Meter vs. metre

For the unit of measurement equaling approximately 1.094 yards, meter is the American spelling, and metre is preferred everywhere else. The same distinction applies to the terms used in poetry and music—meter in American English, and metre everywhere else. Here’s the tricky part: For any type of device (i.e., an actual machine or gadget) designed to measure time, distance, speed, or intensity or to regulate current, meter is the preferred spelling everywhere.


For example, these non-U.S. publications use metre for the unit of length as well as for the term in poetry and music:

Where a person could fall at least one metre from a building, the Australian Building Code requires balconies and barriers to be a metre high. [The Age]

Many poets and hymn-writers reworked the 23rd Psalm in metre and rhyme. [The Guardian]

The first of the 43-metre ships is expected to enter service with the coast guard this year. [The Canadian Press]

Yeats was from an age when rhyming and metre were still central to a poet’s work. [Telegraph]


All versions of English use meter to denote any type of measuring device—for example:

B.C.’s smart meter system will become fully operational by the end of 2012. []

British Gas says it has to accept the final meter reading provided by your new energy supplier. [The Guardian]

And U.S. writers use meter for all senses of the word—for example:

Some Myrtle Beach city leaders want to increase parking meter rates as early as this spring. [WPDE]

The finale is ablaze with a meter-fracturing folk melody in octaves. [NY Times]

He won the 400-meter dash in a time of 49.51 seconds.  [Sheboygan Press]


Check Your Text


  1. inyazserg says:

    Thank you for the material and for enlightening! Would you be so kind to give some more examples for this “Here’s the tricky part: For any type of device (i.e., an actual machine or gadget) designed to measure time, distance, speed, or intensity or to regulate current, meter is the preferred spelling everywhere. ”
    I`m just puzzled without more examples though I understood the other non-tricky parts.

    • thylacine says:

      I’ll chip in with one: micrometer—a gauge for measuring very small objects vs. micrometre—a millionth of a metre.

    • Micheal Bohmer says:

      Basically if it is a device for measuring something then it uses meter; altimeter, barometer, chronometer, speedometer, thermometer etc. For all other purposes, like a unit of measurement or for a poetic cadence, then use metre. Unless your American or writing for an American audience, then you can use meter for everything, though I’m sure that if our American cousins were to come across the word centimetre they would fully understand it :)

      • PapaRimsky says:

        Thanks. Clear. Not American.

        • GreenLego says:

          For example, a device that measures the voltage of your batter (e.g. battery tester) would be called a voltmeter and not voltmetre. A common device/tool that an electrician will use is a multimeter – a device to measure all sorts of electrical properties, voltmeter being one of them.

      • mrs_m_goldsmith says:

        Yes, but if we saw it in an American publication, we would consider it to be misspelled. However, as an American in England, I see it both ways. Just never knew before what the correct usage is here, as in the US, there is no distinction between references to devices and measurements / poetic cadence. Thanks for the clarification!

  2. micrometer, barometer, thermometer, tachometer and speedometer as per wikipedia

  3. If it’s a measure of distance it would be nanometre; if it’s a particularly small measuring device (or one that measures tiny things) it would be a nanometer.

  4. What about the meter/metre for music? Is there a certain way to spell that?

  5. Jason Carpp says:

    I’m not from Canada, the UK, Australia, or any other country that spells “favour”, but I’ve been spelling “favour”, “honour”, “centre”, “theatre”, “harbour”, for a long time now. At first, it was merely curiosity, but now it’s second nature.

    • You mean you’re from America, because in every other country it’s already second nature.

      • Jason Carpp says:

        Yeah, I’m from America. I’ve visited the UK and Canada, although I’ve never lived in either place. I’d like to eventually visit Australia. I don’t know what got me spelling words the way the British do. But I like it. :)

        • Good man! It’s necessary for the intricacies of languages to be maintained because otherwise there can be room for misinterpretation in contracts and treaties. It’s why French is sometimes promoted as ‘the’ international language because apparently it’s a lot more precise..

          • perfectgeneral says:

            Is there an agreed pronunciation of pronunciation? An exact meaning of pedantic and a shorter word for abbreviation? Why isn’t phonetically spelt phonetically?

          • Jenn Howard says:

            English has never been one to maintain its intricacies and much rather embraces it’s eccentricities. English, from it’s very beginnings has been a polyglot of borrow words and cognates from many differing sources.

            The fact that there is a noted difference between American Standard and UK Standard is normal and a sign of a living language. I personally prefer to encourage variety over homogenous usage. We would never have had Mark Twain, Dickens or Shakespeare otherwise.

    • Georg Grossmaier says:

      I find taht way of spelling it outdated and stupid. I see many Canadians using “favor” even though they have learned it otherwise. Even Britain has already gotten rid of word like “traitour”, so it is only a question of time unitl they adopt the other ones as well. None of the Latin words these terms derive from are spelled with a “u”.

      • Jason Carpp says:

        Outdated and stupid? I fail to see how. I got to visit England in 2006, and I’ve yet to see “favor” vs “favour”. So no, I don’t see it leaving anytime soon. Maybe not everyone today spells this way, but there are people who do. Myself included. So, :)

  6. Bubba Claw says:

    All I want to know is how is “Re” pronounced “Er”?
    i.e. It’s not a meter it’s a met-re; it’s not a center, it’s a cent-re.

