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Language Arts

Minor vs Miner



The confusion between minor and miner is an example of an issue stemming from homophonic endings -er and -or. We’ll look at the ending situation in order to provide a larger context in which to better understand how to differentiate the two words.

The miner sang a song in a minor key.

-er

The ending -er is very popular. First, it is the comparative ending for many adjectives and adverbs, and in this role, it works like this:

green - >greener

pure - >purer

happy - >happier

You can see that there are some changes to accommodate the ending to the words. Nevertheless, in each case, the final two letters of the word are  -er.

The ending -er also is used to create nouns from verbs. You can think of it as the ending -er being added to the infinitive form without the particle to, like this:

mine - >miner A miner is someone who or something that mines.

The noun miner can refer to someone who or something that brings minerals or ore out of the earth or a soldier with special training in mining operations. Miner came into English through Middle English from Old French, and had its origins in the Vulgar Latin word mina which is related to the Welsh word for “ore,” mwyn. Miner is pronounced /MY nuhr/.

There are a large number of words in English that follow this pattern:

baker

biter

boater

caller

catcher

choker

diner

faker

fighter

floater

hacker

hitter

knitter

liner

maker

packer

preacher

quitter

sitter

taker

teacher

voter

watcher

whiner

In each case, the meaning is “a person or thing who (whatever the verb is).” A faker is someone who fakes things and a quitter is someone who quits.

Third, there are some other English words that fit neither pattern but for some etymological reason end in -er, like letter and litter.

-or

The ending -or is found less that -er, but has some similarity of use. It can be used to mean “someone or something that does (whatever the verb is).” Some examples are:

abductor

abettor

accelerator

conductor

conjuror

constrictor

elector

grantor

impersonator

interrupter

jailor

objector

operator

sailor

surveyor

There are other words that end in -or such as demeanor, valor, and pallor that do not fit this pattern. Minor is another such.

Minor can be an adjective, noun, or intransitive verb. As an adjective it can mean “lesser in size, amount, extent, or importance or rank.” It can also characterize someone who has not reached legal age or a secondary focus of academic studies in college. In music, it refers to certain patterns of music and scales and in this context, it is often contrasted with major scales and patterns.

As a noun, most of the meanings of minor are related to the adjectival meanings. It can mean “one who or that is lesser in comparison with others,” “one who has not reached legal age,” “a secondary area of study in college or one undertaking such a study,” “a musical key, scale, or interval that is minor,” and in sports, the plural form can be used to refer to the minor leagues of sports teams, most often baseball. As an intransitive verb, minor means “to undertake and/or pursue a secondary area of studies in college.” Minor comes from a Latin word meaning “smaller” or “inferior.” It is pronounced /MY nuhr/.

Differentiating Minor and Miner

Here are two different approaches that may help you to differentiate minor and miner. One is to use the following mnemonics. For miner, connect the word with the root mine: a miner mines in a mine. For minor, keep in mind the contrasting pair, major and minor. They both end in -or, and that lets you know which form to use for music, academic studies, and young people who have not yet reached the age of majority.

A second way to remember the differences between miner and minor is to put them in the context of other homophonic -er/-or pairs. Here are some key members of the group (not all meanings are given):

caster

person who casts; small wheel for moving furniture (also spelled castor)

castor

oily substance from a beaver, used in perfumery

censer

container for burning incense

censor

ancient Roman official; officer of the armed forces with the power to keep sensitive information out of publications

better

comparative of good and well

bettor

someone who places bets

canter

a moderate galloping pace

cantor

singer who leads congregations in a church or synagogue

miner

one who or that mines

minor

not major in reference to age, importance, scales, or academic study

prier

one who pries

prior

coming before; the head of a priory

razer

something that razes or tears down

razor

instrument for shaving

saver

someone who saves or preserves

savor

to appreciate with delight