There's a short answer and a long answer to this question. But when it comes to correctness, both “gray” and “grey” are correct. It comes down to where you live. So, grey or gray: what's the correct spelling? Let's dive a little deeper into the difference.
When it comes to whether it is “gray” or “grey,” it depends on where you live.
- If you live in the United States, you will use the spelling “gray” with an “a” in American English.
- If you write and speak British English, you’ll spell the color as “grey” with an “e.”
Both spellings are considered correct, but the preferred spelling depends on whether you follow American English or British English standards. In the debate between “grey” and “gray,” it's best to simply follow the crowd in this instance.
Should you ever find yourself living in England for a span of time, write your emails and draft your texts using “grey.” If you remain in the United States for all your days, stick with “gray” and no one will look at you sideways.
Now that you know how to spell the color gray, explore how gray is used in different parts of speech.
You're likely to see gray acting as an adjective, describing another noun, like the “gray chair” or “the gray skies.” Examples include:
- She placed the gray chair beside her night table.
- He grabbed the gray case off the table.
- Did you see that gray car?
Gray is also used as an adjective to indicate something that's dull, nondescript, or without any interesting qualities. Examples of this usage include:
- The gray, faceless man disappeared into the shadows.
- The dull, gray horizon matched her disposition.
- A gray mood filled the room.
"Gray" can also act as a noun itself. In this manner, it's referring specifically to the color gray. So, you might see it used in a sentence like:
- The room was painted in three different tones of gray.
- The clouds were various shades of gray.
- The dog’s eyes were gray.
When “gray” is functioning as a verb, it's typically referring to things that “gray with age.” Of course, the biggest reference would be to hair. Some examples include:
- She looked exactly the same except her hair had grayed a little around the temples.
- In addition to gaining weight, he had grayed with age.
- Even his eyebrows were graying with age.
When in doubt about how to spell the color gray:
- Try to correlate gray with an A for America, given the capital A in America.
- By the same token, try to associate grey with an E with England, given the capital E in England.
Of course, most of the United Kingdom uses “grey,” including Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and several offshore islands. But, England's surely the big Kahuna when one thinks of the United Kingdom. “Grey” is also the preferred spelling where British English prevails, like in Canada and Australia.
Now that you’ve got a solid understanding of when to use “grey” vs “gray,” take a look at the history of the word.
“Gray” evolved from the Old English word grǣg. You can see why it's difficult to choose between the letter A and E. Both vowels can make the same "AY" sound. There's no clear indication as to why the English went with E while the Americans went with A.
Interestingly, 18th-century English lexicographer and writer Samuel Johnson considered “gray” to be the better version. In the end, the rest of his country didn't follow suit. And, if you continue to dig back in time, you can find references to both “gray” and “grey” in Webster's Dictionary.
It's nice to sort out the great debate between words that are commonly interchanged or confused. While gray vs. grey doesn't have a firm right or wrong, there are plenty that do. Take a look at the most commonly confused words to make sure you land on the right side of popular grammatical debates. Explore words similar words like stationary vs. stationery to see how they differ.