Analog is an American spelling of analogue, but more people are using analog as an adjective for computers/physics and analogue as a noun for the analogous.
What is the difference between analog and analogue
English dictionaries list analog and analogue as spelling variations of the same word. British English traditionally prefers “analogue,” while American English uses “analog.” But considering how often both spellings occur in the United States and England, the real question here is whether these preferences matter anymore.
Recent usage indicates that “analog” has become more common as an adjective to describe computers and physics (i.e., analog signals). Meanwhile, the spelling of “analogue” is now commonly found as a noun to reference things that are strictly analogous to something else.
What does analogue/analog mean as a noun?
The noun analogue (also “analog“) references something similar, comparable, or replaceable with something else. An analogue provides the source of an analogy (noun), and the similarities between them are what make them analogous (adjective).
Analogies function similarly to similes and metaphors, but there’s no need to make analogues (plural) abstract. We could say a vegan substitute is an analogue for a dairy product, while a generic medication is an analogue for a brand-name drug. Whichever concept or object the analogue represents, it simply needs to be comparable or equivalent to something else.
- “In this scenario, the operators of the game are an analogue to predatory loan sharks — ostensibly offering a lifeline to desperate people who have no other choice, if they wish to remain housed and fed.” — MSNBC
- “Located at approximately 2.0 kiloparsecs towards the centre of our Galaxy, it is likely to represent an analogue to the end stages of the Sun and Jupiter in our own Solar System.” — Nature
- “The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum is also used as an analog to draw conclusions about current and future global warming rates.” — Phys.org
- “The facility has long been shadowed by its ill-fated 1991 maiden mission to establish an analogue of a self-sustaining colony on another planet.” — Scientific American
Technical senses of analogue
Zoology and botany
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an analogue was once a living species corresponding to a fossil form. Today, the noun references:
- A species or group of organisms in a region, ecosystem, or geological period with similar and/or approximate roles or ecological consequences as another in a different area.
- An organ or attribute of an organism similar in form or function to another species but of different evolutionary origin.
- “An analogue to the Chilean rain forests exists in the United States.” — Discover Magazine
- “In humans, an analog to this muscle exists only in the neck (the platysma muscle), the hand (palmaris brevis), and the scrotum (dartos muscle).” — PNAS
In the field of chemistry, an analogue is a chemical compound with a similar molecular structure to another (often differing by one compound).
- “[She] has nine years left on her sentence after she was caught producing a chemical analogue of fentanyl in 2017.” — The New York Times
- “That should come as no surprise, since Delta 8 THC is an analog of Delta 9, it also binds to the same receptors in your body.” — Discover Magazine
Coequal, correspondent, counterpart, doppelganger, duplicate, equal, equivalent, likeness, match, mirror, parallel, twin.
Antithesis, converse, opposite, reverse.
What does analog/analogue mean as an adjective?
As an adjective, the word analog (or “analogue”) describes something as “related to or using signals or information represented by a continuously variable physical quantity,” such as voltage, sound, pressure, or temperature.
Analog signals and analog technology
When contrasted to the word “digital” (“signals expressed as binary code”), analog describes a device that transmits or receives electronic information in the form of analog signals—a continuous signal that can represent any quantity or amplitude at any given time.
Examples of analog devices include bunny-ear television sets, radios, record players, early computers, or musical instruments that use analog circuits to produce electronic sounds. Therefore, the adjective can also describe tonal qualities associated with analog instruments and recording mediums (e.g., cassette tapes, vinyl, 8-track tape, etc.).
- “The digital transition was always going to be a messy one—look at the antitrust ﬁghts that followed the telephone during the analog era.” — Wall Street Journal
- “Cabinet approved the revised integrated analogue switch-off implementation plan, which is a schedule to complete the remaining areas by March 2022.” — Tech Central
Mechanical or non-digital devices
The word analog can describe a conventional version of something in contrast to a computerized or digital form, such as analog cameras that record images on film instead of a digital file.
However, some outdated devices are even more so “analog” because they collect and display data in a continuous fashion. An analog watch is one example because it shows the time with a continuously rotating hand that points to corresponding numbers (all while having a newer, digital version available). Other examples include barometers, thermostats, and even early seismographs.
