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Color vs. colour

Color and colour are different spellings of the same word. Color is the preferred spelling in American English, and colour is preferred in all other main varieties of English. The distinction extends to all derivatives of the word. Coloredcoloringcolorer, colorful, and discolor are the U.S. spellings, and colouredcolouringcolourercolourful, and discolour are preferred outside the U.S.

History

Both spellings are many centuries old. Color, now regarded as the American spelling, in fact predates the United States by several centuries. In early use the spellings vied for ascendancy with several other spellings. Colurculoure, and coolor, for instance, were all in the mix before the modern British spelling gained permanent prevalence in the 17th century.1 The American preference for color took hold in the middle 19th century thanks in large part to the conscious simplification of English spellings by people such as the lexicographer Noah Webster.

Examples

Color, as used in the following examples, is the preferred spelling in the U.S.:


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The “it” color of the moment is a visual pick-me-up. [Seattle Times]

They are very large and multicolored, often having two or three colors in different shades. [Auburn Citizen]

In some cases, OLED creates better color contrast and uses less power. [Wall Street Journal]

Though color occasionally appears outside the U.S., it is still considered a misspelling. Most non-U.S. publications favor the -our spelling used in these examples:

My daughter has impaired colour vision, mostly affecting the colour red. [Sydney Morning Herald]

Special decor touches of colour, texture and whimsy can bring heart-thumping feelings all year long. [Metro]

Woman returned shelter dog because its colour clashed with her curtains [Mirror]

Sources

1. OED entry (subscription required)

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Comments

  1. Programming and markup languages (eg. HTML) use the American spelling. I type ‘color’ as code much more than I write ‘colour’ in everyday language as an Australian, and I’ve heard other coders have developed a similar habit.

    • Most of the people I’ve seen pick up a few American spellings (and are British, Australian etc) seem to be coders or programmers who write HTML and will occasionally type ‘colour’ without the u, but keep it in words like humour, honour, favourite and odour. I think the same applies to centre (but not fibre or centimetre).

  2. Its stupid that we americans spell words diferently than other countries that speak english, it would be easier to understand if we spelled the words the same as them!

    • Zen Reizai says:

      I know, but you know what is stupider that we Americans also have done? Our own measuring system. We should adapt the Metric system already, because it’s more complicated learning both and just plain confusing.

      • tomo008866 says:

        I hope Americans don’t adapt the Metric system, because then all I would see all over the internet would be ‘gram’ instead of ‘gramme’, ‘liter’ instead of ‘litre’, etc. Uhh, so annoying.

        • …..You know, “gram” and “gramme” are both accepted spelling, along with a lot of other stuff.

          color, math, gram… All of them are recognized, along with their non-American counterparts by both Oxford and Merriam-Webster, so it’s really a matter of preference, not correctness. For example, I use colour, behaviour, etc. when spelling, but I say “math” instead of “maths.”

        • Enough with the American bashing! Noah Webster, an AMERICAN was the first person to codefy the English Language to one common, accepted and recognized form or set, for the one singular purpose being that all speakers of the English language should use the same form…an American, not a Brit. Got that? Until Webster started his work, speakers of the English language were using many different forms of spelling for the same words, in the same countries, namely England. How about a bit of reality? The first time the English language began to take an “proper” form, with regards to regular spelling, was when an American took it upon himself to take that task on. English as it is spoken in America, represenst the fist proper, codified form of the language. (No remarks on my spelling please, I spell terribly, and don’t care)

        • Michel Catudal says:

          Actually we’ve adopted the metric system in a lot of places. In the automotive industry where I work everything in in metric. We then convert to english for display when the customer sets his system to display in english system.

        • I think both ‘gramme’ and ‘gram’ are acceptable in BrE, but ‘liter’ is dead wrong; it’s always ‘litre’ outside the USA. (But in any case it is frustrating to see the US out of step with measurements – and with spelling, for that matter. ;))

          • alxsjbrg says:

            plures, you are dead wrong if you say that liter is dead wrong.
            Here in Sweden we use liter, meter and gram.
            Milliliter, Centiliter, Deciliter and Liter
            Millimeter, Centimeter, Decimeter and Meter.
            Gram, Kilo and Ton.

          • Natsu Dragneel says:

            Sweden is not really an English-speaking country so it doesn’t matter how those words are spelt there. Plures is talking about people living in the Anglosphere.

        • Sometimes less is more.

      • disqus_CwRmTk5b6L says:

        Language is derivative, and English is no exception. The UK addition of the letter ‘u’ in such words is fairly arbitrary. Why are there no blood doneurs? They got that word from the French. Before that, it was the Latin donare. And guess what, colour derives from the Latin: color.

