Have spelling differences such as “gray” vs “grey” crossed your mind and made your day even more annoying than it already is?
Well, hang in there because you’re not alone. A lot of people are actually going insane over this very issue we’re dealing with today.
Why don’t we go about it right now?
Is it gray or grey?
Both “gray” and “grey” are grammatically correct. “Gray” is the preferred spelling in the US, while “grey” is favored in the UK, Canada, Australia, and Ireland.
“Gray” vs “Grey” color spelling differences
Think of the dilemma between “gray” and “grey” as a Gemini friend who’s indecisive about where both of you are going to have dinner – and it was his idea in the first place!
Apparently, “gray” and “grey” are simply two spelling variations of exactly the same word – the color tone that’s between black and white.
Technically, gray or grey is not a color because it is a neutral or achromatic shade instead.
But, to make our life easier, it is the “color” of iron, ash, and thick clouds.
As we all know, like anything in life, there’s always a catch. “Gray” is a more popular version used in American English, and “grey” is common in British English.
“Grey” used to be more popular among writers back in the early 1800s, but “gray” gained its pace around the mid-1800s.
What we have today is different from the spelling issue in “greatful” vs “grateful” because the random use of “greatful” is clearly a mistake.
Despite the vowel gap, today’s topic is neither an inch close to the problem between “than” and “then” because these are two different English words.
These days, though, “gray” is the preferred spelling according to online data, although “grey” is still very much widely used too.
This just means that either “gray” or “grey” will work out just fine without causing any trouble to any speaker of English in the world.
So, there’s no point in bickering about which of the two spellings is “more correct” because both are simply right.
Why “gray” and “grey” are spelled in two ways
Until the 18th century, English speakers didn’t pay much attention to proper spelling because they cared more about the spoken language.
After 1775, though, English word spellings became more standardized because of the publishing of A Dictionary of the English Language by British lexicographer Samuel Johnson.
Apparently, the Americans wouldn’t want to rely too much on the “British ways,” making them want to have their own identity too.
This has led to the publishing of the American Spelling Book, A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language, and An American Dictionary of the English Language.
This movement was spearheaded by American lexicographer Noah Webster. His efforts paid off over time, leading to the release of the Merriam-Webster dictionary that we know today.
Because of the mentioned movements, spelling prescriptions started to become quite a serious thing back then.
These movements have prompted spelling differences and preferences between British and American English variants.
“Gray” vs “Grey” in the US
“Gray” is the preferred spelling in American English. This could explain why “gray” is also the more commonly used spelling today.
As there are more than three hundred million native American English speakers in the world, there’s no doubt that “gray” would become more popular over time.
American English spellings are also generally more lenient than British English ones. This may have also influenced why the former has become a more popular choice.
As you may have noticed in your past readings, American English prefers “color” to “colour,” “leukemia” to “leukaemia,” and “catalog” to “catalogue.”
In the US, the main approach seems to be grounded in the rhetorical statement “Life is easy, but humans make it hard.”
So, when in doubt, but you know you are mostly communicating with American English speakers, it would be more courteous to use the “gray” spelling.
Doing so would also help in avoiding unnecessary bickering that could just make your day a bit annoying, especially at work.
The same issue is true with “wholistic” vs “holistic” wherein the latter is preferred in American English and the former in British.
So, if you’re residing in the USA, you had better be wiser and use “holistic” in your writing. This doesn’t matter in spoken contexts because both words are pronounced the same way.
“Gray” vs “Grey” in the UK
Meanwhile, “grey” is the more dominant spelling in British English as well as in most countries influenced by this English variant.
With only less than a hundred million native speakers worldwide, “grey” has become less frequently used in writing over time.
Despite this, using the spelling variant “grey” or following the British way is still largely correct and appropriate.
So, there’s no need to fuss about which spelling you should go for because studies have found that prescribing a single variant of a language is not effective.
You may have to be polite enough and use “grey” instead of “gray” if and when you’re living in the United Kingdom to avoid any trouble.
Even if you don’t live in the UK but have British colleagues, it might be wiser to use “grey” instead of “gray.”
Doing so should help you go about your daily routine either at work or at school more easily.
But, also take note that no British person will misunderstand what you mean if you choose to use the spelling “gray.”
Speaking of languages, you might also want to check out whether the spelling “amature” or “amateur” is correct.
Knowing the difference should give you an idea about how the French language has influenced English as well as how interesting this phenomenon can be.
“Gray” vs “Grey” in Canada
In Canada, the dominant spelling is “grey,” which is in favor of the British spelling variant “grey.”
A quick search within a Canadian English corpus would show you these astonishing results, with a ratio of about two usages of “grey” in every single “gray.”
This goes to show that even though Canada is mostly influenced by American English, remnants of the British ways are still present today.
