Neighbor vs. Neighbour – Which is the Correct Spelling?

Banging your head between neighbor vs. neighbour? Let’s see what the is difference between the two words.

Neighbor vs. Neighbour—does one letter really make such a difference? While it might seem like a typo, the difference between the words is clear, and it’s based on different dialects of the English language.

Neighbor is the preferred spelling method in American English, while neighbour is preferred in British English.

Native dialects can be confusing, and as a writer, you shouldn’t mix them up. In this article, we’ll go over everything you need to know in order to use these words correctly in your writing.

While here, check out our article on flier vs. flyer for more differences in English language dialects.

Now, let’s dive in.

Neighbor vs. Neighbour – How to Spell the Word Correctly

When pronounced, the words neighbor and neighbour sound and mean exactly the same. The difference in spelling stems from the fact that the two words are used in different dialects of the English language. 

In American English, neighbor is the preferred way of spelling. In British English, on the other hand, you would spell it neighbour instead. This is true not just for Great Britain but also for most other countries with English as the official language, like Canada, Australia, and Jamaica.

Where Does the Difference in Spelling Come From?

As you can see, there’s only one letter of difference between the American English and British English spellings of the same word. But about two centuries ago, the difference was non-existent.

Now, all that would change in mid19th century, during the so-called Dictionary Wars. It wasn’t a war in the real sense of the word, but a rivalry between the two lexicographers, Joseph Emerson Worcester and Noah Webster.

On one side, we have Worcester, a lover of traditional pronunciation and spelling, and on the other, Webster, who wanted to make the language more “Americanized.” 

If the later lexicographer sounds more familiar than the former, that’s because Webster clearly won this “war.” However, he didn’t get to bear the fruits of his work as he died quickly after publishing the second edition of his dictionary. 

But not long after, the Merriam brothers bought rights to his dictionary and published a revision named the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The rest is history.

Webster thought that English spelling rules were unnecessarily complex, so he decided to reform them. One of the main changes was dropping the letter U when it comes as a second vowel directly before the consonant. Here are some examples:

  • Colour – color
  • Vigour – vigor
  • Favour – favor

The exact spelling change happened to the word neighbour, which is why it’s spelled without the U in American English today.

Neighbor vs. Neighbour – the Meaning of the Word 

Neighbor vs. Neighbour
The word neighbor as an adjective can be used when referring to someone or something that’s situated or living near another.

We’ve covered the differences in spellings depending on whether you’re using American English or British English. But in order to use the word properly, you need to understand its meaning.

Neighbor (as well as neighbour) can serve as a noun, adjective, and verb in a sentence. Let’s see what they mean in all situations.

How to use Neighbor as a Noun

Put simply, a neighbor is a person who lives next door or close to the person referred to. Here are some examples of neighbor in a sentence:

  • I couldn’t reach Grandma, so I asked the next-door neighbor to ring the doorbell and check if she was home.
  • They live in the middle of nowhere, so the first neighbor is miles away.
  • The neighbors are throwing a barbecue – I can smell it through the open window.

Sometimes, the word neighbor can also be an object, especially in the context of places. For instance, you could say:

  • Mexico is the neighbor of the United States. 
  • Is Mars the closest neighbor to the Earth?

How to use Neighbor as an Adjective

The word neighbor as an adjective can be used when referring to someone or something that’s situated or living near another. For instance, you could say:

  • He decided to travel through all of the neighbor countries first before moving onto another continent.

However, this adjective is pretty much archaic today, as it’s been mainly replaced with the word neighboring. In British English, it’s neighbouring instead. So you could say:

  • He lives here but works in a neighbouring city.

How to use Neighbor as a Verb

As a verb, the word neighbor can be both transitive and intransitive. In a sentence, a transitive verb requires an object to make sense, while an intransitive doesn’t take an object. 

As a transitive verb, neighbor means to live or be situated adjacent to. It can refer to both people and objects. Here are a couple of examples of the word neighbor as a verb in a sentence:

  • The grocery store neighbors the pharmacy, so you have everything you need in one place.
  • Even though Canada neighbors the United States, the country’s language variety is closer to British English than American English.

The verb can also be intransitive, and in that case, it means to be similar to. This is typically used in figurative speech, and the preposition on usually follows the verb.

  • Watch your mouth; what you’re saying neighbors with treason, and you could get sued for that.

Neighbor vs. Neighbour – Etymology of the Word

The origin of the word neighbor can be traced all the way back to the Proto-Germanic language, and it was created as a compound. Compound words are created by combining two or more words together.

If you want to know more about compound words, check our list of compound words with examples.

Now, the compound word neighbor doesn’t consist of words that exist today in Modern English, so we need to look beyond that. We can trace the words back to Proto-Germanic, where naehwa meant “near,” while (ga)būraz derived from the word meaning “to exist, grow.”

In Old English, the word became neahgebur, a combination of the words neah meaning “near,” and gebur meaning “dweller.” In Middle English, it was spelled as neighebor, which is rather similar to the Modern English version of the word.