The difference between “program” and “programme”

There is some confusion about the meaning and spelling of these words.

“Program” is US English. It is used for every meaning of the word, both as a noun and a verb.

“Programme” is UK English. It is used for every meaning of the word, both as a noun and a verb, EXCEPT in relation to computer programs, where the American spelling is used for both the noun and verb. So even in the UK we “program” computers and write “computer programs”.

The inflected forms of the verb are as follows:

UK English: programmed / programming

US English: programmed / programming OR programed / programing, although Microsoft Word doesn’t accept the single ‘m’ spelling.

Although “programme” is still technically correct in UK English, it may soon go out of use, as more and more British people are adopting the US spelling. Similar words like “gramme” and “kilogramme” are now archaic. Instead most British people prefer “gram” and “kilogram”.

Interestingly, “program” is the original spelling; “programme” was adopted in Britain in the 19th century from the French spelling. I guess people thought it looked sophisticated. The US did not make this change.

Of course words like “diagram” and “telegram” can never be spelt “diagramme”, “telegramme”.

Meanings

As a verb, program/programme means to set, schedule or regulate. As a noun, it has various different meanings, which are easily confused. Here are the most common (as I’m British I use the British spelling below):

  1. an important plan, usually organised by the government or a large organisation.
    E.g. The government’s anti-smoking programme has resulted in reduced tobacco sales. / The city has initiated an extensive building programme.
  2. a planned series of activities, events etc.
    E.g. The programme includes fun activities for both adults and children.
  3. a written list of the order of a series of activities, events etc.
    E.g. The preliminary programme of the conference is available on our website.
  4. a course of study or training etc.
    E.g. The deadline for applications for the MBA programme is 1 May.
  5. a TV or radio show
    E.g. I hate it when advertisements interrupt TV programmes.

The last definition seems to cause the most problems, because in other languages the word has different meanings in the same context.

CNN, Comedy Central, BBC Knowledge, MTV etc. are all televisions channels – NOT programmes. Examples of television programmes are Top GearBig Brother, Who wants to be a Millionaire?, Teletubbies, etc. etc.

If you want to know what is on television on a particular evening you look in the TV Guide at the listings. The word “listings” is also used to refer to what’s on at the cinema or theatre. In the context of the theatre, “programme” refers to the booklet you get listing the acts, scenes and interval, and giving short biographies of the actors etc.

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8 Responses to The difference between “program” and “programme”

  1. Yousuf says:

    Excellant

  2. Thanks for the post. Appreciate it.

  3. Angela Nana Bampo says:

    Insightful! Thanks.

  4. dixon says:

    Great, thanks it’s very educative.

  5. Zachary says:

    Thank you. Just wanted to get my head around this issue and get it right once and for all.

  6. Akhil M.U. says:

    Thanks for this information.

  7. Sampath Sri says:

    Thank you for the clear explanation.

  8. Garry Smith says:

    ‘Program’ v ‘Programme’
    I respond concerning the spellings ‘program’ and ‘programme’. The spelling ‘program’ has always been the officially preferred spelling in Australia and is one of the few examples where we have not followed the British lead. In this regard we should note that the Australian states moved away from the British educational system during the early twentieth century.

    My earliest and somewhat vague memory of the word ‘program’ is my father and his visitor expressing concerns in 1949 that the recently seen spelling ‘programme’ was contrary to their education at Fort Street High School in the 1930s.

    My recollections of my school years in the late1950s are clear. We were advised when preparing for our NSW matriculation exams to use the Australian preferred spelling ‘program’. We were not to use ‘programme’ but would not be penalised if we did because it had British use at the time. It is apparent that the spelling ‘programme’ was relatively unknown in Australia until the period of post war immigration.

    The position since then has not changed. There has been continuing support for ‘programme’ from Britain but ‘program’ has remained the official and preferred spelling in Australia in all situations and at all levels.

    While there would appear to be no disadvantage in using ‘programme’, it creates the impression of being unduly conservative. In addition, ‘program’ is now considered to be the more appropriate spelling for electronic use in Britain to the point where many consider it to be the more appropriate spelling for general use.

    One matter that requires correction is that ‘program’ was introduced by U.S. use and, by inference, that it reflects lower quality standard English. This is incorrect. Although finding examples in original eighteenth and nineteenth century British material is difficult, the few examples found show that that ‘program’ was initially the preferred spelling in Britain. For example, the Dictionary of the English Language, Samuel Johnson and John Walker, published by William Pickering, Chancery Lane, London, 1828, lists ‘PROGRAM’ as the first spelling, followed by ‘PROGRAMMA’ (pronounced pro-gram-ma) as the second spelling. The spelling ‘programme’ was not listed.

    It is apparent from historical scrutiny that the spelling ‘programme’ was advocated by those who considered it to be intellectual and derived from classical Greek, a superficial claim that had little merit but eventually prevailed.

    It is clear that we should use the preferred Australian spelling ‘program’ unless quoting from a specific source that uses the other spelling.

    Garry Smith
    (submitted as a supportive response to claims that ‘programme’ is a contrived, dated spelling that should not be used)

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