Cosy or Cozy: Which is Correct?

Most know that British spellings often contain an “ou” where their American counterparts favor a single “o” in words like “color” and “humor.” However, that is not the extent of the distinctions, and there are a few more spelling differences across the Atlantic.

Both “cosy” and “cozy” are correct depending on the style of English you are using. British spelling favors the “s” in “cosy,” while the American spelling utilizes the “z” instead. Regardless of the spelling, however, the meanings are the same. And both American and British people enjoy either a “cosy” or a “cozy” fire during cold winter months. 

The explanation sounds simple, but there is a lot more to learn about the differences between American and British spellings, so read on.

When to Use “Cozy” or “Cosy” 

Determining the correct spelling will be dependent on what and who you are writing for. 

If you are writing in a British school, or one that uses British English, “cosy” would be the correct form. This also applies if your audience is British. A lot of formal texts also prefer British spelling, so “cosy” can also apply in that scenario.

In contrast, if you are American or writing for an American audience, “cozy” is the correct form. 

Ideally, as many recognize both British and American English as the standard forms of the language, it generally should not really matter which form you use. 

For non-native writers, the choice is dependent on your audience or your history of colonialism — countries that once were British colonies tend to use British English as their lingua franca (the common language of communication).

The main point is to be consistent. Not many teachers or readers are likely to quibble over the form you use, as long as it remains the same throughout the text. And since the word “British” also contains the letter “s,” that is one easy way to remember when to use the “s” in “cosy.” 

What Is the Meaning of Cozy?

“Cozy” is one of those words that simply invokes the feeling of warmth and comfort. When you hear the word, you think of flickering fireplaces, hot chocolate, and a small and comfortable room or building (source).

The word means a comfortable and pleasant atmosphere, and you will most often apply it to buildings and objects. The adjective has a positive connotation. 

Examples:

The room was cozy as a comfortable fire burned in the grate.

I settled into the cozy chair with my book and hot chocolate, ready to leave the world behind.

Her wardrobe was filled with cozy sweaters to combat the New England winters.

On the other hand, you can also use the word euphemistically — estate agents often use the word to refer to an apartment or house as “cozy.” Reading between the lines, it means the place is likely tiny, and it’s unlikely that you can fit much in there. However, the connotation of comfort is clear.

Examples:

The master bedroom has a cozy and welcoming atmosphere.

The cozy kitchen is a masterpiece of art and technology, with many space-saving innovations.

“Cozy” can also refer to an intimate or close relationship between people. This relationship can have connotative meanings as well.

Examples:

He had a cozy relationship with the health department.

“Don’t get too cozy with her,” he warned, “She’s not the best person.”

More Connotations of Cozy

However, there are also a few alternate meanings to the word. Sometimes, people use the word “cozy” as an adjective to describe a situation that is barely legal. 

Examples:

The man had a cozy relationship with his bookie, which allowed him to place more favorable bets.

They had a cozy understanding of the situation, and John was certain that his horse would win.

In this case, “cozy” still refers to closeness, but the implicit meaning is of something unsavory and possibly illegal.

Finally, “cozy” also refers to a knitted or quilted covering that many use to keep a teapot warm, often called a “tea cozy.” However, in American English, its meaning is broadened somewhat when a “cozy” can refer to any general container covering (source).

Examples:

The tea cozy was a crocheted affair, bright and warm in the dingy room.

I wrapped my soda in a cozy to stop the condensation from creating a ring on my table.

Now you should understand how to use “cozy,” but the question still remains: why does American English use the “z” while British English uses “s”?

American English and British English: Differentiating Between the S and the Z

Here, we will delve into the history of American English a bit.

For anyone who knows the history of America’s independence from the British, you know that it was a long, sometimes-violent, and even occasionally funny process that involved taxes galore and tossed tea before America declared independence from Britain.

After independence, America wanted to assert itself as a unique and separate country from the old-fashioned Brits. One of the ways that they made this change was to simplify spelling. 

While Americans might speak, read, and write English, most would not do this with the “Queen’s English.” American English began with its own pronunciations, idioms, and spelling — a process started by a man named Noah Webster (source).

Noah Webster’s Influence on American Spelling

Yes, we are speaking of the same Webster from the dictionary that so many of us have used over and over again. Noah Webster wrote the American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, and he really wanted to distinguish American and British English. One method of doing this was simplifying the spelling of words.

Noah Webster, a man ahead of his time, felt that people should spell words as they sounded — phonetically. English is notorious for its strange spelling rules, and Webster was tired of having to string together letters that he felt should not be there.

As many non-native English speakers can relate, English spelling is quite a challenge sometimes. There are silent letters, like the “k” in “knife” and “knight,” the adding of extra vowels in words like “colour” and “humour,” and other inexplicable rules that make English frustrating.

Simplifying Spelling Rules

Webster decided to change some of these rules, but he did so with mixed success. While his removal of the “u” from words that had “ou” in them, like “behaviour” and “saviour,” became a success, his changing of “machine” to “masheen” did not have the same outcome.

His change of words like “centre” and “theatre” to “center” and “theater” was also well-met. Why should words not be spelled in the simplest way possible? In the land of freedom, language also needed its shackles removed from British influence.

