Defence vs. Defense: When to Use Defense or Defence in English

When it comes to words that are spelled almost the same, with one different letter only, sometimes the answer is that one of the words is British, while the other one is American. That’s the case with defence and defense. Both spellings are acceptable but each is more widely used in a specific part of the world.

Defence vs. Defense: What’s the Main Differences?

Defence vs. DefensePin

The Definition

  • Defense: Employed in American English, it signifies the action of defending against attack or protecting oneself or something else.
  • Defence: Used in British English, it carries the same significance as “defense,” denoting the act of defending or the methods used for protection.

The two spellings are interchangeable in context, with the choice guided by the geographical or cultural audience.

Usage and Examples

DEFENSE is an American word and DEFENCE is British. So, when you see a sentence like “The enemy was attacking us but our defense/ defence was strong enough to stop him”, you can use one of the two words with confidence. You only need to remember where the audience you are writing your text for is from.

Many other words can be formed from defense or defence but, interestingly enough, this difference in spelling doesn’t stay in all of the cases. For example, there isn’t such a word as “defencive” or “defencible”: when these suffixes are added, both British and American people spell the words with a “s”, i.e. defensive, defensible.

When an American person is talking about sports, you might hear him use defense as a verb. Some style guides say that this isn’t the correct usage of the word but still, since many native speakers use it, you can, too. There’s nothing wrong with saying something like, “Our team defenses the opponent’s attack”. However, if you want to be correct according to all the style guides, it’s better to use “defend against” instead of “defense” when you need a verb.

Helpful Tips for Correct Use

When distinguishing between defence and defense, one’s choice of spelling should be guided by the variety of English they are using.

For Users of American English:

  • Always spell the word with an sdefense.
  • This applies to all derivatives of the word (e.g., defensivedefensively).

For Users of British English:

  • Spell the word with a cdefence.
  • Derivatives follow the same rule (e.g., defensivedefenceless).
  • Notable exception: if the suffix begins with i, such as in defensive, use an s.

Here is a simple breakdown:

Pronunciation does not vary significantly between the two spellings, so speakers can feel confident using either without concern for mispronunciation.

Persons writing for international audiences may want to choose the spelling that aligns with the primary readership’s dialect to ensure clarity and maintain standardization within their text. Those unsure of their audience may choose to clarify by specifying the variant (e.g., “defense (Am. Eng.)” or “defence (Br. Eng.)”).

Related Confused Words

Defence vs. Defensive

It’s important to note that “defence” is a noun, while “defensive” is an adjective. “Defensive” is used to describe something that is intended to defend or protect, while “defence” refers to the act of defending or protecting something.

For example, if we say “the team played a great defensive game,” we mean that the team played well in protecting their goal or territory. On the other hand, if we say “the team’s defence was strong,” we are referring to the team’s ability to defend itself from the opposing team.

Defence vs. Defensiveness

Another commonly confused pair of words is “defence” and “defensiveness.” While both words are related to the idea of defense, they have different meanings.

“Defence” refers to the act of protecting or defending something, while “defensiveness” refers to a person’s tendency to become defensive or protective in response to criticism or perceived threats.

For example, if we say “the company’s defence against the lawsuit was strong,” we are referring to the company’s legal defense strategy. On the other hand, if we say “the employee’s defensiveness made it difficult to have a productive conversation,” we are referring to the employee’s tendency to become defensive and uncooperative in response to feedback or criticism.

It’s important to understand the differences between these words in order to use them correctly and avoid confusion.

Defence vs. Defense in Example Sentences

Examples of “Defence” in Sentences (British English)

  1. The barrister’s argument in defence of his client was very persuasive.
  2. The castle’s ancient walls provided a strong defence against invaders.
  3. She wrote her thesis on the country’s air defence strategy during World War II.
  4. The team’s defence was particularly robust during the second half of the match.
  5. The government increased spending on national defence.

Examples of “Defense” in Sentences (American English)

  1. The lawyer presented a solid defense in the courtroom.
  2. The military is responsible for the defense of the country’s borders.
  3. He’s known for his aggressive defense on the basketball court.
  4. The Defense Department issued a statement about the mission.
  5. A good defense is as important as a good offense in team sports.

Interactive Exercise 

Fill in the blank 

  1. The lawyer presented a strong __________ in court to protect his client.
  2. The country is investing a lot in its __________ capabilities to ensure national security.
  3. In basketball, a good __________ can be as important as a good offense.
  4. The immune system plays a crucial role in the body’s __________ against pathogens.
  5. She wrote her thesis on the __________ mechanisms of plants in arid environments.
  6. The minister of __________ will be attending the international summit next week.
  7. The team’s __________ was not well-coordinated, which led to their loss.
  8. His thesis on civil __________ laws received high praise from the academic community.
  9. The castle’s __________ were designed to withstand long sieges during medieval times.
  10. They are conducting research on cyber __________ to prevent future attacks.

Answer and Explanation 

  1. Answer: defence/defense
  2. Answer: defence/defense
  3. Answer: defense
  4. Answer: defence/defense
  5. Answer: defence/defense
  6. Answer: defence/defense
  7. Answer: defense
  8. Answer: defence/defense
  9. Answer: defence/defense
  10. Answer: defence/defense

Frequently Asked Question

What is the difference between ‘defense’ and ‘defence’?

  • ‘Defense’ is the spelling used in American English.
  • ‘Defence’ is the spelling used in British English and other dialects influenced by it, such as Canadian and Australian English.

Are both spellings ‘defense’ and ‘defence’ correct?

Yes, both spellings are correct but are used in different forms of English:

  • ‘Defense’ — American English
  • ‘Defence’ — British, Canadian, Australian, and other English dialects

When should one use ‘defense’ instead of ‘defence’?

One should use ‘defense’ when writing for an American audience and ‘defence’ for a British or international audience.

Do ‘defense’ and ‘defence’ have the same meaning and pronunciation?

Yes, they have identical meanings and pronunciations. They both refer to the action of defending against attack.

How are derivatives of ‘defense/defence’ spelled?

Derivatives follow the same rule:

  • American English: defense — defender, defensive
  • British English: defence — defender, defensive

Does the spelling change when a suffix begins with ‘i,’ such as ‘defensive’?

No, the spelling does not change. The difference in spelling persists in derivatives regardless of the suffix. Therefore:

  • ‘Defensive’ is correct in American English.
  • ‘Defensive’ is also correct in British English.

1 thought on “Defence vs. Defense: When to Use Defense or Defence in English”

  1. I don’t know, I think the c spelling of defence matches the pronunciation best like the s spelling of practise. These spellings could be used in American spelling more often.


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