Catalog vs. catalogue?

Catalog and catalogue are variant spellings of the same word. Most English-speaking countries use catalogue, while American English prefers catalog.

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What is the difference between catalog and catalogue?

Remember the days of Sears mail-order magazines? If not, that’s probably because you were born after the advent of online shopping. Before the golden age of online marketing, retail stores sold their products remotely through magazines or pamphlets called “catalogs.”

Nowadays, we can use the noun catalog for any registry or list of items (such as a database or library collection). But unbeknownst to many writers, not everyone spells the word catalog the same. In some countries, the noun is spelledcatalog,” but in other places, it’s spelled “catalogue.” So which is the correct spelling? 

As it turns out, catalog and catalogue are simply spelling variants of the same word. The difference is that catalogue is the preferred spelling in the United Kingdom (or any area that uses a variant of British English), while catalog is more common in the United States (American English). 

You may be familiar with such differences through words like dialog vs. dialogue or analog vs. analogue, where alternative spellings ending with the suffix -logue are often preferred in British English rather than American English. 

Why do we spell catalog and catalogue differently?

Like many English words, catalog and catalogue have had their fair share of spelling changes over the years. We can trace their earliest form back to Greek katalogos (‘to list’) from Greek katalegein (‘to pick out’ or ‘enroll’). 

After the third common era centuries, Greek katalogos maneuvered into Late Latin as catalogus and Old French as catalogue, where it eventually made its way into late Middle English as cathaloge

How the word drifted into two spellings for Modern English is more of a mystery. Based on what we can find from Google Ngram Viewer, which observes the frequency of words within literature over time, the spelling of catalog was nearly obsolete before the late 19th century. 

Outside of a few short periods in the 17th and 18th centuries, American English literature did not use catalog with notable frequency until 1917, where it became the preferred American spelling over catalogue

When it comes to British English, however, catalogue has always been the preferred spelling over catalog. The American spelling does not appear to make any notable appearances in British literature until after the 1950s, where it has since remained the less popular spelling variant. 

What does catalog mean?

The noun catalog (also spelled catalogue) references a list or enumeration of items, which may come in the form of a pamphlet, book, or database. In most cases, a catalog organizes items in a systematic order, such as an index, glossary, or other forms of reference materials. 

Sentence examples: 

  • “As children, we sold chocolate and caramel candies door-to-door using catalogs.”  
  • “Many people associate library card catalogs with the Dewey Decimal System.” 
  • “After college, Facebook became a catalog of people I’d rather avoid than socialize with.” 
  • “You know The Scholastic Book Fair is coming to your school when you receive a red and yellow paper catalog filled with newly published books.” 
  • “Despite high offers, the artist refuses to sell his catalog of works.”
  • “Students can choose fall electives through the university’s online catalog.” 

Synonyms

Archive, canon, checklist, classification, directory, index, inventory, list, listing, menu, record, register, registry, roll, roll call, roster, schedule, table, tabulation. 

What does catalog or catalogue mean as a verb?

The word catalog or catalogue is also a verb that describes the act of creating or organizing a catalog, or, intransitively, how something is listed within a registry, list, or catalog. For example,

  • “The designers must catalog their fall collection by spring to be featured in seasonal fashion spreads.” 
  • “The librarian is cataloging 10,000 books this week.” 
  • “The director’s career is cataloged under “Independent films.” 
  • “We will catalog every plant species in nearby ecosystems.” 

Synonyms

Alphabetize, archive, book, card, categorize, classify, compile, enroll, enter, file, index, inscribe, itemize, list, put down, record, register, schedule, slate, systemize, tabulate.

How to use catalog vs. catalogue in a sentence?

Because catalog and catalogue are variant spellings of the same word, neither spelling is technically incorrect. But depending on your audience, you may want to choose one spelling over the other: 

  • For American audiences, catalog is the most common spelling variant. 
  • For any other English-speaking county (but especially British English), catalogue is the most common spelling variant.