What’s more, football, being one of the most popular sports in Canada, may have also affected the country’s preference.
“Grey Cup” is the name of the professional football league in Canada, and it is also the name and color of the trophy given to the championing team.
With this in mind, there’s no doubt that many football enthusiasts and professionals alike would tend to use “grey” if they are into Canadian Football League.
Also, in 1982, the Canadian biographical film “The Grey Fox” was released, likely explaining how the “grey” spelling variant crept into the media industry in the country.
With these events, we can see how Canadian English is meanwhile different from American English. This only proves how fascinating languages can be.
“Gray” vs “Grey” in Australia
“Grey” is the preferred spelling used in Australia because of historical reasons.
In the late 1700s, the British forces settled in Australia, and it has largely influenced the country’s social and cultural norms since then.
This could explain why Australians generally prefer “grey” to “gray” when it comes to their spelling choice.
In the field of Australian arts, a national artist named “Guy Grey-Smith” also showcased his prolific works in painting, pottery, and printmaking.
The third governor of South Australia in the mid-1800s was also named “Sir George Grey.” This could have also influenced how the spelling selection got into Australian politics.
Last but not least, a bird species called “grey shrike-thrush” is also relatively common in Australia, making the color popular among bird and animal enthusiasts by and large.
In a country where “grey” is the known spelling among influential people and even animal species, it’s going to be the dominant choice.
In case today’s topic is a bit too intensive for you, you could also check out the top 10 grammar pet peeves that drive people insane for a relevant learning experience.
“Gray” vs “Grey” in Ireland
If the far-away country Australia uses “grey,” the much closer Ireland would certainly use exactly the same spelling, of course.
Back in the 12th century, the English king ordered the Anglo-Norman establishment in the land of castles and emerald-green sceneries, Ireland.
So, when you’re communicating with anyone who’s of Irish descent, you had better use “grey” when talking about colors.
Speaking of sceneries, some people are also having trouble with “scenic spots” vs “scenery spots” and the right choice to make.
Take note that the correct one should be “scenic spots” because using “scenery spots” means committing double-murder to the expression.
When to use “gray”
You’ll only have to worry about when to use “gray” when it comes to written communication but not in spoken conversations.
Both words are pronounced the same way in real life with little to no difference at all – not unless you’re that much of a pedantic person.
Now, as far as “gray” in written communication goes, you should always opt for the variant “gray” whenever you are addressing a US audience, as “gray” is the preference in the US.
Thank you for reaching out. I would like to have a gray-themed house if possible. I’m more of a minimalist person, so it would be great if you could use neutral shades around the house.
Thanks in advance.
Another possible situation that could prompt you to use “gray” is when you’re following the American Psychological Association.
Example:Evoking feelings of calmness and safety, the color gray is mostly used in modern, industrial, and contemporary designs (Doe et al. 2023).
If you’re in the field of journalism and are supposed to adhere to the Associated Press writing style, you could also choose “gray” instead of “grey.”
Also, if you’re being asked to write an essay about yourself or any other topic at an American school, then you had better go with “gray.”
When to use “grey”
Whenever you are addressing a UK audience, then you should always go for “grey” instead of “gray,” as “grey” is the preferred variant all over the UK.
This could be in a school setting in the UK, when writing a formal letter in the UK, and so on and so forth.
Here are a couple of examples for you:
When you’re also using The Oxford English Dictionary as your main spelling reference for whatever reason, it would recommend that you use “grey.”
“Gray” or “Grey” as a noun
If you’re referring to either “gray” or “grey” as a name of a color, then that one is a noun. It can appear in noun phrases like the following:
- “shades of gray” or “shades of grey”
- “tones of gray” or “tones of grey”
- “hues of gray” or “hues of grey”
- “tint of gray” or “tind of grey”
- “touch of gray” or “touch of “grey”
Her design signature is marked by hues of gray.
As an interior designer, she loves using tones of grey because of their versatility.
You could also use “gray” or “grey” as a noun when it is used to refer to either the first or last name of a person.
Just make sure you’re using the correct spelling in official documents like legal contracts, school forms, and research citations.
Example names of people:
- Mr. Gray
- Ms. Grey
- Michael Gray, Esq.
- Gray et al. 2023
- Simmons & Grey, 2015
- Grey Davis, Ph.D.
This lease agreement is notarized by Michael Gray, Esq.
My translation professor is Mr. Grey Davis, Ph.D.
When “gray” or “grey” is used as a company name, it is also a noun. Again, make sure you’re using the right spelling.
Example names of companies:
- Gray Advertising, Inc.
- Harvey and Grey, LLC
- Ash Gray, Corp.
Harvey and Grey, LLC was originally founded by Timothy Osborne.
This agreement is signed by the representative of Ash Gray, Corp.