- “Everyone loves to go out and dress up, and no stylish outfit is complete without a good analogue watch.” — Digit
- “Unlike the throwback analogue cameras, with the Kodak Smile you can store images that you don’t want to print right away and save them for later.” — Glamour UK
Lastly, the adjective analog may denote anything that exists, occurs, or is done in the real world instead of on an electronic device. For instance, an “analog friendship” could suggest a relationship in real-life in contrast to one that only exists on the internet.
- “Because humans inhabit the real world, fashion feels fundamentally analogue—because you can’t download a dress, right?” — Vogue Runway
- “An analog antidote to our iPhone culture, retro phones have been making a comeback for a few years now…” — NYLON
Etymology of analogue and analog
The noun analogue comes French by way of Latin analogus and Greek análogon (neuter of Greek analogos), where –ana means “throughout, according to” and logos means “ratio, proportion.”
Why is there an American variant of “analogue”?
The logic behind the American spelling of “analog” is not well documented online, but there are connections to early Greek mathematics through the word analogy that might explain why “analog” was first used in the 1940s’ for analog computers.
Assuming this is coincidental, the best explanation we’ve found comes from Merrill Pearlman of the Columbia Journalism Review, who points out that American English has several shortened forms of French words ending with –logue. For instance, we use “catalog” instead of “catalogue,” “epilog” over “epilogue,” and “dialog” for “dialogue.”
But as pointed out by Pearlman, not all French words drop silent letters like –ue in American English. American Dictionaries still list “monologue” as the preferred spelling over “monolog,” and it’s standard English to use words like “ideologue,” “pedagogue,” “vogue,” and “tongue” (among many others).
So, are American spellings decided by whimsical preference? Perhaps. But it is worth noting that analog/analogue have joined a pattern of other American spellings that happen to cite computer technology.
According to Pearlman, the spelling of “analog” is becoming more common in England and “largely because of computers.” Google Books Ngram Viewer supports this observation by showing how “analog” appears in British literature around the 1950s (nearly a decade after the US) and has almost become as common as “analogue.”
A similar trend happened with the words disk/disc, where “disk” was chiefly British and “disc” was an American variant. Now style guides in both countries use “disk” for storage media (“floppy disks”) and “disc” for optical and laser-based devices like compact discs. And following the path of analog/analogue, Americans now use “prologue” for the opening of a story and “prolog” for a type of AI programming language.
A change of style
According to Garner’s Modern English Usage, an Oxford grammar source, writers should use analogue to reference something analogous or comparable to something else and confine analog to “technical contexts involving physics or computers” (Garner 47).
The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage lays out the same criteria, but with more specificity around “analog” as an adjective and “analogue” as a noun (Siegal 30):
“Analog, an adjective, denotes a system of recording or measuring data in an unbroken stream, the way sound is captured on a long-playing record, for example, or the way time is shown by the movement of clock hands… Analogue, a noun, means a counterpart or an equivalent.”
This distinction is not yet mentioned by style guides for The Associated Press, The Guardian, or BBC, but each publication has a pattern of when or how the spellings appear:
- AP uses both spellings interchangeably but with “analog” in the clear lead.
- BBC uses “analogue.”
- The Guardian uses “analog” and “analogue” interchangeably.
The bottom line?
When all else fails, the number one rule of grammar is consistency. If you’re using “analog” because you’re writing for American audiences, then stick with this spelling every single time (the same goes for using “analogue” for non-American audiences). Otherwise, you can’t go wrong with the advice from Bryan Garner and the editors of The New York Times.
If you enjoy learning about English grammar, be sure to check out similar lessons by The Word Counter, such as:
FAQ: What is the difference between analog and digital technology?
Whenever the words digital and analog are compared, it’s almost always under the broader context of electronic devices and electrical signals. This section will cover the basics of analog signals, digital signals, recording techniques, and the differences between analog and digital computers.
What are analog signals?
One way to understand analog signals is to think of tiny sine waves floating through the air or passing through wires that contain coded electronic information transmitted to and from an analog device.
