Center vs. centre

  • There is no difference in meaning between center and centre. Center is the preferred spelling in American English, and centre is preferred in varieties of English from outside the U.S.


    Some people do make distinctions between the words. For instance, some prefer to treat center as the word for a place or institution and centre as the word for the middle point of something. But while these preferences may be taught in some schools and are perhaps common among careful English speakers in Canada, the U.K., and elsewhere, they are not broadly borne out in 21st-century usage.


    The following ngram graphs the use of center and centre in American books published from 1800 to 2008. It shows that center has been preferred for a century.


    And this ngram showing the use of the words in British books during the same period suggests that center might be gaining ground in British publications.


    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)]


    1. The above information is absolutely incorrect!

      This is clearly coming from an American thinking they know everyting about Britain again!

      Just a couple of examples for British English could be:
      CENTER – “The middle of a circle”.
      CENTRE – “A place where families go to be part of the community”.

      • Anne (of Grammarist) says

        Do you have any evidence for this besides your own examples? We searched through a range of British publications and found “center” used only in reference to American things, and “centre” is used everywhere else.

        Let’s try a few searches of current news publications. Here’s “centre” in the Daily Telegraph:
        And here’s “center” in the Daily Telegraph:

        “Centre” in the Guardian:
        “Center” in the Guardian:

        “Centre” in the Independent:
        “Center” in the Independent:

        “Centre” in the Financial Times:
        “Center” in the Financial Times:

        As you can see, these publications (and we looked at many others, with similar results) spell the word “centre” in all its uses except when referring to American things. If the spelling practice is different outside news writing, this would be interesting to note in our post, but we would need some proof.

    2. I work for a public university in California with access to online newspaper archives. It is interesting to note that, at least until the early 1930s, “centre” was the preferred spelling for the word in the New York Times. By the 1950s when I was in elementary school, only “center” was considered correct American spelling for the word. Now the “centre” spelling is showing up in all sorts of adverts that want to appear posh.

      • I see ‘centre’ in proper names, but I’ve never seen an American book say something like ‘we were in the town centre’.

    3. Iver Hedake says

      I wouldn’t believe any newspaper with regards to spelling these day. 

    4. “Canadian English”  ….     :-) Very close minded  … Really !

    5. IndianPeacock says

      I disagree. “Center” is used to denote institutions, shops or buildings where people can find things they want eg. Book Center, Sports Center etc. The word “Centre” is used to denote the geometric middle-point of a region as in the centre of a circle, or forward-centre in football.

      • We’ve received this comment before and have tried very hard to find evidence that it represents a widely held preference, but have failed. We presume you’re talking about U.K. English (though we’ve heard similar suggestions about Canadian English). When we comb through a large number of instances of “center” and “centre” in U.K. publications, though, we find “centre” commonly used for both of the senses you mention, while “center” mostly appears in reference to American things.

        We don’t deny that some people outside the U.S. do make this distinction–obviously, they do–but we just don’t see it borne out more broadly.

        Also, though don’t we rely on dictionaries for research (they’re historical), it is interesting that we can’t find this distinction noted in any of the major dictionaries, including the U.K. ones, and it’s not noted in any of the British style guides we use for reference. Again, this doesn’t mean that the preference isn’t out there. We just have difficulty finding it borne out in published U.K. English texts.

        • I can attest to the fact that there is no distinction in British or Australian English made between ‘center’ and ‘centre’, except that the former is seen as US English and viewed as nonstandard. (Both spellings have been used by British writers from time to time and the SOED seems to suggest that ‘center’ is the older version.)

          I’m curious at your comment that dictionaries are historical. The OED certainly is, agreed, but I believe it is Oxford’s policy, like that of Collins and Macquarie (here in Australia), to strike a balance between being prescriptive (based on etymology, historical usage, etc.) and descriptive (i.e. reflective of current usage). That said, I think it’s wise not to be reliant on dictionaries. As much as I adore my leather-bound, gild-edged copy of the SOED, I take issue with a few of its definitions. Moreover—and please forgive the tangent—, have you noticed it doesn’t contain one of the most beautiful words in the language ‘sun-shower’?! I feel we need to organize a campaign or something.

          • Fathdris says

            Here in Australia, Centre is used in official government department names. Centrelink, for example.

      • In short you are wrong, however i agree that that should be how it is used much like meter and metre.

      • jeepsareforgirls says

        Its soccer.

        • Andy Drew says

          You meant “It’s”. Learn grammar (and football) before you profess to have naming rights on the worlds most popular sport.

