The suffixes -ist, and -er are added to a base word to name a person who does an action: pitch, pitcher.

Some more examples:

carpenter      artist
painter        nationalist
banker         dentist

These all seem to be professions, but is there a conceptual difference between names ending with "-ist" and those ending with "-er"? Any history behind it?

  • Please go through previous related posts. This (and/ or similar) question(s) already dealt with on these pages earlier. To start with, see the box "RELATED" at the right hand bottom of this page. Especially, english.stackexchange.com/questions/112826/… – Kris Mar 27 '15 at 12:54
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    The French say charpentier, peintre, banquier, artiste, nationaliste, and dentiste, so ask them. We just borrowed the words. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 12:57
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    @Kris: that post does not answer this question. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 13:01
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    Looking at etymonline, in Old English, -ere was the suffix for this, in Classical Latin, -or was the suffix, and in Classical Greek, -istes was the suffix. Some words come straight from these sources (fisher, actor, dogmatist). But Late Latin borrowed -ist from Greek and started forming words with -ist. So the suffix depends on where and when the words were coined. (There is also some regularity in that -isms turn into -ists.) – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 13:31
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    @PeterShor: your last comment answers my question. Regarding your previous comment: I asked the French, but they told me to ask the Romans. – multigoodverse Mar 27 '15 at 13:32

From Wiktionary :


Added to words to form nouns denoting:

a person with a particular creative or academic role;

one who subscribes to a particular theological doctrine or religious denomination;

one who owns or manages something;

And :


(added to verbs) Person or thing that does an action indicated by the root verb; used to form an agent noun.

(added to a noun denoting an occupation) Person whose occupation is (the noun).

The etymology part says that :

  • -ist comes from Latin -ista from Ancient Greek -ιστής (-istḗs), from -ισ (-is) + agent suffix -τής (-tḗs)...

    • one who practises or believes.
  • -er comes from Middle English -er, -ere, from Old English -ere (agent suffix), from Proto-Germanic *-ārijaz (agent suffix). Usually thought to have been borrowed from Latin -ārius from Proto-Indo-European relational adjectival suffix *yo- (“belonging to”)...

    • Used to form adjectives from nouns or numerals.

    • (masculine only) -er; Used to form nouns denoting an agent of use, such as a dealer or artisan, from other nouns.

  • @Peter: Nor do I, so in a rare display of public-spiritedness I've just made my first ever edit to a Wiktionary page, and replaced it by subscribe. – FumbleFingers Mar 27 '15 at 14:23
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks and Congratulations ! ;) I read 'subscribe' on the first reading... damn those eyes – Yohann V. Mar 27 '15 at 14:24
  • It says -ist applies to "one who owns or manages something", but isn't the term for that, y'know... "owner"? Or "manager"? At best it's "administrator". I feel like that wiktionary article might need some editing... – Parthian Shot Mar 27 '15 at 22:35
  • You misunderstood, the definition. Examples with one who owns or manages something are capitalist; industrialist. We talk about nouns possessed not the fact of owning. (Someone who earn a capital -money or good- is a capitalist. Same for industry) – Yohann V. Mar 28 '15 at 9:38

This is helpful. Fwiw- IST is generally added to Latin rooted words. ER added to Anglo words. Absurd Example: dog is Anglo. Canine is Latin. This one is a Dog-er or a canine-ist Simplifying but generally single syllable words are more likely to be Anglo when they have a multi syllabic synonym. Cat/ feline.. car/ automobile etc. I originally thought there was a meaning difference between ER and IST but doesn’t seem to be a substantive difference. Happy to hear if opinions differ.

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    Do you have a source for this? – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 '18 at 21:27

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