Center vs. Centre

Center and centre are both correct spellings of the same meaning, but you might be wondering why. 

Read on to understand a bit more why a word can have two different acceptable spellings. 

Center is the preferred spelling in American English, and centre is preferred in British English through the UK and Canada. The meaning stays the same despite the variances in spelling, although centre will be flagged as wrong in most American English conventional publications.   

Origin and Definition

The word center originated with the Greek word kentron (and later Latin, centrum), meaning a “sharp point, stationary point of a pair of compasses”.

Although derived from Greek, the word wasn’t used as we know it until the late Middle English period, explaining the spelling of centre that still prevails within the UK.

The late Middle English period changed the spelling to center, or centre, as well as accepting the definition as “the middle of anything” during the late 16th Century and more figuratively, the “point of concentration” by the late 17th Century. 

The word can be used as a noun, adjective, or verb – making it a very versatile word indeed. As a noun, it may be used to describe the exact center of something, such as a building or circle. It also can designate a type of organization or building, such as a research center or athletic center.

As an adjective, it is used to describe at or near a center. This would be used as the form central, centrical, or within the phrase in or by the center.

When used as a verb, the word will describe an object that is caused to be within or adjusted to the center of something. For example, a person who centralizes themselves within a space, or to center a picture on a wall. 

Modern Use

Today, the modern use and definition of the word has not changed since the late 1500s, highlighting periods of popularity surrounding both spellings here in America, as well as overseas through the centuries. 

Centre became a prevalent form of spelling throughout the 1800s to denote a more “proper” and high society use, especially in legal terms, but dropped off sharply during the early 1900s and has since been restricted to British use. Although centre is acceptable for use in America, it is not well received and won’t be winning anyone any spelling bee competitions. 

The rise of center as an American spelling coincides with the popularity and publications of Noah Webster highlighting American Language in his dictionary: An American Dictionary of the English Language. First published and sold within America and England in 1825, it remained unpopular through the 1840s when it was sold to George and Charles Merriam. 

The rebuilding and republishing of the book commenced, including Americanized spellings of words which may have led to a more accepted use of the spelling of center as a more American version.

center vs centre american english
American English

The rise of center as an American spelling coincides with the popularity and publications of Noah Webster highlighting American Language in his dictionary: An American Dictionary of the English Language. First published and sold within America and England in 1825, it remained unpopular through the 1840s when it was sold to George and Charles Merriam. 

The rebuilding and republishing of the book commenced, including Americanized spellings of words which may have led to a more accepted use of the spelling of center as a more American version.

centre vs center
British English

Even after America embraced center, Britain has continued to this day to utilize the spelling as centre. The last 50 years has seen a rise in center as an acceptable use, but it is still not very popular overseas. 

Examples Of Center and Centre Being Used in a Sentence

American publications use center—for example:

The University of Southern Mississippi will announce plans Tuesday for a men’s and women’s golf training center. [USA Today]

He said his remark about his willingness to move the center, which was in answer to a question, was consistent with his previous statements. [New York Times]

Israeli and French filmmakers are making a comedy centered on the assassination of a Hamas operative in Dubai. [AP (dead link)]

And these publications from outside the U.S. use centre:

But the centre, who also missed the all-star game Sunday in Raleigh, N.C., at least took one big step closer to his return. [The Canadian Press]

Pfizer is to close its research centre in the UK with the loss of up to 2,400 jobs. [Financial Times]

Hickey could easily have started Cross at outside centre, but he is anxious to assess him as an inside centre. [The Australian]

The chief minister insisted that the Centre should verify these charges. [India Today]

The final phase of the Gautrain, which runs from Rosebank to Park Station and will in effect link Pretoria to the Johannesburg city centre, will open in the next few weeks. [Mail & Guardian]

Let’s Review

Despite the back and forth of use through the centuries, unless you are British, central is the more acceptable spelling to use within America.

Although both center and centre can be used, centre will flag as a misspelled word using American grammar and convention rules.