          • LifeWulf says

            Calling someone out for using improper grammar, then using it yourself?


          • jeepsareforgirls says

            It is “world’s”, not “worlds”. Learn grammar.

            • Forgetting the apostrophe in “World’s” is a punctuation error, grammar is sentence structure!

          • Mariano Paniello says

            It’s world’s. There, got ’em both with one shot!

          • Luke Finnigan says

            I think you’ll find that soccer is just short for Association football… which is the proper name for “football”

            • Ben Macleod says

              football is football. It was invented in Britain a long time ago and given it’s highly appropriate name. Being that it is played more than any other sport with the feet, ie football. Sports that came after should just have been given another name…anyone who thinks differently is a fool or American…or Australian… :)

          • XInfinityXStarX says

            Its. Referring to It is, is the correct grammar. It’s is referring to the property of it.

    6. Argh! I just moved from the US to India (they speak British-English here) and I used to (still do) get confused between centre and center all the time. Espescially since some of our textbooks use center while most use centre.

    7. If you check the british graph there is a sudden increase in the incorrect center being used. Notice how about the same time the internet started for the mass populace and more stupid people had access to incorrect spelling not knowing it was wrong. I was one of those in 1998.

    8. just looking at the word center it looks wrong, but im a crazy canadian that spells color colour and humour. Often ill spell it color but its always centre for me

      • A crazy Canadian who named himself ‘hitler’?

      • Matthew Lorono says

        What’s wrong with spelling the word like it’s pronounced. Centre looks like it should be pronounced sen-treh. So many words don’t match their modern pronunciation. Why complain when a region is actually spelling a particular word more like it sounds? :)

    9. James Billson says

      If you look at the second graph – the adoption of ‘center’ in the UK I suggest the shape the graph is heavily influenced by the adoption of spell check on computers, particularly MS Word. You see the steep increase in occurrence up to 2000 – this mirrors word processing adoption. The sudden decline is when Windows shipped with regional dictionaries that worked. Regional language settings were available since Win95 but resisted the users attempts to actually apply them in a sensible way until WinXP.

      • I live in the US and my language is set to English (U.S.) so I just typed “centre” into MS Word – no error. However, Firefox does show it as an error.

      • Yes! Even now MS Word will suddenly change your regional settings to English (US) if you copy and paste text in from a website. No, MS Word, I don’t want English (US), I want the English (UK) that I’ve had set as default ever since I installed you! But it’s rather better than it used to be, and I think the brief spike in the adoption of Americanised spellings is probably down to MS Word and other software programs that arrogantly presumed that everyone wanted American spellings.

        • Brian Lynch says

          Or were developed in the US and wanted to save money and/or time. Just trying to avoid arrogant presumptions.

    10. Centre is “standard” English and Center is non standard English ….go figure.

    11. I once preferred center, theater, etc., to centre, theatre until a colleague pointed out that the -re spelling was common to both English and French. Being Canadian, I immediately reversed my preference and have never looked back.

    12. Gorilla Glass says

      Although “center” is preferred in American English, there is a consistency problem.

      For example, we should use “centeral” instead of “central”; “centeralfugation” instead of “centrifugation”, “centeralfuge” instead of “centrifuge”, “centeralfugation” instead of “centrifugation”, “centeralfugal” instead of “centrifugal”, “centeric” instead of “centric”.

      • Cookie Monster says

        No, the American use of center, liter, meter, and fiber has to do with make the orthography match the pronunciation of the word. This is my the word was changed to center but it remained central, centric, metric, and fibrous because the “tr” cluster is heard in the adjectives but not in the nouns. Your argument doesn’t hold water. There’s no need to add superfluous letters that aren’t pronounced, especially when language evolution tends toward simplification and not complication.

        • Cookie Monster says

          Please excuse the grammatical errors above. My laptop keyboard is dysfunctional and jumps around and changes letters willy-nilly. I am a more careful writer than that.

        • …the English language is full of superfluous letters, though, regardless of what version you’re using. I do think ‘center’ should be dropped as it’s out of sync with the rest of the English-speaking world, but that’s more of a harmonisation problem than a logic problem.

          • Brian Lynch says

            Depends on how you base the criteria for harmonization. Is it the number of political entities that exist that use those spellings or the sheer number of people whom use those spellings?

        • Trent Michael Shannon says

          sorry cookie but Metre, Litre are measurements of the metric system, a French invention (with the original metre a platinum-iridium bar).

          How do you differentiate a meter between a meter (i.e., your water meter)?

