Offence vs. offense?

Offence” and “offense” are different spellings of the same noun. “Offense” is standard for American English, while British English prefers to use “offence.”

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What is the difference between offence and offense?

The words offence and offense are different spellings of the same noun. The biggest difference between the terms is that “offence” is the preferred spelling for British English, while American English spells the noun as “offense.” 

To illustrate, let’s compare the term’s differences in spelling between American and British publications: 

  • “Saying what you want without fear of offence sounds good… until you do it.” — The Guardian (UK) 
  • “The White House said Wade was convicted of multiple cyber-related offenses…” — AP News (US) 

Is “offence” and “offense” the same for sports writing?

The only time British English and American English uses “offense” or “offence” differently is for the topic of sports. In this case, the use of “offense” for sports plays is more common in American English (and esp. American football). For example, 

  • “The Jets’ offense wasn’t flashy and seemed mostly intent on not making mistakes.” — The New York Times (US)

In contrast, British sportswriters use a different arsenal of terms for ‘offensive sports plays.’ For example, 

  • “Liverpool raised their tempo in the second half and Newcastle were forced deeper and deeper.” — Reuters (UK)

Does British English spell “offensive” differently, too?

While American and British English spell “offense” and “offence” differently, there is only one standard spelling for “offensive,” the adjective derived from “offense” or “offence.” The same is true of the words “offend” (verb), “offended” (adjective), and “offender” (noun). 

What does offense mean?

The word offense (sometimes spelled as “offence”) is a noun that describes:

  1. An act that breaks the law, rule, or moral code
  2. The annoyance or resentment caused by a perceived insult or the breach of one’s standards and morals.
  3. An act or expression of criticism or spite that intends to insult and hurt another person. 
  4. The act of attacking with force or violence, or; (in sports) the team or players attempting to score (esp. in American Football). 

Sentence examples include: 

  • “Avoiding your taxes is a criminal offense.” 
  • “The judge sentenced the rouge soldiers for wartime offenses.” 
  • “She took offense to the male comedian’s opinions of gender equality.” 
  • “I didn’t mean to cause offense by wearing casual clothes.” 
  • “The military can implement destructive offense strategies at any given moment.”
  • “The team’s strong offense caught the eye of NFL recruiters across the country.”

The word offense also appears in the informal phrase “no offense,” which means ‘do not be offended’ or ‘no offense intended.’ For example, 

  • No offense, but we could all use the help of using spellcheckers like Grammarly.”
  • No offense, but I’d prefer to stay home instead of joining the party.” 

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, archaic or obscure definitions of offense include ‘a cause or occasion of sin’ (akin to “stumbling block”) or ‘an act of stumbling.’ 

Synonyms

[1] Breach, crime, debt, delinquency, error, felony, infraction, infringement, malefaction, malum in se, malum prohibitum, misconduct, misdeed, misdemeanor, misfeasance, misdoing, peccadillo, shortcoming, sin, transgression, trespass, violation, wrongdoing. 

[2] Agitation, aggravation, anger, annoyance, antipathy, distress, enmity, indignation, irritation, outrage, peeve, perturbation, pique, resentment, umbrage, vexation, wrath.

[3] Affront, abuse, criticism, dig, diss, epithet, gird, indignity, injustice, insult, jeer, mock, outrage, put-down, sarcasm, shame, slap, slight, slur, sneer, taunt.

[4] Aggression, ambush, assault, attack, attempt, blitzkrieg, charge, coup de main, descent, foray, offensive, onset, onslaught, pillage, raid, rush, sally, siege, sortie, strike, storm. 

Antonyms

[1] Innocence, irreproachability, noncrime. 

[2] Appeasement, contentment, delight, gratification, happiness, pacification, pleasure, satisfaction. 

[3] Acclaim, accolade, applause, commendation, compliment, flattery, praise. 

[4] Defense, defensive, guard, opposition, protection, resistance, security, shelter, shield. 

Etymology of offense

The noun offense is a late Middle English term that stems from Old French offens, (‘misdeed’), which originates from Latin offensus for ‘annoyance.’ According to The New Oxford American Dictionary, the terms are reinforced by French offense, which stems from Latin offensa and offendere. Latin offensa means ‘a strike against,’ ‘a hurt,’ or ‘a displeasure,’ while offendere means ‘strike against’ (“Offense” 1217).  

How to pronounce offense?

If you live in North America (particularly the United States), you likely hear different pronunciations of offense in certain situations. American English pronounces the noun offense as “ah-fence” or “aw-fence” (ŏf’ĕns′) to describe sports plays, such as in the video “Intro to Football: Offensive Plays.” 

For all other uses of “offense,” such as describing a crime, insult, or attack, Americans pronounce the noun like any other English speaker: “off-fence” (ə-fĕns). Any variation between American and British pronunciations likely involves a sharper “off” in the first syllable for British English. However, these differences are very subtle and generally sound the same. 

Additional reading: offence vs. offense

If you enjoy learning the differences between American and British English, The Word Counter has your back. Check out our lessons on topics, such as: 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between offence and offense with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: “Offence” is a common misspelling of “offense.” 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Which of the following is an American spelling variant? 
    a. Offense
    b. Offensive
    c. Offence
    d. A and B
  3. Which of the following is a British spelling variant?
    a. Offense
    b. Offensive
    c. Offence
    d. Offender 
  4. British and American definitions of “offense” and “offence” differ with the topic of ________________? 
    a. Unlawful or immoral conduct
    b. Insulting behavior 
    c. Sports
    d. Feeling offended
  5. The opposite of “taking offense” is ___________.
    a. Committing a crime
    b. Receiving praise
    c. Scoring a touchdown 
    d. Accepting abuse

Answers

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

Sources

  1. Balsamo, M. “A look at the 29 people Trump pardoned or gave commutations.” APNews.com, The Associated Press, 23 Dec 2020. 
  2. Belson, K. “Jets’ First Win May Cost Them the No. 1 Pick.” NYTimes.com, The New York Times, 20 Dec 2020. 
  3. Meltzer, P. “Offense.” The Thinker’s Thesaurus, 2nd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, p. 405. 
  4. Offense.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th ed., Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2020. 
  5. Offense.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  6. Offense.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  7. “Offense.” The New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2010, p.  121.
  8. Reuters Staff. “Soccer-Lacklustre Liverpool held to another draw at Newcastle.” UK.Reuters.com, Reuters, 30 Dec 2020. 
  9. TheOnDeckCircle, “Intro to Football: Offensive Plays.” YouTube.com, YouTube, 10 Sept 2014.