Do somber and sombre have the same meaning? And if so, why are there two different spellings for the same word? If these questions are niggling away at you, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn how to correctly use somber and sombre in your writing.
What Does Somber Mean?
Somber is an adjective with two meanings:
- Dark or gloomy in tone or color
- Serious or melancholy
Here are some examples:
I am looking for a somber black suit.
The sky was a very somber gray.
The physician had a somber tone of voice.
September 11 is a somber date in US history.
Somber or Sombre: American vs. British English
So, what does sombre mean? Just the same as somber! The only difference is that somber (spelled with an “-er”) is the standard American spelling, while sombre (spelled with an “-re”) is the correct spelling in British English:
The congregation behaved in a sombre manner.
I decided to dress in muted, sombre colours.
The same goes for Australian English, Canadian English, and other similar dialects.
So, if you use American English, you should spell somber with an “-er,” and if you write in British English (or other similar dialects), you should spell it sombre with an “-re.”
American English: The third movement of the string quartet was slow-paced and somber.
British English: The third movement of the string quartet was slow-paced and sombre.
American English: The somber view was accentuated by dark clouds overhead.
British English: The sombre view was accentuated by dark clouds overhead.
One way to remember this rule is that the “-er” at the end of somber mirrors the “-er” in American. You can also remember that somber is the standard spelling in American English and sombre in British English by recalling the other words of French origin that end in “-er” in American English, such as center, theater, or meter, which are spelled with the original “-re” in British English (centre, theatre, metre).
Summary: Somber or Sombre?
Somber and sombre have the same meaning, but there is an important difference:
● Somber (with an “-er”) is the standard spelling in American English.
● Sombre (with an “-re”) is the standard spelling in British English.
You can remember this by recalling the “-er” in American.
Hopefully, this blog post has helped you use somber and sombre correctly. If you need any more assistance in fine-tuning your English, we’re available 24/7 to proofread your writing. Why not upload a trial document for free?