or adjectives which have a suffix with the sound /aɪz/. In American English these are always spelt with an -ize ending, but the standard position in British English is that they can be spelt with either -ize or -ise, depending on your fancy.
There's another, much smaller group with the same /aɪz/ sound, which are always spelt with an -ise ending, on both sides of the Atlantic.
Here I take a quick look at the basics.

Group 1
Verbs that end in -ize (and can also end in -ise in British English)

This group of verbs get their ending from the Late Latin suffix -izare, which ultimately came from the Greek -izein. Some of the earliest of these first came into English (often via French) with an -ise ending, but in the 13th and 14th centuries, the s was later changed to a z, to be more in keeping with the Latin and Greek originals.
The earliest verbs with the -ize ending came from Latin, often via French, but from at least the sixteenth century onwards, the -ize ending was added to all sorts of verbs, whether they had a Latin source or not.
From the beginning of the nineteenth century, some British publishers started to spell these verbs with an s rather than a z, and -ise is now standard in almost all British newspapers. The main bastion of the -ize ending in Britain is the Oxford University Press.
Examples of this group include:
British EnglishAmerican English
authorise / authorizeauthorize
apologise / apologizeapologize
civilise / civilizecivilize
organise / organizeorganize
realise / realizerealize
recognise / recognizerecognize
These verbs can in turn be transformed into participal adjectives, such as civilised or civilized, and nouns, such as civilisation or civilization. There is a very good explanation of this at (link below).
The -ise/-ize suffix is a very productive one, as it seems almost any noun can be turned into a transitive verb using it. More recent additions to the language include prioritise/prioritize from the noun priority, incentivise/incentivize from the noun incentive and finalise/finalize from the adjective final. Some people don't like some of these new verbs and this 'verbalisation' has been argued about for a long time, but that is not our concern here. What I'm interested in here is the relative positions of -ise and -ize endings in British English.
By British English I mean the varieties of English spoken in Australasia, parts of Africa, the Caribbean and India as well as in Britain itself.Indeed, the Australians seem to use the -ise ending even more than the British.Although Canadians use British spellings in some cases, I think they're with the Americans on this one.
Depending on who you listen to, -ise endings seem to either be increasing in popularity in British English, or perhaps declining. If the latter is true, some people are inclined to see it as a result of American influence. If the former, others might see it as a statement of national identity, perhaps.

Group 2
Verbs that always end in -ise (even in American English)

There are a few verbs that always end in -ise in both American and British English. Here's what they say at Oxford Dictionaries Online:
The main reason for this is that, in these words, -ise is part of a longer word element rather than being a separate ending in its own right. For example: -cise (meaning 'cutting') in the word excise; -prise (meaning 'taking') as in surprise; or -mise (meaning 'sending') in promise.
These are always spelt -ise, in both British and American English. Many of them are based on the elements - cise, mise, prise, vise, which mainly come from French past participles, for example -mise from mettre/mis, -prise from prendre/pris.
Click on D to see a definition and origins at, click on E to see the origins at the Online Etymology Dictionary.
circumciseDE compromiseDE appriseDE
exerciseDE demiseDE compriseDE
exciseDE surmiseDE enterpriseDE
inciseDE priseDE
advertiseDE adviseDE ariseDE
chastiseDE deviseDE disenfranchiseDE
improviseDE despiseDE
reviseDE disguiseDE
superviseDE enfranchiseDE
As a way of distinguishing these from the suffix verbs we looked at first, I'll call these French -ise verbs and the others, authorise, recognise etc, -ize suffix verbs.

Group 3
Verbs that always end in -ize (even in British English)

There are half a dozen or so words that always end in -ize, like seize, but as far as I know there are only two verbs with the /aɪz/ pronunciation:
capsizeDE prizeDE
But see note on prize / prise below.

Group 4 - -yse/-yze verbs

These are always spelt -yse in British English, and -yze in American English
analyseD E catalyseDE electrolyseDE paralyseDE
breathalyseDE dialyseDE hydrolyseDE psychoanalyseDE

Group 5 - marginal cases

  • prize / prise - the verb prize, meaning to value something, is spelt with a Z on both sides of the Atlantic. The verb prise, meaning to use force to separate something from something else, etymologically belongs with the French -ise verbs and is spelt with an S in British English. In American English, however, it is also spelt with a Z
  • exorcise - has similar roots to other -ize suffix verbs - '15th C. Middle English exorcisen, from Late Latin exorcizare, from Greek exorkizein'. But it rather looks as though it's been associated with those other verbs ending in -cise which have come directly from French, like exercise and circumcise, which always take an s.
    Online Etymology Dictionary lists it under -ise, calling it - 'A rare case where -ise trumps -ize on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps by influence of exercise.' American dictionaries such as generally seem to list it under the s spelling but also accept the z spelling.
    Strangely, Oxford Dictionaries Online list exorcise under s, while Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary lists it under z.
  • baptize - The opposite is the case here. The -ise spelling never really caught on in Britain at all.

Related posts

For related posts see the -ize / -ise page


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