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”.
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):
- 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.
- a planned series of activities, events etc.
E.g. The programme includes fun activities for both adults and children.
- 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.
- a course of study or training etc.
E.g. The deadline for applications for the MBA programme is 1 May.
- 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 Gear, Big 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.