Doughnut vs. Donut – What’s the Difference?

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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.

Who doesn’t enjoy a doughnut’s lightly puffed, sweet sugary carbs each morning? Or is that a donut?

The doughnut has long been a treat that was first enjoyed in the Middle East and introduced to the Americans via European immigration. But why is there such an argument over how it is spelled?

The fact is that the shortening of the word to donut didn’t occur until the mid-20th century when a brand decided to highlight their pastry with a funky new name. Although doughnut is still the popular (and correct) spelling, everyone knows what you mean when you use donut in its place.

Let’s take a closer look at how this all came about.

What’s the Difference Between Doughnut and Donut?

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The dictionary-approved spelling for the ring-shaped cake made of dough and fried in fat is doughnut. The shortened version, donut is a variant of doughnut and has been around since the late 1800s. But, it wasn’t popularized until the late 20th century when the successful American doughnut chain Dunkin’ Donuts made it ubiquitous. Today, writers outside the U.S. still favor doughnut by a wide margin. Donut appears about a third of the time in published American writing.

Donut is a simpler spelling, so it may grow even more common now that it has a foothold.

History of Doughnut

Doughnut vs. Donut Ngram
Doughnut and donut usage trend.

As the graph highlights, the original spelling of doughnut is definitely the favored option in the English language. These sweetened oily cakes have been enjoyed for hundreds, if not thousands of years, when people dropped the unleavened dough into the hot oil.

Flavored with honey and other spices, various forms of this fried lump of dough delicacy have been adopted by many cultures over the years – resulting in our favorite morning pastry treat marked by a centered hole and sweet sugars and glazes.

Donut became a shortened, Americanized spelling of doughnut in the mid-1800s. But the spelling didn’t catch on in popularity until it was used in marketed brand names such as Dunkin’ Donuts. That led to its use in more and more local donut shops and chains.

Despite the trend and recognition, doughnut is the preferred and official dictionary spelling, especially outside the U.S.

Examples of Doughnut in Sentences

Throughout the English-speaking world, most edited publications favor doughnut spelling over donut. Here are a few examples from publications in the U.S. and overseas:

  • I say that almost every morning when I get out of bed, even though I have never made a doughnut in my entire life. [The Atlantic]
  • The corporation is vacating the doughnut-shaped T.V. Centre by 2015. [Guardian]
  • Hundreds more were lost in the near-collapse in November of doughnut chain Krispy Kreme. [Sydney Morning Herald]

But donut appears fairly often, and it’s no longer just an American thing. For example, these publications are from New Zealand, England, and Canada, respectfully:

  • I counted at least four bakeries and sampled a truly marvellous donut in the main square. []
  • Was it because the blog outed their favorite little-known coffee and donut shack, bringing hordes of unwanted tourists to their undercover hangout? [Independent]
  • Smith has the amazing ability of making you feel great, even if you’ve just downed a donut. [Toronto Sun]

Let’s Review

Whether you prefer doughnut or donut, you can’t go wrong with these spellings. Both are correct spellings and are widely used throughout the world. Although doughnut is the preferred spelling and more popular overall outside the U.S., it isn’t considered a more formal option compared to donut. The bottom line is, use whichever spelling you prefer. 

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