Color vs. Colour – Difference & Examples

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

It’s no surprise to many that there are many variances in spelling from American English to British English. Words that sound the same and mean the same thing but are spelled differently due to the distance between the two English-speaking countries can create confusion for English language learners.

Color and colour are two of the best examples of this issue. Even though color is the dominant spelling, colour is still a popular alternative throughout the U.K.

Take a look at the main differences between these two spellings and see how they can be used in sentences as both a noun and a verb.

Difference Between Color and Colour

Grammarist Article Graphic V4 2022 12 20T204308.388

Unless you have a British accent, color and colour are pronounced exactly the same and mean the same thing according to dictionary.com: “the quality or substance of an object in respect to the visible light reflected off its surface measured as saturation, brightness, or hue.”

Color is the official spelling in American English, while colour is used throughout the U.K., Canada, and Australia.

History of the Word

Color vs Colour Ngram
Ngram of the popularity of the words Color and Colour over the years.

The spelling and meaning of color have been used for centuries, originating from the Latin, color, meaning color in general, hue, or appearance. It has changed very little, taking on variances in accented spellings through the years.

Colur, culoure, and coolor, for instance, were all alternate spellings before the modern British spelling of colour gained permanent prevalence in the 17th century. The American spelling 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.

Which Spelling Should You Use?

Color Amerian English Ngram
American English Color usage trend.

If you live in the U.S., you should use the spelling color in your writing. This includes all derivatives such as colored, coloring, colorere, colorful, and discolor.

Colour Bristish English Ngram
British English Colour usage trend.

Colour is still the preferred spelling in English-speaking countries outside the U.S. despite color becoming more and more popular globally.

Color as a Noun

Also, keep in mind that color can be used as both a noun and a verb. As a noun, color is defined as a characteristic appearance and frequency of light. It is used to describe the hue or saturation point of what you can see.

For example:

  • The sky is a beautiful color this morning.
  • Red is not my color. It makes me look too pale.
  • Add more color to the invitations to make them stand out more.

Color as a Verb

When color is used as a verb, it means to give or add shade or hue to something.

For example:

  • Could you please color in those invites so I can pop them in the mail?
  • The directions clearly stated to color the sky blue and the grass green.

Let’s Review

Color and colour are the same despite the difference in spelling. They are pronounced the same and mean the same thing, but color is the preferred American version, while colour is the preferred British version of the spelling.

It is an old word that has stayed true to its Latin root spelling and meaning, and variances in spelling have been attributed to the addition of phonetic accents and pronunciations.

Sources

1. OED entry (subscription required)

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