“Gray” or “Grey” as an adjective
When using “gray” or “grey” as an adjective, you’ll instantly know it because it should be linked to a noun word or phrase in the same sentence.
Although authorities would strictly say that it technically isn’t a color type, “gray” or “grey” is the shade somewhere between black and white.
When something is “somewhat gray or grey,” it is called “grayish” (preferred version in the US) or “greyish” (preferred version in the UK, Canada, Ireland and Australia).
Here are some examples using “gray” or “grey” as an adjective:
- gray shoes
- grey area
- gray suit
- grey sparrow
- grayish-blue paint
- greyish-purple shade
Your gray shoes would match your clothes better.Would you like to choose this greyish-purple shade instead?
Colors are also great metaphor tools for feelings, moods, and emotions. This means that “gray” or “grey” can also be used to describe such states.
Depending on the context, metaphorical references to “gray” or “grey” may suggest meanings like “lifeless,” “dull,” “mundane,” “anonymous,” or “boring.”
This is another way of using “gray” or “grey” as an adjective in our daily lives. Take a look at some examples to get a clearer view.
- gray life
- grey writer
- gray area
- grey zone
- grey remark
She gave a grey remark in front of the press.
Another common adjective usage of “gray” or “grey” is something that means “unofficial,” “non-conventional,” or “not abiding by the usual rules.”
This usage is particularly found in works of literature, governmental documents, reports, and proceedings, as well as research articles.
- gray economy
- grey literature
- gray data
- grey information
Blogs and tweets are considered grey data.
Adjectives can be expressed in comparative and superlative forms. With “gray” or “grey,” these forms are quite tricky to use.
The comparative form for “gray” or “grey” is “grayer” and “greyer,” while the superlative forms are “grayest” and “greyest.”
These forms are what we should use when we want to follow the “add -er or -est to one-syllable adjectives” rule.
Dad’s beard is the greyest among his siblings.
However, if you’re comparing different hues, you are supposed to say “more gray” or “more grey” as in the next examples:
He thinks his beard is more grey than black.
“Gray” or “Grey” as a verb
Interestingly, “gray” or “grey” may also be used as a verb in English. It means “to get older” or “to mature,” which is predominantly used to describe the aging process.
The infinitive form of this verb would be either “to gray” or “to grey,” and the simple past and past participle forms are either “grayed” or “greyed.”
We can also express this verb in its present participle form by using “graying” or “greying.”
- naturally grayed
- quickly greyed
- has grayed
- hair is greying
Dylan’s hair has naturally grayed through time.
Bailey’s hair is greying now. He’s already 12.
“Gray” vs “Grey”: Interchangeability
As far as semantics go, gray and grey are completely interchangeable. So there simply is no difference in semantic meaning between “gray” and “grey.”
However, as pointed out many times in this article, in a US setting, you would want to use “gray” rather than “grey,” as “gray” is the preferred version used in the US.
On the other hand, in a UK setting, always opt for “grey” rather than “gray,” as “grey” is the preferred variant in the UK. Not only in the UK, though. The same holds true for Canada, Australia and Ireland as well. They all prefer the spelling “grey” over “gray.”
As always, there are certain exceptions to consider.
For instance, certain animal species, movie titles, company names, legal or pen names of people, and events either demand the use of “gray” or “grey.” Let us have a closer look at these fixed spellings both for “gray” and also for “grey.”
Fixed spellings for “gray”
When using the following expressions, make sure to use “a” instead of “e” in “gray”:
- Arctic Grayling (an Arctic Grayling is a species of freshwater fish commonly found in the colder areas of the northern hemisphere, like Canada and Alaska)
- The Gray Man (the Gray man is an action-thriller movie released in 2022 with Ryan Gosling as the main actor)
- Dr. Gray (Dr. Gray is the main antagonist in R. L. Stine’s book Egg Monsters from Mars)
- Grayling, Inc. (Grayling, Inc. is a general contractor in Kansas founded by Leonard and Jean Bertuglia)
- Gray (Based on the International System of Units, “gray” is the standard unit of measure used in ionizing radiation dose)
Fixed spellings for “grey”
But, use “e” instead of “a” when spelling the word “grey” in these ones:
- Greyhound (Greyhound refers to a dog breed whose oldest remains were found in Syria. This word may also refer to a transport company that was founded in Minnesota.)
- Earl Grey (Earl Grey is a tea blend made with bergamot orange oil. It is typically used to aid digestion and mood.)
