What is the most likely meaning of specter in the following sentence?

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

What is the most likely meaning of specter in the following sentence?
What 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

What is the most likely meaning of specter in the following sentence?
What 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:

What is the most likely meaning of specter in the following sentence?

British English:

What is the most likely meaning of specter in the following sentence?

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.


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.

G 9First Read: ComprehensionIdentify the choice that best answers the question.____1.According to “The Nuclear Tourist,” why do some people come back to the Chernobyl area to live?a.They want to return home despite the danger.b.They find the possibility of danger to be a thrill.c.They want to live in an area with few other people.d.They don’t believe the radiation levels can harm them.

This shows grade level based on the word's complexity.

/ ˈspɛk tər /

a visible incorporeal spirit, especially one of a terrifying nature; ghost; phantom; apparition.

some object or source of terror or dread: the specter of disease or famine.

See synonyms for specter on Thesaurus.com


Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!

Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.


Also especially British, spec·tre .

First recorded 1595–1605; from Latin spectrum “appearance, form”; see spectrum

spectacular, spectate, spectator, spectator pump, spectator sport, specter, spectinomycin, Spector, spectra, spectral, spectral line

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022

demon, shadow, apparition, appearance, phantasm, phantom, poltergeist, presence, spirit, spook, vision

  • In 2019, as annual visitor numbers topped 3 million for the first time, locals loudly lamented crowding, traffic and the specter of paradise lost.

  • The first night, my sims met friendly green specters, which are different from the normal ghost sims that were included in the base game.

  • Each time the specter arrived, he’d wordlessly express love and leave Evan with a sense of peace and calm.

  • The UK and EU have reached a trade agreement, avoiding the specter of a no-deal Brexit and ending years of extreme economic uncertainty on both sides.

  • He focused on the importance of strict election deadlines and raised the specter of “chaos” if the Democrats won this case.

  • Despite his efforts to live in the present, he seemed haunted by the specter of his father.

  • Against the Grain By Michael Specter, The New Yorker Should you go gluten-free?

  • The specter of wrongful convictions haunts the public officials involved.

  • The specter of this virus fills some of our most stalwart souls with unreasoning dread even when it is no immediate threat.

  • If 80,000 is the population of Danbury, 60 million is the population of California and Texas combined: no small specter, that.

  • The fatality of war was now hovering over them like a huge black specter.

    The Civil War Through the Camera|Henry W. (Henry William) Elson

  • Lightbody, overturning chair and table, sprang up—recoiling as one recoils before an avenging specter.

    Murder in Any Degree|Owen Johnson

  • Two of them, the latter and Moreau, saw the specter of French sovereignty beckoning them on.

    The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte|William Milligan Sloane

  • In the midst of their furious, living activity, the specter of death had suddenly appeared.

    The Substitute Prisoner|Max Marcin

  • Meanwhile a Northern politician brought on the specter of Napoleon for a different purpose.

    The Day of the Confederacy|Nathaniel W. Stephenson


cistvaennoun | [kist-vahyn ]SEE DEFINITION


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