What is the difference between grey and gray? I've seen both used and I'm wondering which I should use when talking about the color. Why are there two spelling's for the same word and is there a difference in the meaning between the two?


They are two different spellings of the color gray/grey:

Gray and grey are different spellings of the same word, and both are used throughout the English-speaking world. But gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in all the other main varieties of English. In the U.K., for instance, grey appears about twenty times for every instance of gray. In the U.S. the ratio is reversed.

Grey gained ascendancy in all varieties of English in the early 18th century, but its dominance as the preferred form was checked when American writers adopted gray about a century later

(The Grammarist)

| improve this answer | |
  • I didn't know "gray" was more common. In my college English class last week, the professor had "grey" written in a sentence on the board. Is this really the case? To me, "gray" and "grey" are just one of those words whose spellings are interchangeable no matter where on earth it may be written. Now, "colour" and "color" are normally not interchangeable; one is British and the other American normally. – Nick Nov 23 '17 at 21:24
  • @NicholasCastagnola: There's something in that. M-W describes "colour" as "chiefly British", whereas it simply describes "grey" as a "less common" spelling of "gray", with no mention of Britishness. (British dictionaries, on the other hand, regard both "center" and "gray" as solely American.) – rjpond Nov 23 '17 at 21:52
  • The spelling distinction between British grey and U.S. gray developed 20c. etymonline.com/word/gray – user070221 Nov 23 '17 at 21:54

First off, "spelling's" should be "spellings" above. Second, there's no difference in meaning between "grey" and "gray"; there are just two different spellings of the same word. There are a lot of words like this in English. Usually, there are different spellings because different versions of English spell it differently, i.e. there are British and American spellings of words. I don't know whether this is the case with "grey" and "gray". I'm American and I have spelled this word both ways, but I usually spell it "grey" as I think it's a more common spelling. Does that mean that's how all Americans would spell it? No, I don't know. There are words that are clearly more of an American spelling than British:

color (American) / colour (British) / eon (American) / aeon (British) / canceled (American usually but not always) / cancelled (British) / edema (American) / oedema (British) / anesthetic (American) / anaesthetic (British) / apnea (American) / apnoea (British) / capitalize (American) / capitalise (British) / practice (verb) (American) / practise (verb) (British) / counselor (normally American) / counsellor (British) / center (American) / centre (British).

It's just the way it is because there are so many variants and dialects of English.

| improve this answer | |
  • "Capitalize" is both really (indeed, the "-ize" spellings are preferred by Oxford), though most British speakers prefer "-ise" (and there's quite a widespread myth on both sides of the Atlantic that "-ize" is purely American). Australians, on the other hand, avoid "-ize" completely. – rjpond Nov 23 '17 at 21:54
  • Okay, that's good to know. I still spell it "grey" and "theatre" because that's how I've always spelled it. I also spell it "cancelled" and "counsellor" and traveller", but I'm probably in the minority in that regard. I spell it "center", "-ize", and "color" obviously. I just spell it the way I have seen it the most, I think, growing up. I think I spell it "theatre" because of the "movie theatre" by my house when I was growing up, which spelled it "theatre". – Nick Nov 23 '17 at 21:58

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.