Spelling Tips: Meter vs. Metre
  • 3-minute read
  • 5th July 2021

Spelling Tips: Meter vs. Metre

The words “meter” and “metre” sound the same, but only “meter” is used in American English. So, what does “meter” mean? And will you ever need to use “metre”? Check out our guide to see how to use these spellings in your writing.

Meter in American English

In American English, “meter” is a noun with several meanings. One is to refer to a metric unit of measurement of length equal to 100 centimeters:

The wall around the fortress was four meters high.

At 1.97 meters, my cousin Jim is an unusually tall man. 

“Meter” can also refer to a variety of tools used to measure and record a quantity or rate of something, such as an electricity meter or a gas meter: 

We let the electrician into the house so he could read the electricity meter.

The taxi driver kept the meter running while Jane jumped out of the car.

Sometimes, we use “meter” as a suffix in the names of measuring instruments. For example, it’s used in “thermometer” (an instrument used to measure temperature) and “odometer” (an instrument used to measure distance traveled by a vehicle):

The odometer on my bicycle told me that I had traveled 112 miles!

“Meter” can also refer to the rhythmic structure within a poem. Typically, this relates to the number of syllables within each line and how those syllables are stressed:

The meter of the poem stresses every other syllable in each line.

Poetic metre is often discussed in terms of “feet,” but these poetic feet shouldn’t be confused with the imperial unit of measurement!

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Meter and Metre in British English

In British English (and similar dialects, such as Australian English), the spelling for the unit of measurement and the poetic concept is “metre”:

At 1.97 metres, my cousin Jim is an unusually tall man. 

Our homework is to write a poem with a metre of five feet and ten syllables.

This follows a common spelling difference between American English and other English dialects. We see the same in words like “center” and “theater,” which use “-er” in place of the “-re” endings found in the original French terms. In British English, by comparison, “centre” and “theatre” are standard.

As such, the spelling “metre” is never correct in American English.

British English and other English dialects, however, do use the spelling “meter” to refer to measuring instruments. For instance:

We let the electrician into the house so he could read the electricity meter.

The odometer on my bicycle told me that I had traveled 112 miles!

This is because these words were first coined in the US, then later adopted in other English dialects, so the US spellings have become standard.

Summary: Meter or Metre?

Although these two words sound the same, they can have different meanings depending on the context and English dialect:

  • In American English, meter is standard for all usages, including the unit of measurement, the rhythmic structure of a poem, and measuring instruments.
  • In other English dialects, metre is the standard spelling for the unit of measurement and poetic concept. However, “meter” is still correct in names of measuring instruments (e.g. “gas meter,” “odometer”).

Hopefully, it should now be clear how to use “meter” and “metre” in your writing. However, if you would like help to check your documents are error free, why not try our proofreading service? Sign up today for a free trial to find out more.

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