Once an analog signal reaches a receiver (such as a tv or radio antenna), the information is decoded or demodulated through diodes that can broadcast information in its original form to screens and speakers.
The information contained in an analog signal is continuous and can consist of any size or amplitude at any given time, enabling listeners of analog recordings to enjoy a full range of sound. But since transmitted signals are small, this variability makes transmission highly susceptible to interference (hence the association between analog devices and static).
The variability of analog signals also explains why it’s challenging to achieve the same video or sound quality when “burning” analog media, such as cassettes or VHS tapes. Every time a copy is made, the medium inevitably loses some of the small, unique waveforms that comprise the fidelity of the original performance.
Similar observational errors occur with playing vinyl records, as imprinted signals eventually deteriorate from regular playback. Every time a needle drags over the delicate grooves, the friction between the needle and record can distort or erase the sounds over time.
What are digital signals?
Digital signals are also wave signals, except digital data is transmitted through a discontinuous, limited set of numbers (typically 0 and 1). The 0 digit means “off,” while the 1 digit means “on,” resulting in the appearance of square waves.
The binary format of digital signals allows them to reliably relay information across distances (especially within wires) and enables digital data to be perfectly copied and written every time. This is why we can burn CDs, DVDs, or download digital files and (usually) expect the same quality of sound or video without deterioration.
The main drawback of digital recording is that it uses a sampling process to convert analog waveforms into a series of digits representing various amplitudes of each sample. The more samples captured, the higher the fidelity. But since digital signals are composed of discontinuous values, some people still believe digital audio cannot capture the full range of sound of analog audio.
Analog recording vs. digital recording
All analog and digital recordings start as analog signals. Air pressure (aka sound) creates vibrations in a microphone diagram, which is then converted into electrical analog signals. This is the basic, initial process for any type of sound recording.
Analog recording requires analog equipment that can transmit analog signals to a non-digital medium and playback sounds. Early analog recordings used a needle to mechanically imprint sound vibrations onto a tinfoil cylinder (phonograph) or flat record (gramophones). Afterward, a needle could “replay” recorded sound vibrations by brushing over the imprints.
Modern analog recording captures sound vibrations using a microphone diaphragm and records these electrical signals directly onto electromagnetic tape (the “analog master tape”) or a master record. From there, masters are copied to cassettes, pressed into vinyl, or converted into digital media through an analog-to-digital converter (DAC).
Hallmarks of analog recordings:
- Warm sounds
- High bandwidth or range of sounds
- A smooth and accurate sound-to-noise ratio
- Degradable quality over time
- Slower editing process
As mentioned before, digital recording converts analog signals from a microphone into discrete time signals via digital modulation, which can limit a recording’s overall bandwidth. However, modern practices use faster sampling speeds, which improves digital audio quality and allows digital files to use less storage (negating the need for heavy file compression later on).
Digital recordings can sample from analog tape, but some digital equipment can process signals directly. If something is “digitally mastered,” the original audio is recorded to a digital file instead of analog tape. “Digital mastering” suggests a process of digital editing to enhance the signal-to-noise ratio. “Digitally remastered” means an original analog or digital recording is digitally edited and enhanced to remove recording flaws.
After recording, artists can still release digital audio through tape or vinyl. Still, audiophiles are often fussy about the process since the audio will have undergone two conversion steps (analog-to-digital, then digital-to-analog). In most cases, digital recordings are copied straight to compact discs, hard drives, or streaming platforms.
Hallmarks of digital recordings:
- Limited or set bandwidth
- Greater signal-to-noise ratio than original
- Maintains the same clarity and sound over time
- Faster editing process
Digital computers vs. analog computers
Analog computers use electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical circuit boards to perform one task: manipulate continuously variable physical quantities to simulate a solved differential equation. There’s no multitasking or storage capacity. All data is continuous (non-discreet) and processed in real-time through circuit boards designed for a specific purpose.
If you were born after 1990, you’ve probably only known how to use digital computers, such as PCs, laptops, and smartphones. Unlike analog computers, digital computers process “discrete” or discontinuous values (“discreet,” meaning the binary format of digital signals). Digital computers also store data, multitask quickly with high accuracy, and do not require a reconfiguration of digital circuits to be reprogrammed.
