When to Use Die and Dye

Commonly Confused Words

Tie-dyed Fabrics
Dyed scarves.

Matt Seymour/Unsplash

The words die and dye are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Dye or Die?

The noun die refers to a small cube used for games (plural, dice) or to a tool used for stamping or cutting objects (plural, dies).

The verb die means to stop living, to stop functioning, to end. The past tense of die is died. Dying concerns the end of life.

The noun dye refers to any substance used to give color to hair, a fabric, and so on (plural, dyes). The verb dye means to apply dye or to color something. The past tense of dye is dyed. Dyeing concerns the application of a coloring agent.


  • The gambler picked up the die and threw a six.
  • The coins were stamped with a die that produced a square or circular hollow.
  • "At the graveside Snowball made a little speech, emphasizing the need for all animals to be ready to die for Animal Farm if need be."
    (George Orwell, Animal Farm, 1945)
  • "He had prayed that Rudy Mohn, whom he had purposely tripped so he cracked his head on their radiator, not die, and he had not died. But for all the blood, it was just a cut; Rudy came back the same day, wearing a bandage and repeating the same teasing words."
    (John Updike, "Pigeon Feathers." Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories. Knopf, 1962)
  • A yellow dye called gamboge is used to color the robes of Buddhist monks.
  • Liz wanted to visit Chicago on St. Patrick's Day to see them dye the river green.
  • "Besides human tormentors, Bessie suffered from demons, imps, Evil Powers. She hid her eyeglasses in the night table and found them in a slipper. She placed her bottle of hair dye in the medicine chest; days later she discovered it under the pillow."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." A Friend of Kafka. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970)

Idiom Alerts

  • Die Is Cast
    The expression the die is cast means that a decision has been made or an action has been taken that can't be changed.
    "Editing may be a form of revision, but it is revision made before the die is cast—before the letter mailed, the poem published, or the final draft surrendered to the printer. Revision, in the sense in which I must now use the term, is a second look, literally a re-vision, an opportunity to recollect, observe and comment upon an enterprise once considered completed."
    (Frank Smith, Writing and the Writer, 2nd ed. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994)
  • Never Say Die
    The proverb Never say die means never quit or give up.
    Luis attributes his never-say-die attitude to his grandmother, who raised him by herself.
  • Dyed-in-the-Wool
    The idiom dyed-in-the-wool refers to something (such as a belief, attitude, or habit) that's strongly held, deeply ingrained, or firmly established.
    "If you're a true environmentalist, a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, then why not pack up your leafy rural home and move to New York City—preferably to a tall building right in the middle of Manhattan? The Big Apple is home to the greenest citizens in the U.S."
    ("The Global Warming Survival Guide." Time, March 30, 2007)

Exercises With Die and Dye

  • (a) "Bessie had long since made peace with death, but to _____ on the steps or in the streets was too harsh."
    (Isaac Bashevis Singer, "The Key." A Friend of Kafka. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970)
  • (b) Marie liked to _____ her short hair with exotic colors.
  • (c) At the request of the dying fortune-teller, Lydia placed the worn _____ in a small silver box.

Answers to Practice Exercises

  • (a) "Bessie had long since made peace with death, but to die on the steps or in the streets was too harsh."
  • (b) Marie liked to dye her short hair with exotic colors.
  • (c) At the request of the dying fortune-teller, Lydia placed the worn die in a small silver box.