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Today's British English spellings mostly follow Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), while many American English spellings follow Webster's An American Dictionary of the English Language ("ADEL", "Webster's Dictionary", 1828).

Rather […] he chose already existing options such as center, color and check on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology".Webster did attempt to introduce some reformed spellings, as did the Simplified Spelling Board in the early 20th century, but most were not adopted.In Britain, the influence of those who preferred the Norman (or Anglo-French) spellings of words proved to be decisive.Later spelling adjustments in the United Kingdom had little effect on today's American spellings and vice versa.For the most part, the spelling systems of most Commonwealth countries and Ireland closely resemble the British system.

In Canada, the spelling system can be said to follow both British and American forms, New Zealand spelling is almost identical to British spelling, except in the word fiord (instead of fjord).There is also an increasing use of macrons in words that originated in Māori and an unambiguous preference for -ise endings (see below).Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English (e.g., ).Many of the differences between American and British English date back to a time when spelling standards had not yet developed.For instance, some spellings seen as "American" today were once commonly used in Britain.A "British standard" began to emerge following the 1755 publication of influential dictionaries such as Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language, and an "American standard" started following the work of Noah Webster, and in particular his An American Dictionary of the English Language.