Rantings of a sub-editor

December 15, 2010

Collectable collectibles

Filed under: collectible/collectable,spelling — substuff @ 1:04 pm
Tags: , ,

Sometimes the smallest things can cause surprising amounts of controversy.

Last week, I replied by text message to an offer of a lift with “I’m quite collectible.” And so it began. “Shouldn’t it be -able?” asked the collector. No, said I, absolutely not. And may I advise you that it is unwise to argue with me on the topic of spelling because I have an annoying habit of being correct. I am entirely sure, one hundred per cent, that it is spelt with an i.

Admittedly, I should have learnt by now that it’s a long way down from such lofty claims.

The conversation reared its head again in the pub, leading one lady, who shall remain nameless, to call me a dunce, finger-draw a capital D on my forehead and suggest that I should stand in the corner. Everyone except me thought it was “-able”. Hmph. Strangely enough, this pub yielded two Collins dictionaries of different sizes – but to my great annoyance, neither collectible nor collectable was listed in either.

And so, the next day, to the trusty OED I went – and it slapped me in the face. Both spellings are listed, but collectable comes first and collectible is a variant, with no distinction made for nouns and adjectives. (I had been considering that perhaps the noun was collectible and the adjective was collectable.) Hmph once more.

So I tried the old Google trick (meaningless, but satisfying nevertheless): collectible gets 24,900,000 results; collectable gets 6,060,000. Ooh, ooh, ooh, so maybe it’s not just me… And then I checked it in the Guardian and The Times style guides. Success!

The Guardian entry merely says “collectible”. The Times says: collectibles (not -ables), items sought by collectors.

My next port of call was Twitter. Considering that my twitterings usually get one or two responses maximum (and usually deafening silence), the reaction was huge. Every bugger has an opinion on this one, it seems.

jastilley @substuff Both are valid and mean the same thing. But IHMO collectable is better.

MorningBrighton @substuff I think collectable was the adjective and collectible the noun, but everybody seems to say collectable in both contexts now.

baddit @substuff Collectible is preferred for English English. Collectable if writing for Americans.

Wordwatch @substuff: Both are correct, says the Oxford Dictionary of English, with ‘collectible’ commonly used to refer to a ‘collectible item’.

jamesrbuk @substuff collectable. The alternative is a crime against humanity.

Xurumei @substuff I’d go for ‘collectable’. ‘Collectible’ looks wrong to me.

jamesrbuk @substuff Something it is possible to collect = collectable. Collectible is meaningless guff. Rargh.

baddit @substuff Also, while Wikipedia is hardly the most trustworthy reference, it says collectible  is the US spelling. http://j.mp/gOQ9rd%0A

And in response to my “the Guardian and The Times do it” defence…

MorningBrighton @substuff Well what do they know. The Guardian doesn’t even use capital letters! Collectable looks much better and is phonetically correct.

Any more for any more? Cast your votes now! I’d be interested to know whether it is indeed a US/UK thing, and also whether there’s a distinction between the noun and the adjective. And if the OED prefers collectable, how come our most respected newspapers use collectible? Anyone?



  1. I always used to prefer collectible – but now I think it looks ugly and wrong. Except when I typed it just now. Aaaargh.

    Comment by Freelance Unbound — December 15, 2010 @ 2:16 pm | Reply

  2. I do like it when people agonise about the quality of their English in text messages. Much better than my mother, who is disturbingly keen to abbreviate.

    My gut feeling on this is that collectible is something that is to be collected and kept (like Wills and Kate memorial plates) and so remains collectible even after it has been collected, whereas collectable only implies potential collectability (and is just an adjective). So, in your text, you should have written “collectable” (I’m able to be collected).

    Comment by Paddy — December 15, 2010 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

    • I’m with you Paddy. Collectible = something to be collected and collectable = able to be collected. My only authority for this is that my mother was an English teacher and I’ve always taken an interest in such crucial matters.

