Spelling differences between American and British English have confused writers for centuries.
Center and centre exemplify this confusion. Like many similar words, centre is the older term; it later became Americanized as center during a period of rapid linguistic evolution as the United States expanded its influence.
Depending on your audience, there are specific situations when either centre or center might be more appropriate.
What is the Difference Between Center and Centre?
In this post, I will compare center vs. centre. I will provide at least one example sentence for each of these spellings.
Plus, I will demonstrate the use of a mnemonic device that can help you remember whether you should use center or centre, depending on your audience.
When to Use Center
What does center mean? Center can be a noun or a verb.
As a noun, center sometimes refers to the exact middle of something, like in the examples below,
- At the center of my chocolate piece was a delicious, candied cherry.
Other times, it refers to a type of organization, like the Pew Research Center. It can also refer to a building or facility used for a certain activity, like the athletic center on a college campus, or the Lloyd Center shopping mall.
Here are a few examples,
- Kara works at the Center for Disease Control, but she cannot tell us the nature of her work.
- Kevin’s family founded the Autism Center when they could not find the services their son required using existing resources.
- For decades, call centers have answered requests based simply on the order they were received: First in, first served. –The Wall Street Journal
As a verb, center means to position something in the middle of a predetermined area, to find a middle, or to revolve around a main topic.
Here are some examples,
- Center your drill bit by running it backwards on top of the hole marker.
- Before you can practice yoga effectively, you must center yourself in the present moment.
- Questions of animal ethics center around definitions of personhood.
When to Use Centre
What does centre mean/ Centre is another spelling of the same word. While center is standard in American English, centre is the accepted term in British English.
- Tesco is shutting two of its UK distribution centres in a move that will create more than 1,000 redundancies at the supermarket chain. –The Telegraph
Reference the graphs below for the relative usage of these terms in both of these language communities.
As you can see, Americans prefer center by a wide margin. The opposite holds true for British writers:
These graphs aren’t scientifically precise, since they only look at print sources written in English since the dawn of the 18th century. Still, they clearly illustrate a widespread usage trend.
Trick to Remember the Difference
You should choose centre for British audiences, and center for American audiences. If you remember that centre is spelled with the letter sequence re, like Reader’s Corner in Essex, U.K., you can easily remember to reserve centre for predominantly British audiences.
Is it center or centre? Center and centre are two spellings of the same word, which has a variety of meanings as both a noun and a verb.
- Center is the American spelling
- Centre is the British spelling.
Since centre shares the letter sequence re with Reader’s Corner in the U.K., it should be easy to reserve centre for British audiences.
If ever you can’t remember which version of the word is which, you can always reread this article for a quick refresher.