        Adherence to British standards is rooted in colonialism. Who voted them arbiters of proper spelling of a language that isn’t even of their own origin?

        • Natsu Dragneel says:

          The British didn’t add u’s, the Americans started dropping them.
          Get off your high horse.

          • Ron Gardner says:

            Colour is from the Latin color, which is considerably older than English. So yes, the British added the u’s. We of course recognized them as superfluous affectations aped from the French and dropped them like the bad habit they were. Kiss the high horse’s arse, junior.

    • savvysearch says:

      The American and British governments don’t get together and decide what goes in the English dictionary. It’s determined by the people. Dictionaries do and SHOULD follow usage by the masses, not the other way around. That statement is as logical as saying that Scotland, Ireland, Australians and the US, should all get together and pronounce words the same as the English.

      • Larry Nathaniel says:

        So you think the dictionaries of the world should stick to the vernacular and to heck with the written word? The masses know nothing about proper English anymore.

      • masanthar says:

        The masses cannot decide what goes in the dictionary because every language has rules for grammar and syntax and every word has roots that dictate its spelling.The people SHOULD follow these rules and respect their language and not cannibalize it because of ignorance.

        • Barry West says:

          The masses do decide what goes into the dictionary, even if indirectly. And that ain’t no lie. :-)

          • jtrevino79 says:

            And that’s how it’s always been. People think there exists this King of Spelling that sits on a throne at the Oxford Publishing headquarters and determines what’s in the english language. Just silly. It’s an art form. And it’s ALWAYS evolving.

    • “Color” is based on the etymological root word “color” in Latin. The “u” came from linguistic corruptions due to dialect changes. “Color” is more accurate than “colour,” regardless of nationality. It’s just conventional to misspell color outside of the United States.

    • Larry Nathaniel says:

      Sometimes it is the other country that has changed the spelling, and America still retains the original; most of the time not the case though. Y’all is actually from Middle English: Ye All.

    • Ronscott says:

      What is stupid is that you don’t understand your own language. Many of these words were spelled many different ways within the English speaking countries until Noah Webster took some time to reign it in and make the spelling of words more phonetic . We are not the only Country to spell these words without using extra letters. By the way, all these “English” words were taken from other languages. And by the way, the “color” originates from the Latin noun “color”, while “colour” comes from the French noun “colour”. So, which spelling is more “English”.

  3. Fishsta says:

    I grew up in the UK with the TI99/4A computer, one of the main basic instructions was CALL COLOR… as a result I always struggled to get that spelling out of my head at school (I was but a nipper in those days). Nowadays I actually can switch between programming “COLOR” and writing “COLOUR”, (along with “CENTER” and “CENTRE”) so I’ve got used to it somehow.

    I don’t say Americans are “stupid” for it, but it is odd how certain words change slightly. We’ve just had a big debate over the words Gray and Grey, Despatch and Dispatch in our office here. And no-one really won.

  4. tomo008866 says:

    I’m fine with both of them, but ‘color’ just looks so ugly spelt to me. ‘Colour’ seems to be nicer in writing, in all circumstances. They both make perfect sense, but I much prefer it when written with the ‘our’ ending.

    • Oh, I LOATHE ‘color’. It just…feels incredibly wrong to me. (And as I’m currently living in the States I see it all the time and want to cringe.)

      • disqus_CwRmTk5b6L says:

        I’m sure the Romans, from whose original Latin, color, the word ‘colour’ was derived, would cringe at the UK spelling as well.

        • ColonelBatman says:

          They would also cringe at all the other words the UK added a u to or switched the “e” and the “r”. In all other Latin derived languages other than UK English and French the spelling is “re” and “or”.

          • Nicholas Fell says:

            Actually; I think you’ll find the French did that. When England was invaded by the Normans, they added/changed words by adding u’s and swapping e’s & r’s.

        • Larry Nathaniel says:

          If I am not mistaken the Romans cringed at the UK, never-mind the spellings of their words.

  5. EUcomment says:

    Color, favor, flavor etc spelled like that, see it 9 out of 10 times in the Netherlands. We almost never see the UK form of English. Doesn’t mean Dutch schools teach US English. But you can be sure the Dutch are used to US Spelling, grammer and pronouncuation.

    Also, gram and liter are the correct form here. In a lot of cases Dutch and English spelling match and/or choice of words even translations correspond with US English not British.

    Most Dutch have (US) English as sencondary language.

    If I read forums or websites, that are written by people outside UK but in the EU. 9 out of 10 times the U is dropped as well in Color, favor. flavor etc. Part of EU uses US English(the people that use it a lot as secondary language so not the British), the other part of Europe that uses UK English, learned it at school or from textbooks(not the Brithish).

