Nouns ending in -er, -or, and -ar

Nouns ending in -er

This ending is the most common. It's usually added to verbs to make nouns with the meaning ‘a person or thing that does something’, for example: builder, farmer, sprinkler, or beeper.

The -er ending can also be used to form nouns meaning:

  • ‘a person or thing that has a particular quality or form’, for example: double-decker, two-wheeler, skyscraper
  • ‘a person belonging to a particular place or group’, e.g. foreigner, prisoner
  • ‘a person concerned with a particular thing', e.g. jeweller, lawyer, treasurer, mariner

Nouns ending in -or

Like -er, the ending -or is added to verbs to make nouns meaning ‘a person or thing that does something’, e.g. investigator, decorator, escalator, ventilator.

There are no hard and fast rules as to when these nouns have an -or ending and when they are written -er, but what we can say is that there are fewer such words ending in -or! Here's a list of some of the most important:

accelerator

councillor

investigator

projector

actor

counsellor

investor

protector

administrator

decorator

legislator

radiator

auditor

dictator

mediator

refrigerator

calculator

director

narrator

sailor

collector

editor

navigator

spectator

commentator

educator

objector

supervisor

competitor

elevator

operator

surveyor

conductor

escalator

oppressor

survivor

conqueror

governor

orator

translator

conspirator

indicator

perpetrator

vendor

constructor

inspector

processor

ventilator

contractor

inventor

professor

visitor

There's a smaller group of nouns ending in -or that don't come from verbs:

ambassador

chancellor

janitor

solicitor

ancestor

creditor

major

sponsor

author

debtor

mayor

successor

aviator

doctor

pastor

suitor

bachelor

emperor

predecessor

tailor

benefactor

equator

proprietor

tenor

captor

impostor

rector

tractor

censor

jailor

senator

victor

Some nouns can be spelled with either an -er or an -or ending, for example adviser/advisor, propeller/propellor, and converter/convertor. Always check in a dictionary if you aren't sure.

Nouns ending in -ar

This ending is used in a few well-known words to mean ‘a person who does something’. Some of these nouns are related to verbs (e.g. beggar, burglar, liar) but others are not (e.g. vicar, bursar, scholar).

The -ar ending is also found in some other common nouns:

altar

cellar

guitar

pillar

calendar

collar

hangar

vinegar

caterpillar

dollar

mortar

cedar

grammar

nectar


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Grammar and usage