Test how well you understand the difference between analog and analogue with the following grammar quiz.
- True or false?: Both analogue and analog are prevalent spellings for English and American writers (for all senses of the word).
- True or false?: Analog signals represent a continuous range of values that are analogous to physical measurements.
- The word analog/analogue is what type of modifier?
- B or C
- Which of the following is not a synonym of analogue/analog?
- Which of the following sentences uses analog/analogue as a noun?
- “Digital signal processing allows digital electronics to use the analog signal of the human voice and broadcast in real-time.”
- “Researchers analyzed the elemental composition of soybeans and similar vegetable matter as an analogue for various properties of meat products.”
- “The developed account explains the interrelationships between analog computational modelling and analogue modelling.”
- “Audiophiles don’t believe any digital recording method can achieve the warmer, lower-end frequencies of analogue recording.”
- Which of the following sentences uses analog/analogue as an adjective?
- “Take a pointer from the band and make sure your albums are recorded to an analog master tape.”
- “We can guarantee that any noise response is analog in nature.”
- “Although digital music has become the standard, the days of analogue recording are far from over.”
- All of the above
- Common features of analog recordings do not include ___________.
- Imprinting signals to a physical object like tape or vinyl
- A “warm” analog sound
- Less bandwidth
- Slower editing process
Aleem, Z. “‘Squid Game’ on Netflix is smarter than you think.” MSNBC, msnbc.com, 13 Oct 2021.
“Analog.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2021.
“Analogue, n. and adj.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, 18 Oct 2021.
“Analogue.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
Brian, M. “How Analog and Digital Recording Works.” How Stuff Works, electronics.howstuffworks.com, n.d.
Blackman, J. W., et al. “A Jovian analogue orbiting a white dwarf star.” Nature, nature.com, 13 Oct 2021.
Cornelius, K. “Biosphere 2: The Once Infamous Live-In Terrarium Is Transforming Climate Research.” Scientific American, scientificamerican.com, 4 Oct 2021.
“Digital.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
Foster, D.S. et al. “Integrated spatial multiomics reveals fibroblast fate during tissue repair.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, pnas.org, 5 Sept 2021.
Gans, D. “Digital vs. analog audio?” Klipsch, klipsch.com, 20 Apr 2021.
Garner, B. “Analogue; analog.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 47.
Gregersen, E. “Analog computer“. Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Oct 2021.
Heyer, D. “Analog Radio vs. Digital Radio: How They Work and Their Differences.” MUO, makeuseof.com, 17 Jul 2015.
June, S. “Nokia revamps the Y2K classic brick phone.” NYLON, nylon.com, 18 Oct 2021.
Mondin, B. “The Use of the Term “Analogy” in Greek and Mediaeval Philosophy. In: The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology.” Springer Link, Dordrecht, 1963.
Perlman, M. “Logue jam.” Columbia Journalism Review, archives.cjr.org, 16 May 2012.
“Prolog.”Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
Siegal, A. M., Connolly, W. G. “Analog, analogue.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage: The Official Style Guide Used by the Writers and Editors of the World’s Most Authoritative News Organization, Three Rivers Press, 2015, p. 30.
Kanno-Youngs, Z., and M. Turcotte. “Thousands of Prisoners Were Sent Home Because of Covid. They Don’t Want to Go Back.” The New York Times, nytimes.com, 30 Aug 2021.
Leitch, L. “Anrealage.” Vogue Runway, vogue.com, 2 Oct 2021.
McLeod, D. “Cabinet reaffirms analogue TV switch-off date.” Tech Central, techcentral.co.za, 1 Oct 2021.
Rose, F. “‘System Error’ Review: After the Disruption.” Wall Street Journal, wsj.com, 22 Sept 2021.
Smith, A. “Buy Delta 8 THC Online.” Discover Magazine, discovermagazine.com, 18 Oct 2021.
Tennesen, M. “The Strange Forests that Drink—and Eat—Fog.” Discover Magazine, discovermagazine.com, 29 Mar 2009.