cancel, vb., makes canceled and canceling in AmE. Yet, in cancellation the -l- is doubled (-ll-) because the accent falls on the third syllable.

It's etymology is

Can·ce(l)·la·tion Mid-16th c. Latin cancellat-, past participle of cancellare (cf. can·cel·(l)ing)

Longman Pronunciation dictionary reads

-ation ˈeɪʃən bears the primary word stress. In words of four or more syllables, a further rhythmic (secondary) stress falls two syllables further back (ˌconsoˈlation, conˌsideˈration, neˌgotiˈation, asˌsociˈation).

American English spelling an informal description reads:

The nineteenth-century formation parcellation can be seen as reflecting earlier English spelling, or it can be seen as a very conservative instance of British twinning, parallel to, say, cancellation, so rare that there has been no pressure to recognize a more regular variant spelling

I don't grasp how to generalize the spelling rule behind Garner's statement, so I'd appreciate any help.


Consonants are usually doubled in stressed syllables, for example, the t in 'submit' is in a stressed syllable so it gets doubled in submitting, submitted. By contrast, the t in 'elicit' is in an unstressed syllable so it doesn't get doubled in eliciting, elicited. It holds true for both American and British English. (I've written a detailed answer on this topic here).

There's an exception to the above rule of thumb:

  • l in unstressed syllables can either be single or double depending on the variety of English:
    • British English (and some other Englishes such as Canadian and Australian) favours -ll- in unstressed syllables as in travelled travelling, cancelled/ cancelling, modelled/ modelling etc.
    • American English usually favours -l-, canceled, traveled, modeled but the variants with *-ll- are also found (explained here).

Garner says ‘in cancellation the -l- is doubled (-ll-) because the accent [=stress] falls on the third [second-last] syllable [can.ce.LLA.tion].’ But I don't think that's completely true because compare interpretation where the stress falls on the second-last syllable yet the -t- doesn't get doubled (*interprettation).

My understanding is that the -ll- in 'cancellation' (and probably other similar words) is etymological. According to Etymonline, 'cancellation' is from Latin cancellationem where the -ll- can be seen. And the etymological explanation holds for consolation and interpretation too.

I've certainly seen cancelation but I think that is by analogy with canceled/ canceling.

Also read this answer on ELU (posted after my answer here) which says the same thing about 'cancellation' and adds another important point: “The original double L of Latin cancello was simplified to single L in English cancel, due to being at the end of the word.”

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