Suffixes -or vs. -er (When to Use Each)

There is a difference between ending verbs with “-or” and “-er” to create an agent noun. But do you know what that difference is?

Luckily, this article will explain why there are two different suffixes for the same purpose.

Suffixes -or vs. -er

You should end a word with “-or” if it is of Latin origin. It is rare, though there are examples such as “meditate” and “meditator.” You should almost always end a verb with “-er” to turn it into an agent noun to follow English rules. For example, “drive” into “driver.”

Here are two examples showing you how the “-or” ending might appear:

  • Have you spoken to the actor lately? They might be able to help you.
  • You should let your tutor know that you can’t make it to your lesson this week.

And here are two examples showing you more about the “-er” suffix:

  • What are you going to do about the cooker, though? It hasn’t worked for ages!
  • I’m a reader, and I’ve never found a book that I didn’t love.

Are you looking for a tip to help? Remember this simple tip when you’re next stuck:

If you can change a word to have “-ion” at the end of it, then it needs the “-or” ending.

  • Correct: Actor / Action
  • Correct: Meditator / Meditation
  • Incorrect: Driver / Drivion
  • Incorrect: Timer / Timion

Otherwise, you must always use the “-er” ending.

In the rest of the article, you can learn more about when to use each suffix. We’ll also show you some common words ending in “-er” and “or.”

When to Use -er

You’ll find that “-er” is the most common suffix for agent nouns in English. After all, you will almost always add “-er” at the end of a verb to create a noun.

Check out some examples to show you when it appears:

  • I’m not a runner, but I can move fast! Why don’t you watch what I can do?
  • I’ll still be the keeper for this case. Let me know if I need to do anything else, though.

There isn’t much more to say about “-er” suffix nouns. Most of it comes down to learning which words end with an “-er” and practicing them until you nail them.

If in doubt, you should generally use the “-er” ending. It’s much more likely to be correct than the “-or” ending.

So, here is a selection of ten common words you might find with the “-er” suffix:

  • Reader
  • Cooker
  • Driver
  • Computer
  • Runner
  • Toaster
  • Swimmer
  • Looker
  • Keeper
  • Trumpeter

When to Use -or

You might not come across “-or” all that often. It appears at the end of Latin words.

Some Latin words are still present in modern-day English, and you need to learn them to understand when “-or” makes sense.

Here are some examples to help you:

  • I’m the negotiator, and I’m here to figure out what we need to do next.
  • So, why is the janitor not cleaning the floors as we speak?

Generally, one of the easiest ways to know whether you’re dealing with a Latin word is to add an “-ion” to the end of the root word.

For example, you could turn “negotiate” into “negotiation.” Therefore, “negotiate” would also have an “-or” ending.

The ten most common uses of “-or” at the end of a noun are:

  • Actor
  • Bailor
  • Janitor
  • Tutor
  • Meditator
  • Author
  • Donor
  • Realtor
  • Sculptor
  • Negotiator