‘Grey’ and ‘gray’ are two different spellings of the same word. But should you be writing about a ‘grey wolf’ or a ‘gray wolf’? Are your main character’s eyes ‘grey’ or ‘gray’? In this post, we will look at when to use each spelling.
Australian English vs. American English: Grey or Gray?
The question of which spelling to use mostly comes down to dialect:
- In Australian English, the standard spelling is usually ‘grey’.
- In American English, the standard spelling is almost always ‘gray’.
Both spellings refer to the colour between black and white, but the ‘grey’ spelling is the one to use when in Australia and for most other English dialects, including British English. The only exception is US English:
Australian English: The grey dress shrank in the wash.
British English: The grey dress shrank in the wash.
American English: The gray dress shrank in the wash.
To remember this, you can keep in mind that spelling ‘grey’ with an ‘e’ is favoured in England, while ‘gray’ with an ‘a’ is standard in America.
Exceptions: Proper Names and Science
There are two situations where you would use ‘gray’ in Australian English:
- Proper names (e.g. The Portrait of Dorian Gray)
- The gray (i.e. a scientific unit of measurement)
- The grayling (i.e. a type of fish)
In these cases, we’re not referring to the colour ‘grey’ any more. As such, it would be incorrect to use the ‘e’ spelling, even if we were using Australian English. Similarly, though, we would always spell things like ‘Earl Grey tea’ or ‘greyhound’ with an ‘e’, even if we were using American English.
Summary: Grey or Gray?
While both refer to the colour between black and white, there is a key difference between these spellings:
- Grey is the standard spelling in Australian English.
- Gray is the standard spelling in American English.
The only exceptions are when we’re not referring to the colour ‘grey’ (e.g. if someone’s surname is ‘Gray’ or the scientific unit of measurement known as a ‘gray’). In every other case, ‘grey’ will be correct if you’re writing for an Australian audience. If you’d like to be sure your spelling is perfect, though, why not submit a document for proofreading?