Grammar 5 min read

Grey or Gray: One Color, Two Spellings

Main Takeaways:

  • Whether you use grey or gray likely depends on where you live.
  • Gray is the more common spelling in American English, while grey is the preferred spelling in British and Canadian English.
  • Grey (or gray) is an achromatic color that exists between white and black.
  • Proper names and words such as greyhound don’t follow country-specific spelling rules.
  • Ultimately, most places accept either grey or gray as an appropriate spelling.

If you’re planning a day at the beach, you might be dismayed to wake up to a gray, rainy sky. Or maybe that’s a grey, rainy sky? Explore the reasons for the differences in vowels, and learn when to use grey or gray in this comprehensive guide to this colorless color.

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Grey Vs. Gray: Two Spellings, One Color

Regardless of which spelling you choose, gray and grey refer to a neutral color that falls between white and black. Both spellings can be used as nouns, adjectives, or verbs, and both are pronounced exactly the same.

Noun: Henrietta picked grey/gray for the exterior color of the house since it reminded her of New England.
Adjective: Niles looked at the grey/gray sky and knew it would rain soon.
Verb: Sometimes, he felt as if his hair grayed/greyed overnight.
Grey or gray: Both
Both “grey” and “gray” pertain to the same color. “Grey” is mostly used by American English users, while British English users prefer to spell it as “gray.”

American Vs. British English

Like many words, the difference in spelling between gray and grey has regional rather than practical origins. In American English, gray is the preferred spelling. In British and Canadian English, grey is the preferred spelling. Neither is technically incorrect.

Is Canada Grey or Gray?

In Canada, the more common spelling of the color—or colour, as the case may be—is grey. However, Canadians are generally flexible in their use of British and American spellings. Either grey or gray may be considered acceptable, depending on the context.

Why is Grey Spelled Two Different Ways?

Many words have different spellings in American and British English, and the truth is, there’s no single fact to blame for that. We can identify factors that have contributed to these differences, however.

Dictionaries and their creators have played a large role in spelling discrepancies. Noah Webster, for instance, believed language was one way Americans could assert their independence from Great Britain. He also believed that the spelling of words should mimic their pronunciation. Because of that, words like favor, sulfur, and aluminum took on their simpler American spellings.

What Color Does Grey Mean?

Greyor gray—is known as an achromatic color, which means that it’s essentially colorless. If a colorless color seems like an oxymoron, well, it is—literally. More specifically, grey is a color that lacks hue. Meaning, it exists on the line between white and black.

Hues include:

  • red
  • blue
  • orange
  • green
  • yellow
  • purple

How to Spell it Right Every Time

If you think it’s impossible to remember whether to use grey or gray, the good news is you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a simple trick for remembering which vowel to use.

Imagine the A in gray stands for America, since gray is the standard American spelling.

Imagine the E in grey stands for England since grey is the British English spelling.

By remembering this simple mnemonic device, you can easily remember which spelling belongs to which countries.

Gray Vs. Grey: It Isn’t Black and White

It’s true that gray is more common in American English, and grey is more common in British and Canadian English. Still, these days, the spellings are pretty much interchangeable. In other words, if you’re in America’s heartland and spell gray with an E rather than an A, likely nobody will care.

When choosing grey or gray, it’s important to remember that, like many words, there are exceptions to the rules of spelling.

Greyhound

Greyhound is always spelled with an -EY. This may be because the word greyhound comes from the Old English term grighund rather than referencing the color grey.

Species Names

Species such as the grayling, a type of salmon, should maintain its official spelling rather than following country-specific conventions.

Proper Names

Proper names such as surnames should never be changed to accommodate country-specific spellings.

John Gray wrote the popular book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.
John Grey wrote the popular book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

Product Names and Titles

Product names and titles also shouldn’t be changed to reflect British-English or American-English spellings.

Grey Poupon, Grey’s Anatomy, Fifty Shades of Gray

Units of Measure

A gray is a measure of ionizing irradiation in the International System of Units. As such, it should always be spelled with an -AY.

A Color by any Other Spelling

No matter how you spell gray, you probably won’t be wrong. Well, unless, of course, you’re sipping Earl Gray tea beside John Grey, with a grayhound curled up at your feet.

Read More: Cancelled or Canceled: Which one 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.

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