Another way that Webster simplified English was to change “s” words with “z” sounds to use a “z” in the spelling as well. It was a practical solution. Webster’s books for different age groups were printed and used in American schools for a hundred years.

Simply put, Noah Webster is the reason that we spell “cozy” with a “z.”

Some people might also be wondering if the word “mom” is American or British. To answer that conundrum, read “Mom vs. Mum: What’s the Difference?” to know how you should be speaking to your mother.

British and American Spelling

There are several notable differences between American and British spelling for particular words. Breaking these differences down should ensure that you will never confuse the two (source). 

Ou vs. O

There are many words in English that end with -our, such as “labour,” “colour,” “neighbour,” and “humour.” However, this is the British spelling. In American English, these words only have an -or in the final syllable.

This change has made words easier to spell, and there is no difference in pronunciation.

You have probably heard the phrase “humor me” quite often. To break down the nuances of the term, have a look at “Humor Me: Understanding the Meaning and Usage of This Phrase.”

Re vs. Er

Another change that Webster made was the simplification of words that end with -re in British English. This complicated spelling did not make sense to him, and he changed words such as “theatre,” “metre,” and “litre” to “theater,” “meter,” and “liter.”

However, some linguists have distinguished between the spelling of the words “theatre” and “theater” and insist that they have separate meanings. 

According to them, “theatre” refers to the performance, while “theater” refers to the building in which this performance takes place (source). However, the main distinction is in their spelling, and not many people know of the difference in meaning.

S vs. Z

While our example of “cosy” versus “cozy” is probably a common spelling difference, there are many other words that change the “s” to “z” in American spelling.

British English words like “realise,” “civilise,” and “italicise” are all examples of words that end with an -ize. This rule is a little more difficult to apply, however, because not all words that end with -ise automatically convert.

“Compromise,” “advertise,” and “surprise” stay the same regardless of which side of the Atlantic you’re on. The reason for this is that the -ise sound at the end of the word is a suffix that comes from Latin through French.

British English has been heavily influenced by French in its history, and the French preferred the Latin -ise suffix that indicated an action for the noun or adjective. However, English and French derived many words from Greek as well, and the Greek suffixes included a “z” instead (source).

Despite the long and torrid history between Britain and France, the British adopted the French form to standardize the spelling of all words that ended with -ise, while Americans took the technically correct -ize from the ancient Greek for words originating from Greek.  

American English now has a specific set of words that Americans do not spell with an -ize. Look at the table below for a quick cheat sheet showing which words never change in American English:

advertiseadviseappraisechastise
comprisecompromisedespisedevise
disguiseexciseexercise improvise
inciseprisepromiserevise
supervisesurmisesurprisetelevise

The conversion from “s” to “z” is not restricted to words that end with -ise only. Words that end with -yse will also change to -yze. This includes words like “analyse,” “paralyse,” and “breathalyse.”

C vs. S

American English is a stickler for pronunciation and ease of spelling, so they replaced several words in the English dictionary that ended with -nce with -nse. Therefore, “defence” and “licence” have become “defense” and “license.”

Oe and Ae vs. E

Another simplification from Webster was removing double-voweled inserts from words like “foetus,” “amoeba,” and “anaemia” to make them much easier to learn.

Let’s be honest, “fetus,” “ameba,” and “anemia” are far easier to spell, even if you do not automatically know what the spelling is. Webster truly wanted to simplify English to make it the land of the free.

Ogue vs. Og

Why insist on having extra letters at the end of a word when you do not pronounce them? American English simplified words like “catalogue” and “monologue” to “catalog” and “monolog.” 

Still, there are some cases in American English where the -ogue remains in the spelling. This comes down to personal preference, but the removal of -ogue is definitely an American variation.

Ll vs. L

Our final simplification is a common one. When a verb ends with a consonant, then British English demands that we double the consonant. For example, this is the case in words like “traveller” and “modelling.” 

While there is technically nothing wrong with adding the extra consonant, especially since you pronounce it separately in the next syllable, it goes against American efficiency. 

To make spelling these words easier, they remove the repetition of the consonant and spell the words “traveler” and “modeling.”

“Aluminium” vs. “Aluminum”

The words above are not exactly an example of a rule pertaining to the differences in spelling, but it is a surprising instance where the spelling changes the pronunciation. The words mean exactly the same thing and refer to the same element, but American English removes the pretentious extra syllable. 

For those that would like to use more British spellings, check out The Oxford New Essential Dictionary. This valuable English resource is available on Amazon and is an amazing guide to the nuances of spelling and meaning. This article was written for strategiesforparents.com

George Bernard Shaw once said, “America and England are two countries separated by the same language.” Through the years, this quote has proven quite true. America and England both speak English, but their usage and spellings are certainly different.

Final Thoughts

British English has always maintained a role as the standard form of English. Still, with the spread of American television, movies, and media, American English has become part of people’s lexis, with most not even realizing it. 

Because of this, many people have started calling carbonated drinks “soda” and thinly-sliced fried potatoes “chips.” And before you know it, they will be spelling “cozy” with a “z” too, because American spelling really is just a bit easier.

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