The same spelling differences apply to catalog or catalogue as verbs:

  • Present tense: catalog/catalogs (US), catalogue/catalogues (UK)
  • Present participle: cataloging (US), cataloguing (UK)
  • Past participle: cataloged (US), catalogued (UK)

No matter which spelling you decide to use, the most important rule of thumb is to be consistent. If you want to use catalogue for an American audience, stick to that spelling and avoid sprinkling catalog in between. 

Published examples of catalog

  • “The card catalog provides a single place to look in order to locate every document in the building, whether it’s a book, map, DVD or some other tangible asset.” — The Wall Street Journal 
  • “Once again, Taylor Swift’s music catalog has been sold. And once again, she is deeply unhappy about it.” — The New York Times
  • “This week, thanks to a very generous and patient librarian, I spent hours on Zoom poring through the already cataloged offerings…” — Los Angeles Times
  • “In 1934, they wrote two joint essays cataloging every hotel they had ever stayed in, and every item they had purchased since their wedding night.” — The New Yorker

Published examples of catalogue

  • “At its peak, the Ikea catalogue was said to have a greater circulation than that of the Bible.” — The Guardian
  • “So extensive is his catalogue of blunders that his entry on Wikipedia has a dedicated “gaffes” heading.” — The Diplomat
  • Cataloguing every virus on Earth would be a mammoth task, yet some researchers are saying we should do just that.” — Nature
  • “Evolv’s software engineers have written algorithms that interpret shapes as signatures, with the outlines of knives and guns catalogued as reasons to alert an operator.” — BBC

Did you know?

Someone who systematically organizes or lists items into a collection or catalog is a cataloger. If you use the spelling catalogue, however, the correct noun to use is cataloguer.   

Additional reading for catalog vs. catalogue

If you’d like to learn more about American vs. British English spelling differences, check out the following lessons by The Word Counter:

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between catalog vs. catalogue with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: the word catalog or catalogue is a noun and a verb. 
    a. True 
    b. False
  2. Which of the following is not a form of a catalog? 
    a. List
    b. Index
    c. Pamphlet
    d. None of the above
  3. The verb catalog is synonymous with ___________.
    a. Declassify
    b. Guess 
    c. Archive
    d. Estimate 
  4. True or false: Notable instances of catalog over catalogue within British English date back to the late 19th century. 
    a. True
    b. False
  5. Catalog or catalogue derive from Middle English ___________.
    a. Cataloge
    b. Cathaloge
    c. Catalogus
    d. Catalogue

Answers

  1. A
  2. D
  3. C
  4. B
  5. B

Sources

  1. Catalog.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2021. 
  2. Catalogue.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  3. Cataloguer.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2021.
  4. Catalog.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2021.
  5. Catalog.” Reverso Conjugator, Reverso-Softissimo, 2021.
  6. Connolly, K. “Ikea to stop printing catalogue after ‘successful career’ that spanned 70 years.” The Guardian, TheGuardian.com, 7 Dec 2020. 
  7. Dempsey, M. “The hidden detectors looking for guns and knives.” BBC, BCC.com, 11 Jun 2020. 
  8. Easton, Y. “Tokyo Olympics Hits a New Roadblock: Sexism.” The Diplomat, TheDiplomat.com, 9 Feb 2021. 
  9. Jonas, J. “How Corporate Departments Totally Mishandle Big Data.” The Wall Street Journal, WSJ.com, 30 Mar 2014.
  10. Lelyveld, N. “Help the L.A. Public Library collect pandemic experiences to save our stories for the future.” Los Angeles Times, LaTimes.com, 6 Feb 2021.
  11. Sisario, B. et al. “Taylor Swift Denounces Scooter Braun as Her Catalog Is Sold Again.” The New York Times, NYTimes.com, 16 Nov 2020. 
  12. Syme, R. “Zelda Fitzgerald Lets It All Hang Out.” The New Yorker, NewYorker.com, 30 Jan 2017.