Have you ever wondered how to spell “grey” or “gray” correctly in a sentence? They are two very similar words, but is there a difference between the two? It can be embarrassing when you use the wrong spelling of the word, so read on to learn what the differences between grey vs. grey are and how you can use the right word in your writing.
What Is the Difference Between Gray and Grey?
The spelling “gray” is more common in American English (United States) while “grey” is more common in other English language countries, such as the United Kingdom (England, Ireland, Scotland, etc.), Canada, and India who primarily use British English. The word grey and gray are both grammatically correct, have the same meaning, and are the correct spelling of the word.
The different spellings are usually interchangeable except when used in a proper noun such as for the book titled Fifty Shades of Grey and the TV series Grey’s Anatomy.
The use of grey vs gray also applies to science (gray vs grey matter, grey vs gray skies), animal specifies (grey whale vs gray whale, and gray wolf vs grey wolf), and everyday life (grey hair vs gray hair). The word “greyhound”, the dog breed or bus, is an exception since it doesn’t refer to the color gray. Another exception is the word grayling, a type of fish.
When used in proper names, such as Earl Grey tea or the unit Gray (used to measure radiation absorption; one gray is equal to about one joule of energy radiated by the ionization of one kilogram of matter), the spelling stays the same regardless of which country. This is also true when a person’s first or last name is spelled “grey” or “gray” such as Charles Grey, the second Earl of Grey and prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1834.
What’s the Definition of Grey and Gray?
Gray and Grey as a Noun
When referring directly to the colors that are different shades between white and black, you can use the word “gray” as a noun.
- “Her hair was gray.” OR “Her hair was grey.”
- “The asphalt had turned a light shade of gray.” or “The asphalt had turned a light shade of grey.”
Gray and Grey as an Adjective
The word “gray” or “grey” is most commonly referred to as an adjective to describe certain nouns or objects that have a pigment-like quality between white and black.
- “He wore a gray shirt.” or “He wore a grey shirt.”
- “There lay a gray cat.” or “There lay a grey cat.”
- “The gray sky was terrifying.” or “The grey sky was terrifying.”
Gray and Grey as a Verb
It can also be used as a verb to describe a person who is of older age. This is not a common use of the word but is acceptable.
- “She was gray.” or “She was grey.”
Examples of Grey vs Gray
- Earl Grey tea (UK tea) – used as an adjective
- Fifty Shades of Grey (British author)
- Space Gray (An iPhone color – US company)
- The Boston man noticed a bit of gray in his hair. (American city)
- The London woman noticed a bit of grey in her hair. (British city)
Origin of the Differences Between Gray and Grey
Both words, gray and grey, originated from the old English word “grǣg” used previously in old literature. It is also related to the Dutch word grauw and the German word grau. As time passed by and grammatical rules changed, it transformed into grey. Later, American writers implemented a variation “gray”. However, both depict the same definition. Therefore, we can say that grey is used by the rest of the world (Europe, Asia, Australia, etc.), while America primarily uses the word gray.
Other various spellings have been used throughout history. In the twelfth or thirteenth century, the spelling “greie” was used in poetry. The spelling “greye” was used in the fourteenth-century translation of the French poem “Roman de la Rose”. Another poem written in the second half of the fourteenth century by William Langland uses the spelling “graye” in the poem “Piers Plowman”.
Both “gray” and “grey” are acceptable spellings for the color that is in between white and black. However, the spelling “gray” is common in American English while “grey” is common in British English.