Flyer vs. Flier: How to Choose the Right Word

Sometimes grammar follows rigid rules—sometimes it's just about preference

Often, homonyms have very distinct meanings. Sometimes, it’s a little more complicated. Such is the case of flyer vs. flier, where what term is used is dependent on where you are in the world—and sometimes, there is no right answer. For flyer and flier, any distinctions between them have started to blur, with their main difference being in spelling alone. Both words can refer to handbills or things that fly, and their preferred usage has shifted over time and between country lines. 

How to Use Flyer

A noun, flyer has a few different definitions. It often refers to a pamphlet or handbill that is used to spread information or advertise something. For example, someone might put up a flyer to advertise their piano lessons, or could pass out a flyer to look for a lost cat. 

The term can also refer to something that flies—whether that be a passenger on an airplane, a pilot, or a bird. Less commonly, it can be a tool that twists yarn. 

How to Use Flier

Technically, you can use the word flier any way you might use flyer. According to the AP Style Guide, there are only a few phrases in which flier is the sole correct answer, like taking a flier on an investment, or when someone is expected to see no return, or a loss, on an investment. 

Why do we have two different spellings for the same word? Because at first, they weren’t as interchangeable.

This is one of those situations where grammar is dependent on style guidelines and where you were taught the type of English you’re using—what is standard for American English differs from what is standard for British English, but which is standard for either can also depend on the style manual you’re reading. In the past, flier was regarded as the American spelling (you may still see frequent-flier programs advertised), while flyer was the British. 

However, that distribution has changed, with flyer becoming the most common preference around the world. Though some may still argue that what you use depends on which side of the pond you’re on, American publications may opt for the British spelling, and vice versa. Unless your writing requires following a specific style manual, then flyer is probably a safe bet. 

Interestingly, this switch may be a consequence of strong marketing, rather than strong grammar: many airlines have adopted the use of flyer for their frequent-flyer loyalty programs, which has helped make the spelling more commonplace. AP officially accepted it as the standard in 2017 due to companies like United, Delta, and Southwest continually opting for it over flier

Examples

In each of these examples, you may see flier used in similar ones. Both of these are correct.  

  • She was a regular flyer, and taking plane trips now felt as routine as going for a drive: In this case, flyer is used to describe someone who travels by air. 
  • To raise interest in her ballroom dancing lessons, Janice put up flyers around town, having seen the success of similar ones for a blood drive earlier that week: Here, Janice puts up pamphlets as a way of advertising her business, while the blood drive leaflets informed residents about the event.
  • Katie was a high-flyer, and had already been promoted twice after only a year at the job: High-flyer is a common phrase used to describe someone who is ambitious and successful.
  • After three years as a flyer, Matt was promoted to an international route: Matt worked as a pilot for three years until he was able to start flying an international route. 

How to Remember the Difference

Considering the main difference is when choosing between flier and flyer to refer to a risky investment, remember that flier has an “i,” just like investment.

Otherwise, unless you’re writing for a specific publication or audience, remembering the difference is no longer that crucial. If you are, consulting the relevant style guide might be best since the right word is dependent on the specific guidelines. Ultimately, the most important thing to keep in mind is to choose one spelling and stick with it throughout your work—when it comes to flier versus flyer, consistency is key. 

Sources

  • “'Flier' or 'Flyer'?” Quick and Dirty Tips, Grammar Girl, 6 Feb. 2019, www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/flier-or-flyer.
  • Flyer vs. Flier, www.grammar.com/flyer_vs._flier.
  • “Flier vs. Flyer: What's the Difference?” Writing Explained, 28 Mar. 2017, writingexplained.org/flier-vs-flyer-difference.
  • “Grammarist.” Grammarist, grammarist.com/spelling/flier-flyer/.
  • “Is It Flier or Flyer?” Grammarly, 16 May 2019, www.grammarly.com/blog/flyer-flier/.