Pretense or Pretence – What’s the Difference?

Most writers are aware that there exists an American and British spelling for many words. The reasons for these spelling disparities are many, with both language communities seeking to differentiate themselves from the other at various points throughout their histories.

Pretense and pretence are a good example of these spelling differences. Each word is a legitimate, recognized version of the same noun, but one is standard in British English, while the other is standard in American English. To use either word with the opposite audience would be distracting, so the skilled writer knows when to employ each variant.

Pretense vs Pretence: What’s the Difference?

As part of this post, I will compare pretense vs. pretence. I will outline when it is appropriate to use each of these spelling, and, at the end, I will give you a helpful memory tool to use when you cannot decide whether to use pretense or pretence.

When to Use Pretense

pretense versus pretenceWhat does pretense mean? A pretense is a claim or assertion, especially one derived of questionable motivations. As such, the word is a noun.

See the sentences below for examples,

  • The warlord called a summit under the pretense of demilitarization.
  • The warlord arrived at the peace talks under false pretenses.
  • Soon thereafter, he abandoned all pretense of conciliation.
  • Today public deliberation hardly ever takes place in our legislative assemblies, though sometimes a pretense is staged for the cameras. –The Wall Street Journal

Pretense is the standard spelling of this word in American English, as you can see below,

what is pretence

As you can see, the frequency with which pretence appeared in American writing has declined precipitously since 1800, making pretense the more common form.

When to Use Pretence

Definition of pretence definition of pretense definitionWhat does pretence mean? Pretence is a variant of the same word, primarily found in British English sources. It carries the same meanings, and is appropriate in all the same contexts.

Pretense in a sentence

This graph charts pretence vs. pretense in only British English. Here, you can see that pretence has followed a similar downward trajectory in British English, but not to the point that it has become less popular than pretense in that language community.

Still, many British publications still use pretence.

  • I make no pretence at being well-versed in politics – it is all too often about personalities and emotion – but I do know a thing or two about our constitution, as I once trained to be a lawyer. –The Guardian

Pretence or Pretense? Remember the Difference

Define pretence and define pretenseWhile each word indicates the same thing, these are regional spellings to be used with difference audiences.

If you expect your readers to be predominantly British, you should choose pretence. One easy trick to remember this usage case is that pretence and pence, a British currency denomination, are both spelled with the letter C.

If you are writing for an American audience, choose pretense instead.

Summary

Is it pretense or pretence? Both pretense and pretence mean a claim or assertion, and typically refer to dishonest ones. The words themselves are nouns.

  • Pretense is the American English version.
  • Pretence is the British English version.

You can remember to use pretence with these British audiences since it shares many of its letters with the British word pence.

In summation, pretense and pretence are the same noun. Pretense is standard in American English, and pretence is standard in British English.

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