I've long been familiar with the UK spellings 'centre' and 'theatre' as compared with US 'center' and 'theater,' but I recently encountered (in a book by a British author) the spelling 'centring' for the first time. I first assumed that it was a typo for 'centering,' but I looked in my big blue British dictionary and found that the verb 'centre' does in fact have the participle 'centring' in the UK.

UK pronunciation being unrhotic, 'centre' is pronounced '[email protected],' where @ stands for the sound of 'o' in 'bacon.' The spelling 'centre' makes me want to say '[email protected],' and that feeling is reinforced by seeing 'centring' pronounced 'sentring.'
There are lots of words ending in '-er' in a British dictionary that are pronounced as they are spelled. I wonder what quirk of language evolution led to the spellings 'centre' and 'theatre' having the last two letters apparently reversed.
Why 'renter' but 'centre'? If 'centre,' why not 'carpentre' instead of 'carpenter'? If 'theatre,' why not 'debatre' instead of 'debater'?
Egbert White, > "I love Americans, but not when they try Planet Earth > to talk French. What a blessing it is that
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Why 'renter' but 'centre'? If 'centre,' why not 'carpentre' instead of 'carpenter'? If 'theatre,' why not 'debatre' instead of 'debater'?

In all your examples, -er always means "one who" rents, carpents (?), or debates. See also cooper, archer, walker, mariner, dancer, etc. The -er can also mean "that which" as in pusher, toaster, etc.

As for how the -re version arose for non-one-who-or-that-which words, someone from the eastern shore will have to respond.

John Varela
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Why 'renter' but 'centre'? If 'centre,' why not 'carpentre' instead of 'carpenter'? If 'theatre,' why not 'debatre' instead of 'debater'?

I see your problem, but not your logic:
It's about word origins. In English English, rent (vb) may lead to 'renter' (but not often!), debate (vb) may lead to debater.

Centre, spectre, (etc) and theatre are not directly derived from verbs, so there's no reason they should follow that rule.

Andrew
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As for how the -re version arose for non-one-who-or-that-which words, someone from the eastern shore will have to respond.

The eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, that is. Greek -ron became Latin -rum, which in turn became French -re.
¬R
Why 'renter' but 'centre'? If 'centre,' why not 'carpentre' instead of 'carpenter'? If 'theatre,' why not 'debatre' instead of 'debater'?

I see your problem, but not your logic: It's about word origins. In English English, rent (vb) may lead to ... Centre, spectre, (etc) and theatre are not directly derived from verbs, so there's no reason they should follow that rule.

Another way to say what you're saying is to say that 'renter' is an agent-noun, while 'centre' is not. But how about 'banister,' 'matter,' 'alabaster,' 'Alma Mater,' and a great number of other '-ter' nouns that are not agent-nouns? I don't doubt the '-tre' thing can be explained with etymology, but your way of doing so seems to be faulty.

Egbert White, > "I love Americans, but not when they try Planet Earth > to talk French. What a blessing it is that
The eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, that is.

Oops, too much second-guessing: I meant Adriatic.

¬R "MY FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER WON'T STOP BLEEEEEEING!" Poot Rootbeer
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Another way to say what you're saying is to say that 'renter' is an agent-noun, while 'centre' is not. But ... don't doubt the '-tre' thing can be explained with etymology, but your way of doing so seems to be faulty.

In what way?
You've agreed (I think), that debater and centre may have different origins, and thus different reasons for their spelling.
Why is it so hard to agree that 'alabaster' and centre, matter and theatre, bannister and spectre may also have different origins.

Can you suggest one reason (other than convenience), why these words should all end the same?
Do US English speakers spell alabatre, banistre and alma matre?
Andrew
http://www.wordskit.com /
http://www.flayme.com /
"If A is success in life, then A = x + y + z.
Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut." ~ Albert Einstein
Another way to say what you're saying is to say ... but your way of doing so seems to be faulty.

In what way?

You said earlier
It's about word origins. In English English, rent (vb) may lead to 'renter' (but not often!), debate (vb) may lead to debater. Centre, spectre, (etc) and theatre are not directly derived from verbs, so there's no reason they should follow that rule.

Your analysis was restricted to the question of whether or not a word is an agent-noun (a noun derived from a verb and denoting the performer of the action denoted by the verb). That analysis was faulty in that it failed to take into account many British nouns that end in '-ter' and are not agent-nouns.
You've agreed (I think), that debater and centre may have different origins, and thus different reasons for their spelling. Why is it so hard to agree that 'alabaster' and centre, matter and theatre, bannister and spectre may also have different origins.

It's not hard at all, but you didn't say anything about nouns ending in '-ter' that are not agent-nouns. That was what I had in mind when I said that I don't doubt that the reason for the '-tre' endings can be explained by etymology. Your explanation based on whether or not a word is an agent-noun failed because it didn't go far enough. It suggested that the agent-noun question was the only thing to be considered.
Can you suggest one reason (other than convenience), why these words should all end the same?

Consistency, wherever it's convenient to achieve, is a worthwhile goal.
Also, while the great majority of native English speakers, the 250 or so million in America, use more sensible spellings than the 50 million or so in England do, it seems strange that the British don't adopt the sensible spellings.
One guru has suggested that the reason may be that although the British must see the desirability of the more straightforward spellings, they don't adopt them for the simple reason that they don't want to admit that they are following the lead of the Americans.
Egbert White, > "I love Americans, but not when they try Planet Earth > to talk French. What a blessing it is that
Why 'renter' but 'centre'? If 'centre,' why not 'carpentre' instead of 'carpenter'? If 'theatre,' why not 'debatre' instead of 'debater'?

I see your problem, but not your logic: It's about word origins. In English English, rent (vb) may lead to ... Centre, spectre, (etc) and theatre are not directly derived from verbs, so there's no reason they should follow that rule.

Centre, spectre and theatre are all lifted directly from the French and spelled in BrE as in French (apart from ignoring the accents in théâtre about the only common English word that sometimes keeps its accent is café). Words formed by adding -er to a verb are not necessarily based on French roots and even if they are they are likely to have been borrowed as verbs and had the -er added after they were already English.

I think the OP is looking for logic in a place where it's not likely to be found. He might as well ask why we add -er to convert read into reader, but an identically pronounced -or to convert sail into sailor. That's just the way it is, and it's not a difference between AmE and BrE.

athel
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