Humanities › English Gray vs. Grey: How to Choose the Right Word And the Rules for When Gray Is Not a Color Share Flipboard Email Print Andre Schoenherr/Getty Images English English Grammar An Introduction to Punctuation Writing Table of Contents Expand How to Use "Gray" How to Use "Grey" Examples How to Remember the Difference Exceptions Sources By Robert Longley History and Government Expert B.S., Texas A&M University our editorial process Facebook Facebook Robert Longley Updated March 03, 2019 "Gray" and "grey" are both correct spellings of the word for the same neutral or achromatic color, a color “without color,” between black and white—a cloud-covered sky, ashes, or lead. The main distinction between the two spellings is a matter of geographical custom. While both spellings are commonly used throughout the English-speaking world, the common use of "gray" in the United States and "grey" in most other nations has remained constant. Of course, as is usually the case in things grammatical, there are certain exceptions and rules of usage for "gray" and "grey" that should be observed. How to Use "Gray" The spelling "gray" (with an “a”) is more common in American English, so if you are writing for an American audience, use "gray" when you mean the color (or the radiation measurement—more on that in a moment). How to Use "Grey" In the United Kingdom and in other variants of English, "grey" is the preferred spelling of the color word—and has always been. But because of the widespread adoption of the American spelling in the United States, the number of instances of the British spelling in English-language texts started declining in the 1880s. Used for centuries, both "gray" and "grey" come from the Old English word grǽg and are related to the Dutch word grauw and the German word grau. What it comes down to is that if you're writing for a British audience—or in a location that uses British spellings of words, such as Canada or Australia—you should use the U.K. spelling. Examples "Gray" is flexible. When used as a noun, it typically refers to a shade of the color itself, as in, “The walls were painted an ominous shade of gray” or a soldier during the American Civil War: "It was a fight between the Blue and the Gray." As an adjective, it can describe an object or person as being without interest or character, as in, “They marched onward, as a line of gray, faceless men.” Used as a verb, it can refer to the aging process, as in, “David’s hair began graying when he was a teenager,” or “The graying of America.” How to Remember the Difference Though the use of "gray" and "grey" is still often confused and debated, as long as they are used in reference to the color, they can actually be used interchangeably anywhere in the English-speaking world. So, if you write, “The Queen wore a gray dress,” in London, you might be considered a rebel or a simpleton, but you would not be wrong. A simple trick for remembering this is that gray is typically used in America, while grey is typically used in England. Exceptions When referring to the specific color, "gray" and "grey" are sometimes not used interchangeably. This is typically done in an attempt to separate them into different shades or hues, with "gray" being a simple mixture of black and white and "grey" containing a little blue. For example, paint chip sample cards or fabric swatches often show a range of shades using both "gray" and "grey." Despite this, "gray" and "grey" describe the same color family, and as commonly used, there is no difference between them. However, there are three distinct grammatical instances in which the “a” and the “e” cannot be mixed: In proper names: It probably goes without saying, but this is not a gray area. If someone’s last name is “Grey,” it cannot be spelled “Gray.” For example, the popular Earl Grey tea is named after Charles Grey, the second Earl of Grey and prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1830 to 1834.The dog breed: While it actually has nothing to do with the animal’s color, the dog breed "greyhound" can never be spelled “grayhound.” The same is true for the Greyhound bus service company.As a measure of energy: Last but certainly not least, especially to physicists, is the scientific measure of energy called the "gray." One gray is equal to about one joule of energy radiated by the ionization of one kilogram of matter. The gray replaced the rad as a standard measuring unit of radiation energy in 1975. One gray is equal to 100 rads. Sources "Gray (adj.)." Online Etymology Dictionary."Grey." English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Oxford University Press.MacDonald, Cheyenne. "The Future Is Gray for British English." Daily Mail Online. Last updated 28 July 2016.