The Grammarphobia Blog

Judgment (or Judgement) Day

Q: I’ve noticed that you spell “judgment” without the extra “e” in the middle. I use the same spelling, but “judgement” is increasingly popular. During my law school days, I encountered the word with no small regularity, and both American and English texts used “judgment.” If I never saw the written word, though, I would assume “judgement” was correct. It seems right. Could you shed any light on the situation?

A: The word “judgment” has been spelled many different ways since it showed up in Middle English in the 1200s, sometimes with an “e” and sometimes without.

Here’s a small sampling of early spellings: “gogement,” “gugement,” “iugegement,” “iuggyment,” “iugment,” “iugumen,” “jugment,” “judgment,” and “jugmente.”

The word initially had an “e” when it was adapted from Anglo-Norman, where it was variously spelled judgement, jugemen, juggement, juggment, jogement, jougement, jujement, and gugement.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the “e”-less spelling with “dgm” in the middle appeared in the early 16th century, “and by the late 17th cent. judgment had become the prevailing spelling, although judgement  was still commonly found.”

During the 19th century, the OED adds, “the form judgement gained in frequency in British contexts, and is now the usual spelling in general British use.”

However, the dictionary notes that “judgment  has remained the standard spelling in British legal contexts when used to refer to a judicial decision, as well as in U.S. usage.”

No doubt the version of the word with “e” in the middle looks right to you because it begins with “judge,” the spelling of the verb and noun.

However, the word “judge” didn’t give us the word “judgment.”

The noun “judge” didn’t appear until a century after “judgment,” while the verb “judge” showed up for the first time in the same manuscript as “judgment.” All the early spellings were in Middle English.

So what, you’re wondering, is the situation today?

Well, standard dictionaries in the US and the UK generally include both “judgment” and “judgement” for the non-legal usage. But “judgment” is more popular in the US and “judgement” in the UK.

So the two spellings are standard English on either side of the pond, though the presence of “e” might raise a few eyebrows in the US while its absence might raise some in the UK.

We’re not aware of an increase in the popularity of “judgement” in American English, but given the word’s shifting history, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the “e” become fashionable in the US one day, as it did in the UK during the 19th century.

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