Sherbert vs. Sherbet: Two Sweet Iterations

, Staff Writer
Updated November 22, 2021
Fresh lemon and lime sherbet served on a plate Sherbert vs Sherbet
    Fresh lemon and lime sherbet served on a plate Sherbert vs Sherbet
    dulezidar / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

You step up to the counter to order and see sherbert on the menu. “But wait,” you may ask, “isn’t it spelled sherbet?” Are they two different items, or are they two spellings for the same sweet treat? Dive into the different ways to spell this favorite dessert.

Sherbert vs. Sherbet Definition: Two Spellings, One Sweet

All that separates sherbert and sherbet is an “r,” yet this changes the spelling and pronunciation of the word and causes confusion.

  • sherbert (pronounced SHER-bert) - an alternative spelling of sherbet

  • sherbet (pronounced SHER-bit or SHER-but) - the most common spelling for a sweet frozen mixture

History and Etymology of Sherbert and Sherbet

Sherbert and sherbet are two versions of the same word that can trace their origins back to the Ottoman Empire. Sherbet was made from fruit juice and often contained sugar and extractions from various herbs and flowers. Both variations come from the Turkish şerbet and Persian sharbat. These words can be traced back to the Arabic sharbah which translates to “drink.”

When the word and corresponding dessert were imported to the English-speaking world in the 17th century, the two spellings diverged. Sherbet became the commonly accepted spelling from the 18th century onwards. However, sherbert has remained steadily in use over the centuries as a variant spelling of sherbet. Ultimately which version you use comes down to preference, but sherbet is usually the way to go.


Using Sherbert and Sherbet in a Sentence

Sherbet is the proper spelling while sherbert is usually an acceptable alternative spelling. When in doubt, stick with sherbet.

  • We ordered raspberry sherbet/sherbert.

  • A nice, cool sherbet/sherbert is perfect on a summer day.

  • That restaurant makes the best sherbet/sherbert in town.

The Scoop on Sherbert and Sherbet

Sherbet originally referred to a cold, sweet drink containing fruit juice, but now it is a fruit-flavored frozen dessert made with milk or cream. However, in British English sherbet more commonly refers to a sweet powder you can add to a drink. What sets sherbet or sherbert apart from ice cream is the amount of butterfat. Sherbet is required to have 1-2% butterfat while ice cream has at least 10%.


What About Sorbet?

To add to the confusion, sorbet (pronounced sor-BAY) also comes from the Arabic sharbah and the Turkish şerbet. This led to the French word sorbet in the 16th century, meaning "cool fruit juice." The difference comes down not just to linguistics, but to ingredients and regulations. Sorbet does not contain dairy, whereas sherbet does.

Sweeten Your Vocabulary

Now that you're likely in the mood for something sweet, check out the difference between desert and dessert. Then explore other words that have more than one acceptable spelling such as practice and practise.