Gray or Grey: Which is Correct?

How to spell gray vs. grey

What do Lego pieces have to do with spelling? Not much, unless your son is doing a school presentation. Child number four had to teach his classmates “How to Build a Lego Bug”, complete with visual aids.  He looked up the proper names for Lego pieces and found things like “2×2 slide plate” and “2×4 brick”. The real dilemma came when he had to write down the color of said plates and bricks.

“Mom, is it g-r-e-y or g-r-a-y?”

Good question son, and one that’s bothered me before, as I have seen both spellings in different places. The Word Nerd did some research.

Lego bug
The Lego Bug

According to Dictionary.com, gray and grey are adjectives that describe a neutral color between white and black. They can also mean gloomy or dull. Both words come from the Old English graeg, however, the gray spelling is used most often in America and the grey spelling is used more in England. If you need help remembering, think about a for America and e for England.

The EL James novel Fifty Shades of Grey may add to the confusion.  Also, comments on the Dictionary.com site suggest that some people prefer one spelling over the other when it’s used for a name. There doesn’t seem to be a style guide for this, just personal preference.

By the way, son and I weren’t the only ones confused. A vocativ.com piece reports that, according to Google data trends, “grey” was a frequently Googled term (for spell checking) in twelve states, including Virginia (my home state), California, Florida, and Illinois.

How do you spell gray, and what is the reason for your spelling?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

Julia Tomiak
I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.

8 Comments

  1. I prefer “grey” and I don’t know why…I think it has something to do with me associating “gray” with my hair color 🙂 Who know? Anyway, thanks for clearing that up! I’ve long wondered and never bothered to find out!

  2. I like your trick for remembering “a” or “e.” I usually spell it “gray,” but either spelling looks right to me.

    I was writing something when I spelled “moustache,” and it was underlined as incorrect (as it is right now). “Mustache” is the American spelling, but apparently I was channeling my British that day. I still like the British spelling better!

  3. When faced with a word I am not sure how to spell, I often cop-out and try to find another word… this of course his hard to do while describing the color that represents a blend of black and white…

    1. Good point, and I think the same strategy can be employed when faced with a grammar conundrum… in most situations. 😉 You’re right though, what’s another way to describe “a neutral color between black and white?” Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I like the way it looks more when it’s spelled ‘grey,’ but I know that’s the more British-y spelling~ it’s been corrected on my copyedited manuscripts, and I’m like, “Ugh! But I love the British-y spelling!” I use ‘gray’ now in my manuscripts, but I’m always secretly thinking ‘grey.’

    1. Cool, Jessica, thanks for giving us an “insider” perspective with editorial input. Personally, I like gray better – it looks more like it sounds. But I get the British-y thing… I have Siri on my iPhone set to “British Male” – everything sounds more crisp and lovely when it’s British-y. 😉

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