Grammar 7 min read

Grey or Gray: Which One is Correct?

Main Grey or Gray Takeaways:

  • Gray is the more common spelling in American English, while grey is more common in British English-speaking countries like the U.K. and Canada.
  • 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.
  • Most places accept either grey or gray as an appropriate spelling.

Is it grey or gray? Are they the same or not? If you want answers to these questions, then you’re on the right page. In this post, we will discuss the history behind the words grey and gray, and which one should you use in your writing.

An American man holding a mug with the American flag and a British man holding a tea cup with a U.K. flag. The American is saying gray, spelled with letter a, and the British man is saying grey, spelled with letter e.
Both “gray” and “grey” pertain to the same color. “Gray” is mostly used by American English users, while British English users prefer to spell it as “grey.”

Why Does Grey Have Two Spellings?

To understand why gray and grey have different spellings, we need to consider the origin of both words. 

These words originate from the Old English word grǽg, which may not have referred to the color. In fact, the first recorded use of the word as the name of a color in the English language was in 700 AD. 

Over the centuries that followed, several spelling variations of grǽg began to pop up. Some of these include greie, greye, graye, grei, grey, and grai, to name a few.

For example, a 12th or 13th century poem, “The Owl and the Nightingale,” uses the spelling “greie.” Similarly, a 14th-century poet, William Langland, used “graye” in his poem, “Piers Plowman.

In the 18th century, several parts of the world had settled on grey as the accepted spelling. However, legendary lexicographer Samuel Johnson wasn’t so sure. He argued that “gray” was a better version of the word and proposed its adoption. 

Although several English dictionaries followed Johnson’s cue and recommended “gray” as the correct version, it was too late. Grey had become the universally accepted spelling — except in the United States. 

Which is Correct: Grey or Gray?

Grayand grey are both correct. The only difference between these two spellings is regional. For instance, gray (with an A) is more common in American English. Conversely, grey (with an E) is more common in British English. Regardless of which spelling you choose, gray and grey refer to a neutralcolor that falls between white and black. Both spellings can be nouns, adjectives, or verbs. What’s more, pronounce both exactly the same way.

Noun:Henrietta pickedgrayfor the exterior color of the house since it reminded her of New England.
Adjective:Niles looked at thegreysky and knew it would rain soon.
Verb:Sometimes, he felt as if his hair grayed overnight.
London is world-famous for grey skies and rainy weather.
He picked a gray suit this time because it goes well with both black and brown shoes.

Do Canadians use Grey or Gray?

Canadians use grey, the British spelling of the word. While Canada is located in North America, it is still part of the British Commonwealth. For this reason, Canadians tend to speak and write British English.

Is Grey a Word?

Grey (with an E) is in fact a word. It is the accepted spelling of the color in British English. Conversely, gray (with an A) is the more common spelling in American English. Greyvs. gray is just one of the many examples of words that have different spellings in American and British English. Both spellings are a noun that refer to a color. The color is black diluted by white and has several shades from light to dark along the spectrum between white and black.

Dictionaries and their creators played a large role in these spelling differences. For example, Noah Webster 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 streamlined American spellings.

Grey or Gray: How to Spell it Right Every Time

Easily remember which spelling belongs to which region with this simple mnemonic device.

How to Remember Gray vs. Grey:

  • Imagine the A in gray stands for America, since gray is the standard American English spelling.
  • Imagine the E in grey stands for England since grey is the standard British English spelling.

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.

That said, the difference between grey vs. gray is important in some contexts.

A unique cartoon tribute to Gandolf the Grey wizard.
Ever heard of the grey pilgrim or grey wizard? If you’re a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels, you probably know who we’re referring to.

Gray vs. Grey: When it Matters

Even though gray and grey are practically interchangeable, here are 5 instances when it matters which spelling you chose.

1. 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.

2. Species Names

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

3. 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.

4. Product Names and Titles

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

Earl Grey Tea, Grey Poupon, Grey‘s Anatomy, Fifty Shades of Gray

5. 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.

Is Grey a Color or a Hue?

Grey is a color, not a hue. Many individuals — even artists and designers — use the terms hue and color interchangeably. They assume that both words have the same meaning. But that’s not technically the case. 

Color is a general term that describes every hue, tint, tone, or shade that we see. For example, white, black, and gray are colors. On the other hand, hue refers to the dominant color family of a specific color. 

We can use hue to describe any one of the six primary and secondary colors. Indeed, rainbows show the melting of one hue into another, from red to violet, including the shades in between. 

As such, white, black, and grey are never referred to as hues.

What Color Does Grey Mean?

Greyor gray—is known as an achromatic color, which means that it’s essentially colorless. 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

So, Which is Correct? Show off Your Skills With This Quick Gray or Grey Quiz

Grey or Gray Question #1

Grey and Gray mean the same thing in the English language.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is TRUE. Both words refer to a neutral color that falls between white and black.

Grey Question #2

Which statement is NOT true?
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is B. Grey is the accepted spelling in British English.

Grey or Gray Question #3

It's incorrect to use grey in an American text instead of gray.
Correct! Wrong!

The answer is FALSE. The spellings are interchangeable.

Read More: Cancelled or Canceled: Which one is Correct?

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Pam Weber

Pam is an expert grammarian with years of experience teaching English, Writing and ESL Grammar courses at the university level. She is enamored with all things language and fascinated with how we use words to shape our world.

Comments (2)
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  1. Ian Ratzer February 18 at 6:59 pm GMT

    Good article, one quibble – Canadians do not “speak and write British English.” Canadian English, both written and spoken, is closer to American than British. Like Americans, Canadians organize the stuff in the trunk of their truck, while Britons organise the kit in the boot of their lorry 🙂

    • Pam Weber Author March 11 at 8:43 pm GMT

      Hi Ian,
      First and foremost, the entire team LOVED your comment. Thank you so much for sharing your personal insights. It’s always good to have an insider track to help enrich our articles for everyone, no matter which side of the pond (or border 😉). You are absolutely, right, there are many similarities and some overlap. In this particular article, we were looking at spelling, and that grey is the more common spelling for our neighbors to the North. 🙂 Thanks again for stopping by and never hesitate to share more of your firsthand knowledge!

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