      Comment by married-to-a-pedant — December 17, 2010 @ 2:11 pm | Reply

      • I’m potentially with you both (that’s what I was trying to convey with the headline “Collectable collectibles”) – but can I find any evidence for it? Can I heck!

        Comment by substuff — December 17, 2010 @ 2:13 pm | Reply

  3. If nothing else collectable is an aesthetically more pleasing spelling of the two. Then again maybe that is because that’s how I’ve always spelt it.

    Comment by Andy — December 15, 2010 @ 5:39 pm | Reply

    • Aargh, I couldn’t disagree more! Collectible is far prettier!

      Comment by substuff — December 16, 2010 @ 9:08 am | Reply

  4. The Northcliffe style guide:

    “collectibles (not -ables), items sought by collectors”

    Comment by Around My Kitchen Table — December 17, 2010 @ 9:22 am | Reply

  5. Collectible is the correct spelling. Collectable is a misspelling that, for some strange reason, over the years has been adopted as a variant. Similar to the canceled/cancelled debate. However, you are correct, sir. Collectible it is!

    Comment by Jimbo — August 8, 2011 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

    • Sir? Oh God. Must be time to wax my moustache again. Thanks for the vote of confidence, though.

      Comment by substuff — August 8, 2011 @ 6:57 pm | Reply

  6. PS – It’s not a US/UK thing. I’m over here in the US. It’s a good speller/poor speller thing.

    Comment by Jimbo — August 8, 2011 @ 2:24 pm | Reply

  7. Haha sorry about the sir thing. After my two posts, I noticed that you are most definitely not a sir. Unfortunately, there isn’t an edit button.

    Comment by Jimbo — August 9, 2011 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  8. I believe collectable is the English (as in UK spelling) and collectible is from the USA. On the internet, collectible is used many million times more than collectable but to take this is context, it probably approximates the number of US sites and users versus others. Maybe the newspapers use the USA spellcheck? I had never used or seen “collectible” (always collectable) before and had to look it up when my child (Australian) came home with it on her spelling list and I freaked out that they had spelled it incorrectly…

    Comment by tim — September 1, 2011 @ 9:27 am | Reply

  9. Shoot, as another ranting sub-editor, I unfortunately agree with some of the comments above that collectable looks right, but I also agree that it should be collectible. I also believe that most people will use the A (collectable) variant. Don’t lose too much sleep, though, as there are plenty of other examples of poor spelling around, including the restaurant sandwich board in our town centre proclaiming that ‘deserts’ were just £5; easy stuff like that shouldn’t be wrong, collectible and collectable at least makes you think!

    Comment by noisyparkser — October 11, 2011 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  10. collectible is good for items like stamps, postcards etc that people collect

    collectable is good for invoices, bills etc

    Comment by bosca355 — March 7, 2012 @ 11:51 am | Reply

  11. I think that all of you are just making it up as you go along.

    Comment by eric outhwaite — July 28, 2012 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

  12. I found this by Googling (now is that a real word?) the correct spelling of collectable, even though I knew full well it was “collectable” and not “collectible”. The pedant that I am I found this whole debate very BBC (informative, educational and entertaining). However I’m not sure if I’m laughing with you or at you. Time will tell, I have signed up to receive future rants. TTFN.

    Comment by Lee Stone — September 19, 2012 @ 5:47 am | Reply

  13. The “spelling help” at http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/collectable backs up both the title of the article and the logic of the other commentators.

    So… the passenger waiting on the platform for a train is ‘collectable’, whereas to a train-spotter, it is the number and model of the train that’s ‘collectible’.

    As a courier, I can now proudly ask my customers to ensure their collectibles are collectable before I arrive, and start arguments in antique shops all over this green and pleasant land.

    Comment by Damien — September 27, 2012 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  14. Collectible is the correct way to spell it..

    Comment by VT — December 13, 2012 @ 4:20 pm | Reply

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