          ’nuff said,

          • Mariano Paniello says

            “sorry cookie but Metre, Litre are measurements of the metric system, a French invention”

            Actually, it’s mètre, so even with the -re it’s not being spelled correctly, using your logic. But it’s your logic that’s the problem: because the metric system is a French invention (a rather simplistic way of putting it), everyone has to use the French words? That’s just weird. Does that mean that the French should use the word computer instead or ordinateur, since the PC was invented in the US, or that Britons should write airplane instead of aeroplane because the first plane was invented in the US?

            “How do you differentiate a meter between a meter (i.e., your water meter)?”

            By using one’s brain, of course. The way people on both sides of the pond distinguish homonyms like row, bow, wind, tear, sow, and lead, for example.

      • Mariano Paniello says

        “For example, we should use “centeral” instead of “central”…”
        Why? We say remember, but remembrance, not rememberance, as well as monster, but not monsterous. It’s not unheard of in English.

    13. Centre being the middle of the road versus Center being A Civic Center, as examples, were taught as the correct English spelling in Rochester NY grammar schools during the 1940’s.

    14. “Center” gets really awkward when extended to Central.

      • Matthew Lorono says

        So, we should be pronouncing it “sen-tre” instead of “sen-ter”? :)

      • Mariano Paniello says

        Why would you say that? What about words like remembrance or monstrous?

    15. What i have learnt from this post…

      Centre is the correct English spelling for the word and at some point in the early 1800’s or earlier, an American misspelled it, and published said mistake. as more and more people saw these mistakes, they thought they were correct and hence the word Center was born.

      since English is older than American-English, we can consider the original spelling to be ‘correct’.
      which then leads to the confusion today with people everywhere spelling it however and obviously MS auto-spell correcting people has given birth to this word.

      • Grammarist says

        Two points:

        1. “Center” is several centuries older than the United States. It was a common variant as long ago as the 16th century.
        2. Yes, English is older than American English, but it is also older than modern British English. British English didn’t look much like the form it takes today until the late 18th century or so, around the same time that American English was beginning to be established, and even then it looked much different from 21st-century British English in countless ways. In any case, the view that older forms are always the correct ones doesn’t stand up; most English words older than a couple of centuries were originally spelled differently from how we spell them now. Would you have us go back to Old English spellings?

    16. François Paganel says

      I feel sorry. If Marquis de La Fayette had not crossed the Atlantic with his troops to help the rebels, English would still be spoken in North America. Please forgive us :-(

    17. Please correct your comparison and explanation of the of the words “Centre” and “Center”. In Canada we make use of the word “Centre” for locations such as the “Bell Centre” located in Montreal, Quebec. Other examples are the Canadian National Art Centre, located in Ottawa, Ontario Canada. Other examples can be found in other countries such the Arts Centre Melbourne. As oppose to the Center of a circle or the universe.

      • Grammarist says

        I think we’ve addressed this in our replies above. Let us know if we’re missing something.

        • Mr Hytest says

          the replies above (Indian Peacock) suggested the opposite of what Chris here is saying. I agree with Chris. “Center” would be a synonym for “middle”. (He stood in the center of the circle.)

          “Centre” would be the word used to describe a gathering place. (The crowd gathered at the new Arts and Innovation Centre.)

        • Indian Peacock has it bass-ackward, while Chris and Mr Hytest are correct, at least vis-à-vis Canadian English. “There is a convention at the Air Canada Centre to explore the theme that Toronto thinks it’s the center of the universe.”

    18. Thirunarayan Embar says

      Basically, the difference boils down to the spell checker one uses on his computer. Default being the American English, unless you have set the settings on your computer as UK English, the Microsoft packages will always throw up a mistake.
      Better late than never.

      • SparksofInsight says

        As a writer (canadian) I tend to get less comments following these rules.1.
        CENTRE is normally applied as a proper noun as in the inclusion for a name of a building or a stadium. The Rogers Centre or Denver Convention Centre. CENTER is a point of location and more generic including center field,, or in the center of town.
        If all follow that rule it is easy. Beware that in dialogue the same thing could be referred to both ways. as in: Nate and I agreed to meet at the local sport center at 7 .I pulled up to the Cedar Rec Centre at 730, late and frustrated.

        • You pretty much nailed it — my very similar examples from my hometown are “Air Canada Centre” and “Toronto thinks it’s the center of the universe.”

