When do we use the suffixes -er and -or?


The suffixes -or and -er are agent noun suffixes, they are added to the end of a verb to create a noun. This noun that is formed, is a person or a thing that does an action, belongs to a certain group or specialises in a certain topic.
For example:

  • The jeweller sells jewellery.
  • The decorator decorates homes.
  • The prisoner goes to prison.
  • The builder builds a new house.
  • The investigator investigates criminal activity.

As you can see, some nouns end with -er and other nouns end with -or. What we are going to learn today is, why? How do we choose between -er and -or? Is there any useful rule we can learn?
You have probably noticed that there a lot more nouns ending with -er rather than -or. This is because the suffix -er is used more often in English compared to the suffix -or.
We can only add the suffix -or to words derived from Latin, which limits the use of -or in modern day English. Unfortunately, Latin-derived words are not that noticeably different from other words in English. Therefore, I would recommend paying close attention to words that end in -or and memorise the most commonly used ones in English.
Below is a list of the most common nouns ending with the suffix -or, in English:

  • director
  • educator
  • auditor
  • author
  • narrator
  • actor
  • commentator
  • professor
  • translator
  • editor
  • survivor
  • inventor
  • conductor
  • narrator
  • counsellor
  • investigator
  • perpetrator
  • visitor
  • operator
  • spectator
  • collector

A great way to memorise the spelling of these words is to practice writing example sentences. Take three or four words each day and write two or three sentences using each word. The more often you practice using the new vocabulary, the more likely you are to memorise the new words and the spelling.
Also, and this is very important, whenever you come across a word ending in -or, take note of it! Make a list of the words and keep coming back to them, this will help you in the future when trying to decide between the prefix -or and the prefix   -er.

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Surekha Kapoor
Surekha Kapoor
2 years ago

Thanks, needed this.