• 2-minute read
  • 16th September 2014

Word Choice: Program vs. Programme

While American English only uses the spelling ‘program’, British English uses both ‘program’ and ‘programme’. This is to distinguish between different uses of the term, but it can make spelling difficult. Knowing when to use each word is therefore important for clarity in your work.

Program (Computer Software)

In British English, the word ‘program’ is specifically used in the world of computing (i.e. computer software, like Microsoft Word):

We need to install a new computer program.

‘Program’ can either be used as a noun when referring to the software itself, or it can be a verb when referring to the act of writing a computer program:

The computer was difficult to program.

Programme (A Schedule of Events)

As a noun, the word ‘programme’ means ‘a schedule of events or performances’. It can also refer to a document containing information about a schedule, as in a ‘theatre programme’:

The programme includes a performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

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A second use of ‘programme’ as a noun is to refer to TV shows. For example, if you love the Great British Bake Off, you might say:

The GBBO is my favourite programme.

As a verb, ‘programme’ refers to the action of planning or scheduling events.

This spelling, with ‘-mme’ at the end, is because the word originally comes from French. In British English, ‘programme’ is much more common than ‘program’ because it can be applied in various situations.

This word is one of many which differs in spelling depending on whether you’re using American, Australian or British English. The rules above apply to British and Australian English only! If you would like further advice about spelling, or would like to have a document checked for mistakes, get in touch with Proofed.

Comments (2)
19th October 2021 at 19:12
In English, I believe, even in the specific context of computer programming, it’s still correct to write “programme a computer program.” In English you programme every other device, which often have a mini computer being commanded. I don’t think the spelling of the same verb would change to fit a slightly different context. So, (a computer) program, meaning computer code, is the only word in English spelt that way. e.g. A training programme, a programme of events, a TV programme, a souvenir programme, programme the heating to come on/programme a computer, a computer program.
    20th October 2021 at 09:35
    Hi, Goatlips. You might find a few traditionalists who stick to 'programme' in a computing context, at least in the UK and Australia, but the vast majority of professionals, businesses, style guides, and dictionaries now suggest 'program' as the standard verb for issuing instructions to a computer.

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