Word Choice: Dialogue vs. Dialog
  • 3-minute read
  • 11th April 2021

Word Choice: Dialogue vs. Dialog

Are ‘dialogue’ and ‘dialog’ just different spellings of the same word? Or is there a difference in how they are used? This may depend on who you ask and where you come from! In this post, we will explain how people use these words in modern English so you can use them correctly in your written work.

Dialogue (Speech or Conversation)

‘Dialogue’ is a noun that refers to a conversation between two or more people, in particular when written for a play, film, or book. For example:

There is very little dialogue in this film.

I like the dialogue between the main characters.

It can also refer to formal talks between conflicting groups:

We need to enter into dialogue with union leaders.

There has been a constructive dialogue between the two nations.

Used in this context, this word is always spelled ‘dialogue’.

Dialog (A Computing Term)

‘Dialog’ started off as a variant spelling of ‘dialogue’. And it is sometimes used to refer to a conversation, especially in US English. However, ‘dialog’ is most common in a computing context, especially in the term ‘dialog box’.

This refers to a window that pops up on screen with information for the user:

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When the dialog box appears, select ‘Yes’.

The dialog box is asking if I want to save the file.

In this context, the preferred spelling is ‘dialog’, without the ‘-ue’ ending.

This is not universal, with some UK writers still favouring ‘dialogue box’. But the worldwide trend is to use ‘dialogue’ for conversation and ‘dialog’ for computing.

A dialog box in Microsoft Word.
A dialog box in Microsoft Word.

Summary: Dialogue or Dialog?

Technically, ‘dialogue’ and ‘dialog’ are different spellings of the same word, with the former common in British English and the latter more common in American English. But these spellings have taken on their own meanings in recent years.

Typically, then, people now use these words as follows:

  • Dialogue refers to a conversation, usually in a play, book, or film.
  • Dialog is used in a computing context (e.g. a ‘dialog box’).

You will sometimes see ‘dialog’ described as the US English spelling of ‘dialogue’. In practice, though, ‘dialogue’ is the standard spelling for a conversation in all English dialects, while ‘dialog’ is mostly used in relation to computers.

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