    • perfectgeneral says:

      Self referential sentences are.

    • Trent Michael Shannon says:

      Metre, Litre are pronounced as -er because they’re French words (part of the metric system), where you drop the last letter in pronunciation (Armand sounds like “Ar-mon”, Lyon = “Lee-aw, Metre/Litre = “mee-ter”/”lee-tr” [not met-reh”])

      Liter looks to an English eye as “lighter” as it needs another T to become “litter”

      And spelling quiet as quite is likely a typo.

      • I’d love for it to be a typo, but I’ve seen too many instances of quite being used for quiet in Brittish publications for it to be a typo. *Shrugs*

        • lolipedofin says:

          Quite is different to quiet. Any instances of quite that is meant to be “be silent”, is a mistake, be it typo or failure to English.

        • mrs_m_goldsmith says:

          And another typo: Brittish — it’s British! For the spelling, look to history. The *re words are spelled as in French is partly due to the fact that William the Conquerer (Duke of Normandy) invaded England and in 1066 and Normans ruled England whilst French invaded the language. Richard II (Lionheart) was a Kind of England who went on crusade, then resided and died in France, rarely residing in England at all. The Norman period is generally considered to be 1066 – 1154 and by the end of this period, the English language was a combination of Anglo-Saxon and Norman-French. About 1204, when Normandy was conquered by the then King of France, the population split and the Normans in France considered themselves French whilst the Normans in England considered themselves English. The Normans no longer existed as a separate people, but their language lives on here in Britain. Fun stuff, eh? ;-)

    • mrs_m_goldsmith says:

      Well, unless you want to become a modern-age Webster, the spelling is what it is, not what you’d like it to be. Although, have to say, txt-ing is changing everything! LOL!

    • Jenn Howard says:

      Metre and centre are pronounced the same as the American Standard spellings. The UK Standard spellings are borrowed from French.

  7. perfectgeneral says:

    So you could have a fellow in overalls with a clipboard turn up at a poetry library and say: ‘I’ve come to read your metre’?

  8. How can “meter be the ‘preferred’ spelling of an internationally agreed unit. It would be just like the Americans to say they’d ‘prefer’ the have neuton as the preferred spelling for the unit of force or more likely Edison as the unit of potential difference instead of volt!

  9. Can someone explain why (in Canada or the US) we use “metre” for poetry but in different forms use the “er” so it’s “pentameter” and “monometer.” Or is that not correct?

  10. Dylian Groffen says:

    I’m not an american but I write it like Meter, because in my first language (dutch) it’s written like that. Just like in dutch it’s not ‘theatre’ but ‘theater’ And to be honest.. Metre? Tre?

    • That makes no sense mate, spell it metre, you’re not speaking Dutch you’re speaking English. Hello is Hallo in Dutch isn’t it? If I was speaking Dutch I wouldn’t say ‘WELL I’M GOING TO SPELL IT HELLO BECAUSE THAT’S HOW IT’S SPELT IN ENGLISH’ bit silly tbh

      • Dylian Groffen says:

        I was trying to say that i choosed the American English pronunciation and grammar because it makes more sense to me like, I grew up with family with an american/canadian accent. And the way how hte british pronounce “centre metre” is extremely different than how americans pronounce it. Dutch has just more in common with american english.

        • ‘And the way how the british pronounce “centre metre” is extremely different than how americans pronounce it’

          No, metre and meter are pronounced the same.

          Metre is the official spelling of the measurement, meter is the american spelling of it/. It’s just spellings mate, meter and metre are pronounced the same.

          • Dylian Groffen says:

            But why write it like metre and pronounce it like meter ?

          • The reason it sounds different is probably just because of an accent. It’s spelt Metre because British English it mostly loan words, and in this particular case it was loaned from the French. I don’t know French, but some other commenter said that they drop the last letter in the pronunciation, which is why it makes sense (To the French, at least). As for me, I don’t particularly care how it’s spelled. If an american wrote “This line is 10 meters long” I’d understand it exactly the same way as if I wrote “This line is 10 metres long”. The simplest thing to do is drop the spelling. Write it as 10m, or 10cm. Then again, good look getting an American to use the metric system.

  11. Daniel Craciun says:

    Metre is the correct term for measurement of linear surface and meter is correct for any device that measures anything

  12. Daniel Craciun says:

    Meter should not be the same with metre because a barometer, thermometer don’t measure metres

  13. Daniel Craciun says:

    We don’t say the fundamental meteric system we say the fundamental metric system

  14. Daniel Craciun says:

    Meter is for any devices of measurement and metre is for measurement of surfaces, when you say 100 meters it may mean a hundred devices for measurement, eg gas meters, so correct is 100 metres eg sprint

  15. Daniel Craciun says:

    Where is the “e” in cute or smile or file its the same with many words similar it’s pure old classic English , you hear the “e “before when it’s actually at the end-metre

  16. Lalu Misra says:

    bhad me jao salo

Speak Your Mind

About Grammarist
Contact | Privacy policy | Home
© Copyright 2009-2014 Grammarist