noun Chiefly British.




a visible incorporeal spirit, especially one of a terrifying nature; ghost; phantom; apparition.
some object or source of terror or dread: the specter of disease or famine.
Also especially British, spec·tre.

Origin of specter

1595–1605; < Latin spectrum; see spectrum

Synonyms for specter

1. shade. See ghost.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for spectre

Contemporary Examples of spectre

Historical Examples of spectre

  • Perhaps, to observe whether he had any spectre on his conscience.

    A Tale of Two Cities

    Charles Dickens

  • Get rid of that, and you have driven away the spectre of hunger for ever.


    Theodor Hertzka

  • The Shadow which lurks in every bridal lamp had become the Spectre of the bedchamber.

    Bride of the Mistletoe

    James Lane Allen

  • The frightfulness of his intention stood like a spectre before me.

    The Book of Khalid

    Ameen Rihani

  • He was afraid that Therese might bring the spectre of Camille with her.

    Therese Raquin

    Emile Zola

British Dictionary definitions for spectre


US specter


a ghost; phantom; apparition
a mental image of something unpleasant or menacingthe spectre of redundancy

Word Origin for spectre

C17: from Latin spectrum, from specere to look at
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for spectre

chiefly British English spelling of specter (q.v.); for spelling, see -re.



c.1600, from French spectre "an image, figure, ghost" (16c.), from Latin spectrum "appearance, vision, apparition" (see spectrum).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper