'Gray' or 'Grey'?

"Gray" or "grey"? One spelling is British, and one is American.

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

Have you ever wondered why you see "gray" spelled two different ways? "Grey" is the preferred spelling in British English, but "gray" is more common in American English. 

Who Was Earl Grey?

I'm American, but I enjoy Earl Grey tea, named after Charles Grey, 2nd Earl of Grey, the British prime minister from 1830 to 1834. Earl Grey tea is flavored with oil from the bergamot orange and is believed to have been introduced to England in the 1820s.

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I regularly look at my tea box, so I was confused about the spelling until I came up with the following memory trick.

'Grey' or 'Gray'?

Remember the difference by associating the A in "gray" with America. If that's too US-centric for you, associate the E in "grey" with England (but don't tell anyone in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or other places that use British English).

Romance Novels: 'Grey'

Romance novels are an exception to the British-American rule, though, according to David Farland who long penned an excellent “Daily Kick” email newsletter about fiction writing. That silky-haired hunk in your forthcoming bodice ripper should have smoky grey eyes whether you publish in America or Britain—it’s the common romance industry spelling, sure to set romance readers’ hearts aflutter. Jane Austen (a British writer whose novel "Pride and Prejudice" was called “the best romance novel ever written” by Pamela Regis in "A Natural History of the Romance Novel") set the standard by favoring the "grey" spelling.

I must, for my own part, declare that I have seldom seen so lovely a woman as Lady Susan. She is delicately fair, with fine grey eyes and dark eyelashes.  from the novel "Lady Susan" by Jane Austen

Miss Sophia Grey—a wealthy but malicious heiress whom Mr. Willoughby marries in order to retain his comfortable lifestyle after he is disinherited by his aunt. — from the novel "Sense and Sensibility" by Jane Austen


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.