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    Writing 101

    Gray or Grey: what’s the right spelling?

    Gray or Grey

     

    Have you ever seen a certain word spelled different ways and secretly thought that one of the ways it is spelled is wrong, but you weren’t sure which spelling was actually correct?

    It turns out there are certain words that can be spelled in multiple ways.  

    For example, the otherwise neutral color – Gray – is a versatile word that can be spelled as either “gray” or “grey” depending on where you are located and the context.

    But do you know the difference between the two spellings? How do you know when to use an ‘a’ or ‘e’ as the vowel?

    When it comes to the correct spelling, things get a bit tricky. In this post, we’ll help clear it up by answering the most common questions about gray vs. grey.

    How do you spell the color gray?

    In order to understand the root of the two common spellings of the word, gray, it is helpful to dig into the etymology. In fact, the color gray came from the Old English word grǣg and dates back to the 1200s.

    But, which spelling of grey or gray is right?

    As a color, either spelling is correct. 

    In most cases, you can use gray and grey interchangeably. Occasionally, you’ll see the spelling used to differentiate between different shades on color swatches, but this isn’t necessary. Any shade between black and white can be spelled with an ‘e’ or ‘a’ as the vowel.

    It can also be used as a noun, verb, or adjective, and here are a few examples of each:

     

    Noun

    “The horse is grey.” The clouds in New York City were an ominous shade of gray.

    Verb

    “Her hair was greying because of the stress.” “The prime minister's beard had already started to grey.”

     

    Adjective

    “There is a lot of gray area in this product roadmap."  The grey squirrel is running around our backyard in circles.

     

    What’s the difference between gray and grey?

    There’s no real difference when you use gray or grey as a color. The different spellings are interchangeable, but the spelling you use may indicate where you live.

    For example, if you live in the United States and use American English, then you’ll probably use the spelling “gray.”

    However, if you live in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, or other English-speaking countries where British English is used, then you likely use the spelling “grey.”

    Pro Tip: One way to remember which version to use is to associate the spelling with the first letter of the location. Gray with an “A” for America and grey with an “E” for England.

    However, there are some situations where you wouldn’t interchange grey and gray, no matter the location.

    Here are some examples of when to stick with a specific spelling:

     

    • Proper names and nouns: When grey/gray is used as a proper noun, you can’t interchange it. For example, if Gray is someone’s last name. 

    • Product names, book, and movie titles: For example, it is Earl Grey Tea, NOT Earl Gray Tea. Or, Fifty Shades of Grey, NOT Fifty Shades of Gray. And, Grey’s Anatomy, NOT Gray’s Anatomy. 

    • Unit of measure: The scientific measure of energy cannot be interchanged with a different spelling. The measure of energy must be spelled as gray.

    • Animal species or breeds: African Grey parrots must be spelled with an ‘e.’ Graylings, a type of fish, should always be spelled with an ‘a.’ The dog breed, greyhound, must be spelled with an ‘e.’

     

    Aside from these specific cases, most of the time, you can interchange the American spelling and British spelling of grey and gray.

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    In some cases, you have to stick to a certain spelling of grey or gray. However, there usually isn’t a right or a wrong way to spell gray (grey). Just stick with the spelling most commonly used around you, and you’ll be just fine.