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I'm trying to determine whether I should use the ~er suffix or the ~or suffix for a person who improvises. What I've learned on the web is that technically one should say "improvisor". The ~or suffix is for words of Latin origin, and apparently the word "improvisation" derives from the Latin improvidus.

However, "improviser" seems to be the more common of the two, and I have to admit, it feels more natural to me.

I've been using both, but I want to be consistent and settle on one.

Which one should I commit to using, and why?

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Related: What's the rule for adding -er vs. -or when nouning a verb and other questions linked from there. –  RegDwigнt May 26 '12 at 13:43

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Well, then English must feel more natural to you than Latin. The usual English agentive suffix spelling is -er, now pronounced /-ər/.

Improvise and improvisor, on the other hand, come originally from Latin im + prō + vīsus '(something) unforeseen' [English un + for(e) + seen -- the prefixes are blatantly cognate], and imprōvīsor is simply a regular Latin agentive form. With an -or. Which would have been pronounced by ancient Latin speakers, along with every other letter in the word; Latin spelling represents actual pronunciation (circa 0 CE); in this case it'd be pronounced [impro:'wi:sor].

Doesn't sound or look wright to me either.

Oh, and as for advice on which one you should commit to -- do what you please; that's what everybody else does. After all, it's your language, and your spelling.

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The advice you got on the web is worthless. There is no rule. Use whichever you are happier with - probably the more common, unless you want to be different.

It took me a long time before I got it into my head that when W.S.Gilbert wrote The Sorcerer in 1877, he spelt it that way, and not "The Sorceror", which I believed was "correct".

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