What's the difference between "center" and "centre"?

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Which one is correct: examination center or examination centre? What is the difference between center and centre? Is the difference only in spelling? What is the usage difference?

anish

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 1 258

Answers

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Originally, everyone spelled it centre, but because of Noah Webster's spelling reforms, people in the US started spelling it center, particularly in the last century. Although the revised spelling center has been adopted internationally to varying extents, centre is still more popular in most regions. But regardless of how you spell it, it's the same word, so it has the same meaning either way.

To get a clearer picture of which spellings are used in which countries, I turned to the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWbE). After searching for both terms, I took the raw data and created a chart of percentages using the formula center / (center + centre), which I sorted in descending order. Here's what I found:

Percent of the time center is used rather than centre, by region

  United States 92.2%
    Philippines 87.5%
       Pakistan 54.0%
      Hong Kong 51.8%
     Bangladesh 51.2%
          India 43.8%
       Tanzania 42.5%
      Singapore 40.7%
          Kenya 40.3%
        Jamaica 40.3%
        Nigeria 39.1%
       Malaysia 35.1%
          Ghana 34.4%
      Sri Lanka 33.8%
         Canada 33.0%
    New Zealand 24.2%
        Ireland 20.1%
   South Africa 19.8%
  Great Britain 19.4%
      Australia 18.1%

As you can see, center is more popular in the US, while centre is more popular in the UK. Many regions fall closer to the center of the spectrum, with India favoring centre only somewhat, and Hong Kong using both spellings in roughly equal proportions. Overall, centre is more popular in international English.

Which should you use? Well, if you're required to follow a style guide, use whichever spelling it suggests. If you have a choice, and you're writing in a region like the US or UK that strongly prefers one spelling, I suggest you use that spelling. (I don't think either spelling is ever "incorrect", but it's possible that the person grading your test might disagree with me!) Otherwise, you can spell it however you like.

Finally, I'd like to add one note about the percentages above. The tendencies at the top and bottom ends of the chart are likely to be stronger than the percentages indicate, primarily because spellings are usually respected in proper nouns regardless of region. If you talk about the Capital Centre, for example, you're likely to spell the word centre rather than center regardless of which region you're in. But since most uses of this word are not in proper nouns, the percentages should be roughly accurate, particularly toward the center of the list; it should be enough for you to decide how to spell the word.

snailplane

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 30 097

11+1 for "otherwise you can spell it however you like", although remember: be consistent and only use one or the other - never both! – Matt – 2013-10-21T10:40:35.507

3This even may be skewed by the CSS on pages, since center is an alignment choice. I'd be willing to bet that explains almost all of the UK's 18%. – Julian – 2013-10-21T11:35:27.827

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@Julian I'm afraid not; that's not how the GloWbE corpus was compiled. In fact, I'm unable to find any examples at all that fit the pattern you suggest; feel free to look for yourself.

– snailplane – 2013-10-21T11:49:50.183

3"it has the same meaning either way" - In Canada, the two words have different meanings. centre is a place where people congregate, e.g. shopping centre, town centre (building). center is the central point of something, e.g. center of a graph, center of a map, etc... – noahnu – 2016-08-10T15:42:33.037

4Center would definitely be incorrect in the UK (i.e. it would be marked as an incorrect spelling by any experienced writer, teacher or editor). – mikera – 2013-10-22T15:59:12.057

As @noahnu said. In British English the two words have different meanings. – Will Calderwood – 2017-02-17T10:18:07.313

@Matt the correct answer is actually both, in British English as others have pointed out, it depends on context. They do not mean the same thing. – ewanm89 – 2018-06-21T10:24:19.047

"the percentages should be roughly accurate, particularly toward the center of the list" (emphasis mine) – Code-Apprentice – 2018-06-25T22:33:52.687

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Centre is correct in international and British English.

Center is an alternative spelling used mainly in American English.

The meaning is the same.

mikera

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 359

That means Centre is the right word to choose? – anish – 2013-10-22T07:27:27.023

2@anish - Generally yes, unless you are writing in US English. – mikera – 2013-10-22T15:59:54.013

Native speakers of US also use center? – anish – 2013-10-23T04:21:46.750

Why is centre wrong internationally? – Pacerier – 2014-04-14T18:57:47.993

2Centre is correct everywhere, except in America and to most people in the Philippines (it is a former US territory). – Bryant Donner – 2014-04-23T16:40:04.097

3Native speakers of American English use "center". The only common usage of "centre" in American English is as an affectation in the names of shopping centers and buildings that want to seem snooty, but usually fail. – Jasper – 2015-02-10T17:09:57.037

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I'm Australian, so the following refers to British/Australian/New Zealand spelling and also for most Commonwealth (ex-British Empire) countries too. The spelling of these two words is different depending on it's meaning. If it is referring to the middle of something, such as the middle of a circle or in fact any shape, then the spelling is CENTER. An example is "I walked to the center of the circle". If the word is referring to an organisation or a building, then it's spelt as "CENTRE". An example would be "I started my new job at the Australian Centre for International Relations" or another example would be "the music score was deposited at the University Music Centre".

As for "meter" vs "metre" the spelling is also different depending on what it's referring to. An instrument of measurement is spelt "METER" - example: the gas meter or the water meter. If it's referring to distance it's "METRE" - example: "the 100 metre sprint" or "the steel pipe was 20 centimetres long". Also the metric measurement of volume is spelt "LITRE". The United States spells it as "liter", everybody else (I believe) spells it as "litre". In the US the spelling for both "meter / metre" is just "meter". I hope this is of some help!

NitroNick

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 177

2I walked to the center of shopping centre. – Will Calderwood – 2017-02-17T10:16:08.760

It surprises me how many people assume them both to have the same meaning. In any language there is a difference in meaning between the positioning of something and the a designated area of activity. – captain_G – 2017-09-12T11:39:12.897

1This is completely incorrect about centre/center. In Brit/Aust/NZ English, the middle of a thing is centre, same as the building. – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica – 2018-10-12T12:15:20.467

As a Briton, I can tell you that we most certainly do not use 'center' to refer to the centre of anything. We use 'centre' and no other spelling. However, 'meter' is still used for a measuring instrument, that much is true. See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metre#Spelling

– Pharap – 2020-03-18T00:20:10.507

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I don't see any difference between the two forms except the spelling. Center is commonly regarded as an American spelling, whereas in Britain, people tend to spell it as centre. This is similar to some words like meter and metre, color and colour, etc.

dennylv

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 4 361

7Though note that "metre" is only "re" for the unit of length. A measuring device such as a "gas meter" is "er" in Britain, Canada and the US. – Eric Lippert – 2013-10-21T16:00:17.273

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The spelling centre is standard in UK English. In Canada it is typical in proper names, e.g. Toronto Centre for the Arts, but "center" is also commonly used otherwise, e.g. shopping center, center of town. Both spellings can be encountered even in the same text, e.g. in NHL hockey where there are many Canadian and US teams, reference might be made to the "center" forward position and a "centre" where a game is played.

From Wiktionary.

Sheharyar

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

Reputation: 41

The other answers are correct, this answer isn't true in general. However I've seen this explanation for Canadian english specifically. (It could well be that the same applies to other countries shown as mixed usage). Googling found a Wikitionary entry (which is possibly where I saw this mentioned before). http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/center#Usage_notes

– sourcejedi – 2014-05-28T21:13:39.590

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They are two ways to spell the same thing:

centre is the UK spelling for center.

center is the US spelling for centre.

Source: Cmabridge dictionary.

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Judicious Allure

Posted 2013-10-21T06:08:49.100

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