Much like color and colour or favorite and favourite, center and centre mean the same thing. British English just favors (or favours) the “-tre” spelling. American English uses “-ter”. There’s no correct spelling, since both versions may be used. What you might not know is that the “-ter” variant actually predates the modern British spelling. Believe it or not, Shakespeare, although arguably one of the world’s most famous Brits, preferred to spell the word with “-ter”.
“Take this from this; if this be otherwise,
If Circumstances leade me, I will finde
Where truth is hid, though it were hid indeede
Within the Center.”
—Hamlet, William Shakespeare
If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, we would imagine it’d be hard for even the most fervent anglophile to find fault with the American spelling. As it happens, most of the former British colonies have retained the U.K. English spelling. Australian English and Canadian English mostly use “centre,” as do many other English dialects around the globe.
In heated discussions on grammar forums, you’ll sometimes see people debating regional distinctions in how to best apply spellings at the present moment. For instance, some grammar fanatics in Canada insist that a centre is a gathering place, whereas a center is a middle point. One commenter, Daniel Beijerling, writes, “The idea that the two different spellings have two separate meanings is something that has apparently developed outside of the U.K.” To that end, it will be interesting to see how the English language continues to evolve, especially if regional preferences keep diverging.
No matter how you decide to spell the word, try to be consistent. Within the same piece of writing, stick to one preferred spelling and only deviate from that spelling for a good reason. For example, you might choose to use center, except when you mention a proper name, like Redman’s Distribution Centre. Most importantly, remember that the words “centered” and “centering” should be spelled differently, depending on which variant you choose to use.
centre | centred | centring
center | centered | centering
Here are a few example sentences:
- He centred the painting in the centre of the wall.
- They’re centering the activities in the center of town.
- She played centre field, which made her the centre of attention.