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.

76 thoughts on “Center vs. Centre”

  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”.

    • 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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

    • 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? :)

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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”.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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?

      • 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,

        • “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.

    • “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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    • 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?

  12. 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 :-(

  13. 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.

      • 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.”

  14. 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.

    • 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)

          • “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.

  15. 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.

    • 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.

  16. 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”.

  17. 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.

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

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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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