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“Defence” or “Defense” (Which Spelling is Correct?)

Defense vs. defence

English is known for its seemingly minute discrepancies that nonetheless provoke significant confusion. One such instance is the variance between “defence” and “defense.” We dedicate this article to discern the intricacies of these two spellings and understand their correct contexts of use.

When to use “defence” or “defense”

Technically, both spellings are correct and mean the same thing. If you’ve been keeping up with your regularly scheduled articles here on Grammarflex, then you’re likely to catch on by now: the common denominator is whether you’re writing in American English or British English.

The difference between defence and defense is the spelling preferences and conventions of British English and American English:

  • Defence ending in “-ce” is the UK English spelling.

  • Defense ending in “-se” uses US English spelling.

What does “defense” mean?

Both are correct spellings of the word meaning, “protection against attack”, or “something that provides protection against attack from enemies, the weather, illness, etc.” The difference, as you may guess (if you’ve been keeping up with your grammarflex posts), has to do with where either spelling is appropriate from a geographical standpoint.

Originating from Latin via Old French, the word “defence” evolved through time, and appears in expressions like “national defence” or “self-defence”, “defense attorney” or “defense mechanism”.

Other “-ce”/”-se” words

Other words that share the “-ce” / “-se” suffix follow the same spelling convention based on US English and UK English:

UK EnglishUS English

Other forms of defence/defense

verbdefend (verb forms: defends, defended, defending)
adjectivedefenceless (or defenseless), defensive
Forms of “defence”.

Sentences with defence/defense

I have to say in her defence/defense that she knew nothing about it beforehand.

What points can be raised in defence/defense of this argument?

He paid tribute to all those who had died in defence/defense of their country.

He always sprang to Rose’s defence/defense when Ed tried to criticize her.

All available troops were rushed to the defence/defense of the great city.

Sentences with defence/defense in the media

Atlanta has started bolstering its defences/defenses against climate change, but in some cases this has only exacerbated divisions.

—From ProPublica

Matthews and his colleagues hypothesize that the plants might produce hexyl glucoside chemicals as a defence/defense against the pests.

—From Science News

I went into the audition as Fericito, the Venezuelan percussionist, and then I did a self-defence/defense expert.

—From The Daily Beast

Synonyms of defence/defense

Noun meaning armour or shield—

  • aegis (Classical Mythology. the shield or breastplate of Zeus or Athena, bearing at its center the head of the Gorgon).
  • armour
  • arms
  • bulwark
  • bastille
  • buttress
  • fortification
  • fence
  • fortress
  • rampart
  • protection
  • weapon

Origin of defence

From Etymonline:

c. 1300, “action of guarding or shielding from attack or injury; act of defending by fighting; a fortified place of refuge,” from Old French defense, from Latin defensus, past participle of defendere “ward off, protect”. See defend (i.e., mid-13c., defenden, “to shield from attack, guard against assault or injury”.

Learn more about US English vs. UK English

Commonly misused wordsUK English vs. US English
former vs. latterburned or burnt?
bear with vs. bare withcolor or colour?
breathe or breathfavorite vs. favourite
compliment vs. complementsmelled or smelt?
effect vs. affectgray or grey?
elude or alludefavor vs. favour
it’s or itsanalyze or analyse?


  1. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of defend.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 11 February, 2024.
  2. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, defence.

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