Spectre or Specter – What’s the Difference?

If you see a deathly apparition from beyond the grave, what should you call it? There are several options, including ghost, spirit, apparition, specter, and spectre.

Are specter and spectre the same word, though? These otherworldly beings are notorious for being stubborn and unpleasant, so you may not want to risk getting on one’s bad side by calling it a name it doesn’t like.

In reality, specter and spectre are two versions of the same word. Each version is used in a different language community. To learn more about when to use each spelling, continue reading.

What is the Difference Between Specter and Spectre?

In this post, I will compare specter vs. spectre. I will use each of these words in at least one example sentence, so you can see them in context.

Plus, I will show you a helpful memory tool that will allows you to more easily choose either specter or spectre.

When to Use Specter

Definition of specter definition and definition of spectre definitionWhat does specter mean? Specter is a noun. A specter is a ghost or ghostlike apparition. A specter often portends something unfortunate. The word is also used figuratively as a metaphor for something else: the specter of bankruptcy is a florid way to say impending bankruptcy, for instance.

Here are a few examples of specter in a sentence,

  • Coriolanus awoke to the horrid specter of his dead wife harassing him from beyond the world of dreams.
  • The specter of divorce loomed over the couple’s failing marriage.
  • Analysts also raised the specter of lower growth with Snap, given that the company’s user growth slowed last year. –The New York Times

Specter is essentially another word for ghost in everyday usage. One important difference is that a ghost typically serves as a reminder of something that happened in the past, while a specter portends something that will happen in the future.

When to Use Spectre

Define specter and define spectreWhat does spectre mean? Spectre is a spelling variation of the same word. Spectre is the predominant spelling in British English, while American writers generally prefer specter. Both words are nouns that mean a ghost or ghostlike apparition.

  • His warning comes days after the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, claimed a spectre of stagnation was haunting Europe. –The Guardian

As you can see from the charts below, which chart spectre vs. specter in English books since 1800, the preference for spectre and specter in British and American English, respectively, is quite pronounced.

American English:

spectre versus specter

British English:

How to spell specter

These charts aren’t 100 percent exhaustive in their scope, obviously, since they only look at books (not magazine or newspapers) published in English since 1800. Still, they clearly illustrate the spelling preferences for this noun in different language communities.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Specter and spectre are the same word. Which spelling you use depends on your intended audience.

  • Use specter with predominantly American audiences.
  • Use spectre for audiences composed primarily of British readers.

Both words rhyme with the masculine name Hector when pronounced aloud.

Spectre might seem overly affected to American audiences, while specter could strike British audiences as simplistic or uncultured. Thus, it is important to remember which word to use when.

Since spectre ends in an E, which is the same letter that can be found at the beginning of England, pairing spectre with British English should be a simple task.

Summary

Is it spectre or specter? Specter and spectre are spelling variants of a noun that means a ghost or ghostlike apparition.

  • American writers use specter.
  • British audiences use specter.

In other respects, the words are identical.

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