          • I live in the Greater Toronto Area, have lived here my whole life, nearly 33 years. I have NEVER seen it done the way you describe. I was never taught a difference when I was in school. The word in Canada is spelled “centre” PERIOD, END OF STORY. “Center” is the American spelling, and that’s the way it’s viewed. However I have seen a proliferation of the American spelling all over the place as more and more immigrants come to Canada and they learned English at an international English school that teaches the American spelling, as well at younger people being apathetic. Even English teachers in higher learning institutions have stopped caring. It’s VERY frustrating. It’s also “colour” with a U here, but even that’s changing for the worse, same with the name of the letter Z. To quote a very famous patriotic commercial for a patriotic beer brand “it’s ZED, not ZEE, ZED!!!”

            • Those DAMNED Americans…..thinking they know everything and always driving around in their Camaro ZED-28’s!
              HaHaHa! Guess what, folks!? It really doesn’t matter how center/centre is spelled. Someone will misspell it….regardless!
              The reality is that this thread has gone on entirely too long about something so inconsequential! I promise that Americans (myself included) did NOT set out to piss off the entire world by intentionally misspelling this word….and theater…..and meter…..and liter….and Hitlre (oh, wait….we spell that one correctly!).
              Do we really not have anything better to do than argue over the spelling of a word and sling mud at we damned Americans?
              I hope you all have a beautiful day with your friends and loved ones and just enjoy being human beings. :o)

            • Ryan McCann says

              “Centre PERIOD.”? Uhhhh, actually that would be “FULL STOP” my friend. See, you guys don’t even know “proper” British English either. Canada is a very small country population wise with a limited footprint on the English language. Just remember, in linguistics it is called the “Canadian raising,” not the “American not raising” because it is considered non-standard and normative only in one region.

    19. dirk

    20. Steve Abel says

      Why not go pre-English to work out the best spelling and meaning? Etymology suggests centre comes from old french for middle ‘centre’ – which is also the current French meaning and spelling. And prior to that Latin ‘centrum’ for middle. I think that should give centre the meaning of middle over center. It also explains the ‘tre’ spelling versus phonetic ‘ter’. I accept that both are used interchangeably and am not an advocate of sticking to historical spellings for the sake of it but I disagree that using center makes overall usage simpler when words like centrifuge and central retain that ‘tr’ ordering even in US. This means you now have two divergent rules for the word and its extensions. You get the same problem with other ‘ter’ words such as theater becoming theatrical. At first it seems simpler to phoneticise but it may just create a different complexity.

      • Mariano Paniello says

        But that capacity already exists in English with words like remembrance and monstrous (off the top of my head). You make it sound like it introduces some contradiction into English orthography that would make the entire language implode. It’s really not that big of a deal.

    21. Wilford Warfstache says

      Center just sound more like the real word while Centre sound Fucking French!

    22. AMPisAnglican says

      From what I remember in Canada we spelled it “center” until Trudeau forced his French metric system upon us. Then we were taught to spell it “centre”.
      Thus we in Canada went from the usual “er” found in most words (i.e. mister, master, carpenter, newspaper, computer, printer, binder, dressmaker, etc.) to the foreign “re” used in French words (i.e. litre, metre, etc.).
      So lets have no miss-understandings about this. The correct English way to spell it has always been, is now, and forevER shall be “center”.

    23. Countryfigure says

      You discuss about the children (“center” of “centre”?) by forgetting to ask papa for it. Centre is from the greek word Centro (the middle point of two or more points). So, grammatically the right one is centre.

    24. jeepsareforgirls says

      I wish I knew about this in elementary school, I could have said I was spelling things British.

    25. Josh King says

      My 2011 Oxford English Dictionary says ‘center’ is the US spelling of centre. Now to change all the auto-correct dictionaries…

    26. Krishanu Acharya says

      Some time I thought that if actual spelling of “centre” is “center” in US then why US english use “central” in place of “centeral”

    27. I was wondering,if American’s shouldn’t have just totally reformed English and applied consistent phonetic spelling.Perhaps instead of the word center,the new spelling could have been senter and so on.
      Also what is the origin of American speech,where words such as Basil and Rosotto,are pronounced with a “hard” vowel sound.Additionally the word cretin in America sounds like the word we have for a native of Crete.Are these Cretans or cretins?It’s ambiguous.

    28. I prefer to use centre…more popular

    29. Balashanmugham Umapathy says

      Hi Friends around world,
      I live in India and I use both the word “Centre” and “Center” at different contexts.
      For example:
      Mr.A is standing at the center of the convention hall at the Plaza Exhibition Centre.

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