There are certain spelling rules and conventions governing the doubling of the letter “l” in certain words in English, with differences between American and British English.
First of all, there are certain words that take a double “l” in American spelling that have a single “l” in British English. These include the verbs enroll, fulfill, instill, install and distill, whose British English variants are enrol, fulfil, instil, install and distil; and the adjectives skillful and willful, in which the double “l” of the root is dropped in British English, giving us skilful and wilful.
Bucking this trend are certain nouns and adjectives in US English that favor a single “l,” whereas British English prefers a double “l.” Thus we have jeweler, counselor, woolen and marvelous in American English, compared to jeweller, counsellor, woollen and marvellous in British English.
Finally, there are rules for adding -ed and -ing endings to verbs of more than one syllable ending in “l”, such as cancel, travel, retail, annul, level, conceal, quarrel, libel, control, overhaul and patrol.
In American usage, the final “l” is not doubled when the stress falls on the first syllable. This gives us canceled, traveling and libeling in American English, but cancelled, travelling and libelling in British English.
Verbs such as annul, control and patrol do not have the stress on the first syllable, so the “l” is doubled in both American and British English, giving us annulled, controlled and patrolled.
With these rules, in British English the “l” is always doubled.There is one important exception to this, however: when the vowel preceding the “l” ending is a diphthong — such as ea, ai and au — the “l” is not doubled, irrespective of where the stress falls. So, with conceal, retail and overhaul, the “l” is not doubled in either American or British English.
(Paul Cooper, Taipei Times)
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