- Grey’s Anatomy (Grey’s Anatomy is a medical TV drama series released back in 2005. This used to be very popular among Americans and non-Americans alike)
- Grey Cup (Grey Cup refers to the championship game of the professional football league in Canada. The expression also refers to the trophy given to the winning team)
- Fifty Shades of Grey (a popular film trilogy first released in 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey is an erotic romance novel that was successfully turned into a movie franchise)
“Gray” vs “Grey”: Example sentences
|How to use "gray" in a sentence||How to use "grey" in a sentence|
|Gray hair color is quite popular among the young.||Aunt Lucy’s natural grey hair looks adorable.|
|She likes the gray paint color for her bedroom.||I want some grey paint for the living room wall.|
|“Gray” is a unique male name.||The smell of bergamot in Earl Grey tea calms my nerves.|
|The color gray is a shade between black and white.||He thinks the colour grey is too dull for the kitchen.|
|I can’t find my gray crayon!||I'm sure I put my grey crayon back in the box, Mom.|
|I like the light gray shade more.||Have you seen my light grey socks?|
|Have you seen my dark gray coat?||He has seen Grey’s Anatomy a million times.|
|Six large gray wolves are lurking in the woods.||Liam Neeson's acting in The Grey is superb.|
|The gray background is good for furniture upholstery.||Are you wearing my favorite grey shirt again?|
|Children up to two years old may develop a rare condition called “gray baby syndrome”||Could you grab a bottle of Grey Goose vodka on your way home?|
|The gray hex code is 808080.||The next Grey Cup will be in November.|
|The spelling “gray” is more common in the United States.||Whereas, “grey” is preferred in the UK and most English-speaking countries.|
|I like that gray couch for the patio.||Grey clouds are starting to chase us.|
|Uncle Ted's hair has grayed.||Levi's beard has already greyed.|
“Gray” or “Grey” in color psychology
Generally, “gray” or “grey” evokes feelings of dullness or monotonicity. This is a valid and understandable argument because it technically cannot be classified into a color type.
In worse cases, it could also suggest negative feelings like anxiety and depression because of its colorless feature.
However, this hue may also imply balance, justice, and fairness. This can be linked to the fact that “gray” or “grey” is found somewhere “between” black and white.
If we think about it, many world-known companies make use of this shade to appeal to the masses. Examples of these include Lexus, Apple, and Mercedes-Benz.
This “balanced” undertone of “gray” or “grey” makes products look neutral, clean, and even sophisticated.
In the design industry, “gray” or “grey” is mostly used in modern, industrial, and contemporary designs. This is a common choice for bachelor’s pads and other manly interiors.
Despite that, the versatility of this shade makes it usable almost everywhere. In fact, this hue is a popular choice for accents and decorations inside establishments.
“Gray” or “grey” is also used in furniture upholstery because it is largely suitable for any design style one can think of, especially those that are mass-produced.
Frequently Asked Questions on the difference between “gray” and “grey”
How does Crayola spell gray/grey?
Crayola uses “gray” instead of “grey.” First established in New York, USA, Crayola, LLC is one of the leading brands of crayons in the world. This must have largely influenced the American spelling preference of the color.
What is the meaning of gray/grey?
“Gray” or “grey” in its literal sense is a shade or tone between black and white. Technically, it cannot be classified as a color type because of its achromatic feature. Figuratively speaking, though, gray or grey suggests a neutral, colorless, or mundane undertone.
Is it “gray” or “grey” according to the Chicago Manual of Style?
Being an American writing authority by default, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends using “gray” instead of “grey,” although the latter is also acceptable. In the USA, “gray” is the preferred spelling of this shade.
Are “grey” and “gray” different colors?
“Grey” and “gray” refer to the same color. The difference in spelling is caused by the British and American English variants. British English prefers “grey,” while American English favors “gray.” Also, technically, “grey” or “gray” is not considered a color but rather a shade or tone between black and white.
How do you spell grey?
“Grey” or “gray” are both acceptable spellings of the neutral shade in the middle of black and white. Americans prefer “gray,” the one with an “a,” while British people are in favor of “grey.”
Do you say “gray” or “grey” paint?
Using either “gray paint” or “grey paint” spelling variants works just fine. Both spellings are acceptable in modern-day English. If you’re in the USA, though, you might want to go with “gray.” But, if you’re in the UK, you had better choose “grey” instead.
Should it be “gray hair” or “grey hair”?
Using either “gray hair” or “grey hair” is largely acceptable. “Gray,” however is what American English speakers prefer, and “grey” is the popular choice among British English speakers. Canada, Australia, and Ireland also generally use the spelling variant “grey” instead of “gray.”
No matter where you live in this world, language differences will always be a part of life. This simply means that languages are living creatures that thrive with us humans.
So, the next time you doubt yourself about whether to use a certain spelling of a word, you need to consider your overall context to be an effective communicator.
But, at the same time, you also need to be aware and understand that spelling nuances as in “gray” and “grey” are not really a chicken-or-egg situation to argue about.
If you enjoyed reading this article, please watch out for more interesting topics soon. That’s all for now. See you!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.