Commonly confused and just plain wrong, Spelling tips and tricks

Vigour, vigor and vigorous

‘Vigour’ means physical strength and general good health, or effort and enthusiasm (see Oxford Dictionaries).

In the UK  it is spelt ‘vigour’ and in the US it is spelt ‘vigor’.

The UK spelling of ‘vigour’ leads to the common mistake of spelling ‘vigorous’ with a ‘u’, as in ‘vigourous’. This is wrong, both in the UK and America. You’ll see ‘vigourous’ quite often. Here are just a few examples from a couple of organisations that should know better:

“…and I certainly wouldn’t welcome a widescreen telly or a vigourous game of Scrabble…” (The Guardian)

“The recipe was invented at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Vigourous shaking is recommended before the thick, sweet liquid can be strained…” (The Guardian)

“Since then vigourous growth in dental services has led to improved access for patients.” (BBC News website)

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The word, as Oxford Dictionaries will confirm, is ‘vigorous‘.

Similarly, the British spelling of ‘rigour‘ becomes ‘rigorous‘. (The American spelling of ‘rigour’ is ‘rigor’.)

Humour/humorous and glamour/glamorous

More commonly confused words and phrases

More spelling tips

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11 thoughts on “Vigour, vigor and vigorous”

  1. Dragon NaturallySpeaking’s Australian dictionary spells rigorous and vigorous as rigourous and vigourous. Thankfully I was able to fix that with its vocabulary editor.


    1. Hi – good spot! I’m glad you were able to make the correction. 🙂 It’s a pretty ubiquitous error but seems particularly bad in a dictionary!


  2. It is incorrect to state that there is a trend in Australia to -or endings. I’ve noticed it sometimes on Canadian sites and newspaper articles, but it is definitely not accepted usage in Australia or New Zealand. I work in a library in Australia, and all the Australian books and newspapers use standard Australian (i.e. British) usage of -our. Also Australia always uses ‘s’ instead of ‘z’ in words such as organise, organisation, computerised, etc, whereas I’ve noticed the British use both spellings (‘organization’ and ‘organisation’), while the Americans always use ‘z’.
    This is not to say the American spelling doesn’t occasionally crop up – there’s always a small percentage of people who can’t spell very well. I’ve seen British writers on internet sites using -or spelling such as ‘favorite’ too.
    If Fowler’s Modern English says that, it is proof you can’t always trust everything you read in a book & academics are not infallible. Thanks.


    1. Hello, Andrew — you’re very welcome to Wordwatch. Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to post these comments. I am no expert on Australian or New Zealand usage, and was very interested indeed to read this and find out more. Thanks again.


  3. Thanks very much for that, Michael — very interesting. And to add to the confusion there’s the fact that in the UK we will often use an ‘ise’ ending instead of ‘ize’. Interestingly, with both the examples you cite above (‘glamorize’and ‘vaporize’) the ‘ise’ ending is given in the Oxford Dictionary of English as an alternative rather than the first choice of spelling. But I think we would ‘ise’ rather than ‘ize’ most of the time — even though the ‘ize’ ending is not, as is commonly assumed, an ‘Americanisation’. Thanks again.


  4. Fowler’s (3d ed., p. 561) has a very nice entry on -our and -or issues. He points out the many abstract nouns where the UK and US agree on spelling: error, horror, pallor, stupor, terror, tremor, etc. We both use actor, governor, and sailor. No -our endings in ambassador, anchor, bachelor, (my fave) liquor, or mirror. Yet we both use -our in contour, paramour, and a few others.

    He notes the gentle trend, esply in Australia and Canada, to drop -our in favor/favour of -or in all cases (or at least to make it optional), then wisely points out what a tumult this would cause in the UK.

    Finally, while words like “vigour” lose the U in their adjective forms (vigorous, as above), it gets even more confusing with derivatives of the root. With the endings -ist, -ite, and -able, you’d keep the U: Labourite, colourist. With endings like -ation or -ize, you’d usually lose the U: coloration, invigoration, glamorize, vaporize.

    I pity the non-native speaker — and even the native speaker.


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