Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Emphasize and Emphasise

‘Emphasize’ and ‘emphasise’ are different spellings of the same word. They are pronounced the same way and have the same meaning. The main difference is in which regions they are used in, which is similar to word pairs such as ‘vigor’ and ‘vigour’ or ‘color’ and ‘colour’.

Both ‘emphasize’ and ‘emphasise’ are related to the word ‘emphasis’, which is a noun. It should be noted that in regions where the verb form is spelled ‘emphasize’, the noun is still spelled with a second s instead of a z. The word ‘emphasis’ came from Greek, where it was spelled mostly the same in the Greek alphabet.

‘Emphasis’ means a greater level of importance. It is most often regarded as something that is placed on or given to another object. To place emphasis on something is to mark it as more important or bring more attention to it. Typical examples in writing would be writing something in bold or italics, underlining, or using all capital letters.

‘Emphasize’ and ‘emphasise’ are the verb forms of the word ‘emphasis’: they describe the act of placing more importance or drawing more attention to something, or that it naturally has more importance or attention than others of the same group.

“While all forms of football could be played, gridiron was the one most emphasized.”

“He emphasised the importance of tea in a healthy lifestyle.”

The main difference between the two spellings is that ‘emphasize’ is used in the United States and Canada, while ‘emphasise’ is used in British English countries. The reason for the different spellings is once again due to the French influence on English.

Both suffixes, -ize and –ise, are used to create a verb out of a noun or adjective. Originally, the –ize suffix was used in words that came from Greek. This is because the suffix that did the same job was –izo in Ancient Greek. In Latin, this was carried over with the words that came from Greek, so any noun or adjective of Greek origin could have a conjugation of –izo. Latin then split into the Romance languages, and many of them carried some form of –izo with them. In French, it was –iser.

In English, it became common to use both –ize and –ise in different scenarios: words taken directly from Greek would have the –ize suffix, while –ise was used for words taken from other languages, especially French. This is why other words, such as ‘supervise’, are spelled with the –ise suffix on both sides of the divide. There was also originally a slight pronunciation difference, but there has been enough language drift that they are now pronounced the same. In the nineteenth century, during a period of spelling reform, the distinction in spellings stayed the same in American and Canadian English, but changed in the rest of the English-speaking world. In England, it became more common to use the –ise suffix for words that were originally given the –ize suffix, like in ‘emphasize’, because of the strong French influence. Most other British English dialects – Irish, Australian, New Zealand, etcetera – did the same. However, Oxford University Press, which is influential in England though not enough to make people use their commas, continues to use the –ize suffix in words of Greek origin. The United States and Canada also continue to use both suffixes.

To summarize, ‘emphasize’ is the way the word is spelled in the United States and Canada and ‘emphasise’ is the way it is spelled in British English. The word was originally spelled ‘emphasize’, but was later changed due to spelling reform in England and ‘emphasise’ spread throughout the world.


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