Rantings of a sub-editor

July 15, 2010

Judgment or judgement?

Filed under: judgment/judgement,spelling — substuff @ 8:21 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve been reading the Which? style guide in my spare moments and yesterday I came to J, where I found an entry that puzzled me.

judgment is used in a legal sense, ie a High Court judgment

judgement is used in the general sense, ie using your judgement

Well I never! That was a new one on me. I’ve always used the version with an ‘e’ and didn’t even realise there were two spellings.

I checked it in my office copy of the OED (although it’s only the concise one, so I should also look it up in my mammoth home copy), which listed it under judgement but said the two variants were interchangeable. Collins agreed, although it listed it under judgment.

The Times style guide says to always use judgment, and the Guardian doesn’t specify.

Has anyone else looked into this? To me it looks wrong without an ‘e’, but that’s just personal preference and prejudice. If there is a difference in meaning between the two spellings, I’d hate to think I was missing it.



  1. The Northcliffe Media Style Guide entry: judgment (not judgement)

    I was a bit shocked at that, having used ‘judgement’ all my working life. I was so sure I was right that I had never looked it up before.

    Comment by Around My Kitchen Table — July 15, 2010 @ 8:48 am | Reply

  2. Well I never indeed! A quick search at the Guardian ( http://www.google.co.uk/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=site:guardian.co.uk+judgment&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&ei=9Mo-TLazKp7-0gTO1q2RBw ) shows more judgments than judgements.

    Comment by Ant — July 15, 2010 @ 8:49 am | Reply

    • Ah, but is there a difference in when the two are used? Back to your research, sir!

      Comment by substuff — July 15, 2010 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  3. I’ve come across this one a few times, and I think it is correct: HM Courts Service drops the e.

    But… I don’t like it. It looks stuffy and archaic. And American (I think judgment is standard for all uses in the US).

    Comment by Tom Freeman — July 15, 2010 @ 9:15 am | Reply

  4. I love this refined distinction.

    Compare with “program” and “programme”, two more words which have acquired distinct meanings within British English, this time through the introduction of the US variant for the new sense of the word.

    But examples of usage in the same sentence seem contrived and would be jarring in ordinary prose:

    • “People questioned the magistrate’s judgement after hearing her judgment.”

    • “The programme ran late because of a bug in the database program.”

    The homophones allow us to write with greater clarity. But most of us think of words primarily by their sound (evidenced by the frequency of homophone errors when writing very fast). So the advantage of precision is offset by a double-take among readers who are not intimately familiar with both words.

    Bottom line: always use “judgment” for the technical sense if you want to retain the respect of lawyers. And feel smug at your knowledge that most readers won’t notice.

    (Pet hate: the conspiracy among teachers to keep secret that many English words have more than one widely-accepted spelling.)

    Comment by Rich — July 15, 2010 @ 10:53 am | Reply

  5. Just fyi

    Sounds like the Concise OED doesn’t make the distinction but the even more concise (and, in my judgement, the very useful) Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors does:

    “Judgement (but judgment in legal works)”

    Which I’ve always taken to mean the difference between someone’s mental capacity to make a decision and a sentence handed down by the bench.

    I’ve always thought it was a pretty useful distinction as Rich’s magistrate example illustrates. But, as he suggests, you probably wouldn’t want to throw them together in such close proximity.

    “People questioned the magistrate’s capability after hearing her judgment” or something similar would
    probably be less jarring.

    Anyway, the bottom line is that most court reporting used to maintain the distinction. Whether that still stands is another matter. Regards, V-C

    Comment by Vice-Chancellor — July 15, 2010 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

    • I liked Rich’s magistrate example as it instantly made sense, to me at least, of the basic difference between the two.

      Whether it still stands in court reporting and legal documents? Most definitely it does. On the very day Substuff posted this blog, I had actually emailed her this very question (the blog crossing with my email – end result being a very spooky coincidence) as I had raised the question to the barristers I work with which sparked a 10 minute debate, as one would expect given their profession. A fruitless debate as it turned out as they had never had this little poser passed before them before and clearly did not know the answer.

      Before this all was aired, I had been concerned about spelling judgement incorrectly, having noticed the missing ‘e’ at work. Now I can rest easy in my anally retentive bubble knowing all is well ….

      Comment by Stefmez — July 17, 2010 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

  6. The Guardian style guide does suggest judgment:


    Comment by sc — July 17, 2010 @ 3:51 pm | Reply

    • So it does. You’d think I’d know my letters well enough by now to be able to look up entries in an alphabetically listed index… huh. :-/

      Comment by substuff — July 17, 2010 @ 4:02 pm | Reply

  7. The Times used to make this distinction of spelling for these respective meanings, but has opted for the shorter judgment for some years.

    Comment by Richard Dixon — August 3, 2010 @ 4:05 pm | Reply

  8. I believe you have switched the definitions around because on the internet it says the opposite .

    1- Judgement is used in a legal sense, ie a High Court judgment

    2- Judgment is used in the general sense, ie using your judgement

    Isnt my correction correct??

    Comment by Julieanna L (@SportyKid_JLe) — November 3, 2011 @ 10:33 pm | Reply

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