Gray and grey are two acceptable spellings of the color. However, they vary according to the shade you’re referring to and the audience you’re writing to.
Keep reading to learn the difference between grey and gray. Learn how to spell the color based on the different English variants and shades.
Gray or Grey Definition
Gray or grey is a color that is neither black nor white. It falls on the color palette somewhere between black and white. The color grey is considered a neutral color, one often used to complement a brighter one.
Gray may also be considered a silvery color. Many people enjoy the color gray, considering the beautiful grey sophisticated.
Others are less tolerant of the color gray or color grey, especially dark grey, since they find it gloomy or dull. Perhaps a bit of grey shade is enough.
Gray hair or grey hair is often a synonym for great age. While men and women have used various hair-coloring agents to cover the aged color of their hair, going gray or going grey to preserve the natural color of one’s hair is becoming more and more common.
Gray vs. Grey: Which One to Choose
Many people confuse gray or grey when writing, but both are the correct spelling used throughout the English-speaking world. The color gray or grey may be used as an adjective, noun, or verb.
As an English language noun, you can tell something is a shade of grey. But as an adjective, you can say that the hair is gray. If you want to use the verb, you can say that your hair is graying.
Most English speakers consider both as acceptable spellings. However, it is best to use the spelling with your audience in mind. Here are some examples of how to choose the right word.
Proper Names and Product Names
When grey or gray are used as proper nouns, then you shouldn’t interchange them. For example, Earl Grey Tea can’t be Earl Gray Tea.
Charles Grey can’t be Charles Gray if the surname uses the letter e. This was the name of the second Earl of Grey and prime minister of the UK. He’s also the person which the tea was named after. The same is true with Sophia Grey and other names.
However, if it’s a more general term like gray matter or grey matter, the correct version in the English-speaking world is either.
Most of the time, you can interchange grey and gray for the British or American version. That means common spellings are suitable for British and American English and their audiences. However, gray is the preferred spelling for the American audience.
If you are writing for a British audience, the spelling of grey is more suitable. It’s also widely used in Australia, Canada, and other English-speaking countries.
The word gray as a unit of measurement uses the letter A to measure the radiation absorption. One gray is equivalent to around a joule of energy. This measurement is radiated by the ionization of a kilogram of matter.
Shade of Gray
One of the most uncommon differences between grey and gray is their shade. According to George Field, gray is cooler and has a shade of blue. But Field reserves the spelling grey to be more on the neutral shade.
There’s a type of fish called grayling, which always uses A, so it cannot be greyling. The African Grey Parrot uses the letter for its spelling. Greyhound is a dog breed that you should spell with an e.
Why is Gray Two Spellings?
Understanding how there’s a difference between gray and grey requires knowledge of their origins. Both spellings originate from the Dutch word grauw, the Old English word grǽg, and the German word grau.
Over time, many versions of the term emerged, the first coming from the Middle English poem of the thirteenth century. Its title is “The Owl and the Nightingale.” The French poem “Roman de la Rose” from the fourteenth century was translated using the word greye.
“Greye” is the spelling found in the poem of William Langland, entitled “Piers Plowman.”
Grey became more prominent in the eighteenth century until the twentieth century. Despite this, the English dictionaries still followed gray, the lexicographer Samuel Johnson suggested.
How to Use “Gray”
Here are some examples of gray in daily writing.
- I pressure washed my deck because the wood was turning gray.
Ryan Gosling shared a rare insight into fatherhood revealing that one of the reasons he chose to do The Gray Man and Barbie was his daughters. [The News]
- My fav colors used to be orange and black but now it’s gray and green.
Gray hair is an inevitable part of aging, so you’re going to see more as time marches on. “Melanin is the pigment that gives color to the hair and skin,” explained stylist Helen Reavey, founder of hair care brand Act + Acre. [Huffpost]
How to Use “Grey”
Consider these examples of grey used in British English.
- I colored my hair black because it was getting grey.
The crate comes in 4 different colors: Ash, Grey, Charcoal, and Pine. [Five Barks].
- My home if filled with colours of grey, white, and brown.
That water—slightly used but not fully soiled—is called grey water. And in an increasingly drought-stricken world, it may be the best tool to have in your water conservation toolbox. [Modern Farmer].
How Does Crayola Spell Gray?
Crayola spells the color gray with an A.
Is Hair Grey or Gray?
Hair is either gray or grey, depending on your preferred spelling or the English variant you’re using.
Does Canada Use Grey or Gray?
Canadian English and other English variants use grey. Only the American word distinction uses gray.
Color vs. Colour
Speaking of gray or grey, another confusing word with two spellings is color and colour. Use color for the American spelling, and use colour for the British spelling.
Summary of Gray and Grey
The subtle difference between grey and gray lies in the audience. When referring to the color, spell gray for your American audience and grey for British and other audiences.
But if you’re using proper nouns and names, follow the correct spelling, such as Greyhound, Fifty Shades of Grey, and greyling.