Grammar 5 min read

Ax or Axe: What's the Difference and how to use Them Properly

Main Takeaways:

  • Ax and axe are both correct spellings.
  • American publications prefer ax, while British English-speaking countries prefer axe.
  • Ax or axe refers to a tool used for chopping or a musician’s instrument.
  • Several popular idioms contain the word axe, including “get the axe and axe to grind.”

Is it ax or axe? Never has one little letter caused so much self-doubt. While some grammar questions linger because of their complexity, this situation is the exact opposite. Here’s the last word on which spelling is correct and how you can ensure you’re using axe or ax properly each and every time.

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Could you say we’re cutting to the chase? Chopping down the myths? Helping you keep your mind sharp? We could because we’re punny like that.

Is it Ax or Axe?

Well, it’s both. There’s no need to rip out your hair while debating the merits of ax or axe. They’re simply two spellings of the same word! They’re pronounced the same, and they carry the same meaning—or meanings, actually, but more on that in a moment.

Confused on whether to use ax or axe in your writing? Don't be because both spellings are correct and refer to the same thing - a tool used for cutting wood.
Confused on whether to use ax or axe in your writing? Don't be because both spellings are correct and refer to the same thing – a tool used for cutting wood.
Choosing the right spelling depends on where you live and who you’re writing for. Ax is more often seen in American publications and other works by American writers. Axe is popular in Great Britain and some other English-speaking locales. However, both are accepted universally.

It’s also worth noting that both spellings look the same when used in their plural forms.

The store specializes in pocketknives and axes.
The roadie was in charge of all the musicians’ axes.

How do you Spell Ax the Tool?

What is an ax anyway? Both ax and axe can be used to refer to the tool lumberjacks use to chop down trees.

Theresa used the ax to break down the wood into smaller pieces that would fit in the fireplace.
Before he left for work, he sharpened the blade on his axe.

The first example features the spelling more commonly used in the United States. The second example uses the axe spelling more frequently found in British English.

Is Ax a Word?

Yes! Ax is very much a word, as is axe. The only difference between the two terms is that British English prefers the ‘e’ at the end, while American English skips it. Both can be used as a noun or a verb.

First, ax or axe refers to a long-handled chopping tool typically used to fell trees and cut wood.

Once he traded in the axe in favor of a chainsaw, he was able to help clear the meadow in record time.

You can also use ax or axe as a fun way to describe a musical instrument. This bit of slang is particularly appropriate when referring to a rock or jazz musician’s guitar.

After his solo, Slash pointed his axe at the screaming crowd and smiled.

Axe and ax can also be used as verbs. If you axe something, you might be canceling or ending it.

Due to funding cuts, the school axed all field trips and pizza parties for the foreseeable future.

We can also use ax or axe to describe the action of cutting something or using the tool called an axe.

Jamie axed the branches off the tree to prevent the kids from climbing too high.

What Does it Mean to “Get the Ax”? (Plus Some Other Fun Phrases)

It turns out that you can find ax or axe used quite frequently in idioms. Here are a few common ones:

Get the Axe: If someone or something is getting the ax, they’re getting fired or otherwise ended.

Once the second round of layoffs was announced, it was obvious the entire marketing team was getting the axe.

The same phrase could be used to indicate something that’s abruptly stopped, such as a performance.

The audience’s boos got louder and louder until the MC finally gave the suffering comedian the axe.

An Axe to Grind: Having an axe to grind means having a strong personal opinion and/or ulterior motive. The person in question is likely doing something for an underlying reason.

The school board members didn’t have an axe to grind; they just wanted the very best for the students.

It could also mean having a complaint that you want to discuss with the offender.

After the fifth time his wife left her dirty clothes on the bedroom floor, Bob had an axe to grind.

An Axe Hanging Over Something/Something

If something has an axe hanging over their head, they’re likely in danger of being fired.

Given his recent lackluster performance, Gabe could practically feel the axe hanging over his head.

The same phrase can be used to refer to something inanimate, such as a project.

We’re running out of money, and I can tell there’s an axe hanging over our home renovation plans.

The bottom line? The axe vs. ax debate isn’t that serious. Feel free to use either version. If you’re particularly concerned about aligning with local dialect, go with the spelling that’s more popular in your area.

Read More: Learnt vs. Learned: Which Word is Correct?

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Krista Grace Morris

Krista heads up Marketing and Content Creation here at INK. From Linguistics and History to puns and memes, she's interested in the systems we create to share our ideas with each other.

Comments (4)
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  1. Profile Image
    Ryan Pietrzak July 03 at 11:52 pm GMT

    Cool stuff! Great article!

    • Profile Image
      Ryan Pietrzak July 03 at 11:58 pm GMT

      I personally always used to say axe and I’m from USA haha. I guess I was doing it UK style haha. Must be the small percentage of english in me haha

      • Profile Image
        Krista Grace Morris Author July 04 at 2:57 pm GMT

        What a difference one letter makes, right?! At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal style. Language is fluid. Just because a word is traditionally used in one way doesn’t mean that’s set in stone. I think the overall point of language is to express yourself. So if you’re an “axe” kind of guy, go for it! 😀 Thanks again for stopping by.

    • Profile Image
      Krista Grace Morris Author July 04 at 2:54 pm GMT

      Thanks for reading, Ryan!

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