As noted in a comment discussion to Is “spaced by 1 meter” correct English:

  • A: "[if] you are measuring in SI units and not using the size of your gas or electric meter as a unit of length, then the word is METRE [rather than METER]."

  • B: "Metre vs meter is British English vs American English"

  • C: "I don't see any evidence that metre is the "international standard""


The suggestion above, is that "Meter" is simply the AmE spelling and "Metre" is the BrE spelling. However, comment A and C conflict - about whether there is or is not an international standard which defines the SI term.


In what contexts should the spelling "Meter" be preferred, and in which contexts should "Metre" be preferred?

In UK English there is a distinct difference between metre & meter.

Metre is a unit of length.

enter image description here

Meter is a 'measuring device' such as a gas or electricity meter.

enter image description here

To torture the linked question somewhat:

The two meters are set one metre apart.

Further example

I used the speedometer in my car to judge when we had travelled a kilometre.

In US English the two equate to the same thing. One is merely a 'foreign spelling' of the other.
You would have to take the meaning from context.

  • 3
    +1, Thanks for undeleting this. It adds really valuable information on the other uses of meter in BrE and I think its super important for ELL. I'm not going to accept either answer, but I feel together they give a really complete picture for language learners. – Bilkokuya Aug 17 at 20:24

Prefer "Meter" in AmE contexts.

Use "Metre" in BrE contexts and any international-facing technical writing.


Currently, the two spellings are used in the following ways:

  • Metre (British English and BIPM)

  • Meter (American English)


The BIPM (International Bureau of Weights and Measures) is an international organisation that determines the standard names and prefixes for SI (International System of Units) measurements.

It was created by the Metre Convention whose signatories include the USA. The purpose was to standardise units and their names for future scientific work.

As such, any technical text directed at an international audience should use the terms defined by the BIPM - so there is no confusion across languages. That is, any work expected to be seen outside of the USA should preferably use the spelling metre.

This spelling is also the standard spelling within the United Kingdom. As such, even non-international texts should stick to this spelling within the United Kingdom.


In purely AmE contexts (such as work that will only be seen within the United States of America), or non-technical work within AmE contexts - the spelling with the er, meter, is preferrable.

This is the most common spelling in these contexts, and will avoid confusion.


It is worth noting from an ELL perspective however, that the spelling meter is unlikely to ever cause confusion, even in a BrE context. It is preferrable to stick to the norms where possible, but outside of technical writing, the choice of spelling for this word should be seen as a minor issue.

  • 1
    This isn't just for the SI unit either. A musical metre/meter has the same spelling with the same BrE/AmE difference. – Mast Aug 17 at 13:41
  • And for that matter, Liter and Litre. Liter is the American English spelling, Litre just about everyone else. It has the added complication that it is abbreviated "L" in English countries and "l" (lower case L) in most other countries, often in script form to make sure that it doesn't look like a "1" (one). Canada goes either way, with L in English and the lower case version in French. – Flydog57 Aug 17 at 21:05
  • From my experience in the northwest US, if you spell it metre, we'll just assume you're Canadian. – TemporalWolf Aug 17 at 21:33
  • The same American-vs.-British difference occurs in "theater" vs. "theatre", in "meager" vs. "meagre", and probably in lots of other words that I'm not remembering right now. – Andreas Blass Aug 18 at 1:09
  • 5
    This is only half of the answer. A meter, meaning any kind of measuring device, is spelt the same in UK English and US English. The spelling metre is only used outside USA, and only for the unit of length (just over 39 inches), and in the sense of the rhythmic pattern in music and poetry. The answer by Tetsujin addresses this distinction nicely. – Dawood ibn Kareem Aug 18 at 5:36

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.