    So, 3 parts in the EU.

    1, the British, that use UK spelling

    2. the part of EU, that uses US spelling, where (US) English (onofficialy) isn’t counted as a foreign language.

    3. the part of EU where they use textbook/highschool English. Part of EU where English doesn’t come natural

    So, it’s kinda weird asuming outside USA, they only use UK spelling and/or grammer.

    • > So, it’s kinda weird asuming outside USA, they only use UK spelling and/or grammer

      Is that what they’re assuming though? The article refers to the non-US English speaking world. I think that means countries that have English as a *first* language.

      • ZootAllures says:

        I notice you and EUcomment continually refer to “UK” spelling but I should remind you that “UK English” is spoken natively in other countries such as my own (New Zealand) as well as Australia and Canada, and commonly used in many others like South Africa, Netherlands, Scandinavia, etc. Here in NZ we tend to avoid the American spellings but they are creeping in due to our exposure to American culture. It is worse in countries where English is not the first language but is commonly spoken – most exposure through the media is again American.

        I should probably also mention that it’s spelt “grammar”, not “grammer”.

        • You sell your country short by saying you use UK English– you don’t. You use New Zealand English. Australia uses Australian English. Canada uses Canadian English. Yes, they are closer to UK English than American English is, but they are still their own dialects that have gone through hundreds of years of changes. Canadian English, in particular, has been heavily influenced by American English. Even among Canadians spelling often comes down to what region you’re from or even personal preference– I know an Albertan who uses both American and British spellings, sometimes even for the same word.

          • Yeah, I knew someone from Alberta who used pure US spellings apart from the word ‘cheque’. I see some people who go back and forth between the spellings too – I imagine there’s a lot of tension in Canada, because they were more tied to the British Empire in the past, but their neighbour to the south obviously has a massive influence on the way they speak and write.

    • I’ve personally seen a mixture, myself; it depends on what they’re influenced by. I’ve seen some European people (mostly online) write using British spellings and some with the American ones. I’ve seen more Western Europeans, Scandinavians and Finns using British spellings than I have Eastern European people though, possibly because English was less popular in those countries until after the Cold War, and it would have been the Americans who influenced them rather than the British?

  6. COLOUR MASTER RACE

  7. ninja948jasmine says:

    Even Know I’m A Seven Year Old Girl From Australia I
    Write Color

  8. It’s a bit frustrating to see the US using spelling that’s not harmonised with the way the rest of the English-speaking world uses it (and it’s even more frustrating to see them try to impose it on others through Microsoft Office spell checkers and other software programs). At this point, I don’t think the different spellings have any more reason for being; the Revolutionary War is over, they introduce as many inconsistencies as they take away and they just create more work for editors and publishers. I think that Americans should just harmonise their spellings with the rest of the world (re-introduce the ‘u’ in words like harbour and colour, spell words like centre and fibre -re as opposed to -er etc), but I doubt *that* will ever happen.

    • Larry Nathaniel says:

      I don’t think you should be so upset. The U.S. constitutes the worlds largest population of English speakers and has influenced the language more than the Brits during the last century or so.

  9. Actually there is at least one derivative of the word “colour” which assumes the U.S. spelling in the U.K. and, as far as I know, internationally. That is the word “coloration”, at least when used in a technical context, i.e. dyeing, pigmentation and so on.

    • A lot of ‘our’ words actually follow the same pattern they do in French, which is where our -our spellings in words like colour, honour etc come in. In French the base noun is -eur but derivative words often have -or, so ‘couleur’ (colour) but ‘coloration’. The English quirks are related to that. A lot of English nouns that aren’t spelt -our (in international English, I’m not talking about the American stuff right now) like ‘horror’ and ‘terror’ came into the language later directly from Latin.

  10. pokemon876 says:

    same

  11. Larry Nathaniel says:

    Growing up I was taught to spell it colour, and this is living in the United States. It wasn’t until after high school people started telling me this was incorrect. Perhaps it was just always passed down in my family this way. They actually left England for the Americas (United States now) in the 17th century and I guess we somehow missed the change.

  12. I picked up of spelling colour, and my friends says that it’s wrong to spell colour like that because we are in North America, so I’m like Wtf? So then I told them, “What if I have some canadian in me?”

  13. Rachel Hetrick says:

    I as an American I use the word color and colour interchangeably with out thinking about it. I also struggle with the word herb because here Herb is only a name and erb is what you use in food and my mom would get so mad at me because I would refuse to not pronounce the h.

  14. ParaSensei says:

    so, uh, as a german… which should i use?

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