What color is a cloudy sky or ashes from a bonfire? Is it gray or grey? Have you ever wondered what that big creature in the sea is called? A gray whale or a grey whale?
Gray and grey sound the same – and they also mean exactly the same thing. So, what's the difference between them?
The colors gray and grey are the same! The biggest difference between these easily-confused words is whether you use an "a" or an "e." And the vowel doesn't change how you pronounce the words or what they mean.
For an American audience, you generally spell the word with an "a."
Both spellings come from the same Old English word, "grǣg," referring to the color between black and white. Over the centuries, many different spellings evolved that don’t use the symbol "ǣ." For example, “greie” and “greye” were all used between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries CE.
Around the eighteenth century, grey became the standard spelling. But, people still argued over how to write the word. For example, Samuel Johnson, a famous British lexicographer and literary critic wanted everyone to spell the word with an "a."
Despite the common usage of grey, English dictionaries proclaimed gray to be correct in the nineteenth century. However, it didn’t catch on in most places.
When the twentieth century rolled around, most people in the English-speaking world continued to spell the color grey. But in the United States, gray stuck.
Becca’s mother has gray hair, but Lenny’s mother dyes her hair red.
The sky looked gray yesterday, so we didn’t go to the beach.
I'm not sure which gray I prefer. The charcoal one or the darker one.
If you’re in Britain, South Africa, New Zealand, or another Commonwealth country, you’ll use an "e." for the spelling of grey. If you’re reading a British English translation produced in a country that’s not the US, it will probably use an "e."
Like greyhound dogs or grayling fish, certain animals are always spelled the same way, regardless of who’s writing. So, check a dictionary if you’re unsure how a specific animal name is spelled.
For products or brands:
There are a few products that don’t change. For instance, Earl Grey tea is always spelled with an "e."
Brand names like Grey Goose vodka or Grey Goose clothing always have "e's."
For proper nouns:
Other proper nouns also never change their spelling. For example, the famous 19th-century medical reference book Gray’s Anatomy is named for the author, Henry Gray – and will always be spelled with an "a."
This is true for anyone’s name. So if someone tells you their name is “Gray,” but they’re from England, don’t change the spelling to an “e.”
I learned that the human brain is made of white matter and grey matter in biology class, but I can’t remember the difference.
I want to paint our room cool grey, but my twin sister wants to paint it yellow.
My French textbook translates gris as grey, but Dad told me it meant blue.
How do you know the correct spelling for your writing? Think about where your audience lives! If they live in America, think about that capital "A" and spell the word gray!
If they live in the United Kingdom or any of the Commonwealth countries, use an "e." Think about the capital "E" in England and Europe to help you remember.
Don’t always trust technology! Your spell-checker might tell you what you wrote is incorrect if you have the wrong country set on your computer. So, make sure you remember your audience, and you’ll never mix up grey vs. gray!
When to use gray?
When to use grey?
How to remember gray vs. grey?
Spell checkers don't always have you covered. Sometimes your word might be spelled correctly, but it could be the wrong word. In English, there are lots of confusing terms that look alike but are spelled differently, and many terms that mean the same thing but are easily misused.
Here are the most commonly confusing word pairings, with definitions and examples of their usage.