Emphasise or Emphasize – What’s the Difference?

Throughout your writing career, you will need to highlight important points and focus on the most salient aspects of the topic of your writing. Strong writing emphasizes important things and spends less time on less important things.

But should this word be spelled emphasize or emphasise? Continue reading to find out.

What is the Difference Between Emphasise or Emphasize?

In this article, I will compare emphasise vs. emphasize. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory device that you can use to remember whether emphasise or emphasize is the correct word, depending on your audience.

When to Use Emphasize

Definition of emphasize definition of emphasise definitionWhat does emphasize mean? Emphasize, a verb, means to highlight the importance of something.

Some people use makeup to emphasize their facial features, and many writers use strong language to emphasize their feelings on a particular subject.

Here are a few examples,

  • The politician emphasized the importance of his economic plan by waggling his hands about as if he were playing an accordion.
  • “This mascara will emphasize the natural color of your eyes,” cooed the mascara salesperson.
  • Any judgment on the Gastrepo case will emphasize the inherent bias in the police force.
  • Entelo’s may emphasize people with a large online footprint; SAP’s might prefer those who best match characteristics of people who were hired in the past. –The Wall Street Journal

Emphasize has been the preferred American English spelling of the word for over 200 years, but the same cannot be said for British English.

When to Use Emphasise

Define emphasize and define emphasiseWhat does emphasis mean? Emphasise was at one point the predominate spelling in British English. In this sense, it followed other American-British spelling differences, such as organization-organisation, realize-realise, baptized-baptised, and others.

However, within the last 100 years or so, emphasize has replaced emphasise in British English as the predominate spelling.

Here is a chart that shows the relative frequency of emphasis vs. emphasize in American English,

emphasise versus emphasize

As you can see, emphasize has always been the preferred spelling in American English—and by a large margin.

Here is a similar graph that shows the words’ use in British English,

emphasize emphasise

The two are much closer, but it appears that emphasize may have overtaken emphasise around the year 1920.

That said, it is still common to see emphasise in British writing and publications. For example,

  • One Foreign Office document seen by the Guardian stresses the need to emphasise the links between those working in British embassies across the world and the new department for international trade. –The Guardian

It should also be noted that these charts aren’t 100 percent exhaustive in their scope, since they only look at books published in English since 1800. They are still useful, however, for illustrating long-term usage trends.

Trick to Remember the Difference

If you are writing in modern times, you should choose emphasize, whether you are an American or British writer. This version is standard in both communities. Emphasise used to be more common in British English, but that appears to have changed around 1920.

Emphasize is used today and is spelled with a Z, like Zurich and Zanzibar, two places which exist today in the world. The Z is therefore your clue that you should use emphasize for all contemporary writing, unless instructed to do otherwise by a professor or supervisor.

Summary

Is it emphasise or emphasize? Emphasise and emphasize are two spelling variants of a verb that means to highlight the importance of something.

Historically, emphasise was standard in British English, but today, emphasize is more common in both British and American English.

Emphasize shares its Z with Zurich and Zanzibar, two places which exist in the modern world. Since you are writing in a world which includes these places, you should also include the word emphasize in your writing.

Remember, you can always reread this article any time you need a quick refresher on the meaning of these words.