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I've recently encountered these two variations of the spellings for the informal word for "expensive." My dictionary and the online dictionary seem to indicate that both of these spellings are correct, but I have yet to discover why there are two variations of this word.

  1. Are both of these spellings correct?
  2. Is this simply another difference between British and American English?
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Pricey? Next we'll be saying spicey and icey. I'll always spell it pricy. –  user23533 Jul 14 '12 at 11:32
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4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

First of all, dictionaries list both spellings, and pricy is generally listed as a variant spelling of pricey, not the other way round, at least in the dictionaries I have checked (Merriam-Webster, Wiktionary, New Oxford American Dictionary, American Heritage Dictionary, Cambridge Dictionaries Online).

Secondly, the usage stats from the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and the British National Corpus (BNC) look as follows:

            COCA   BNC

pricey      1421    73
pricy         36     4

As you can see, this is not an American vs. British English thing. Pricey is clearly more popular on both sides of the pond.

Furthermore, the Corpus of Historical American English (COHA) paints the following picture:

COHA search: "pricey" vs. "pricy"

(X axis: year, Y axis: absolute number of hits.)

So, this suggests three things, at least for American English:

  1. Both words are surprisingly recent coinages. COHA does return three more hits from 1837, 1928, and 1966, but they all look like typos or OCR failures to me. Etymonline confirms: "1932, from price + -y".
  2. Pricey has always been more popular than pricy.
  3. Pricey is getting even more popular, while pricy fades in comparison.

So the bottom line is: both spellings are correct, but if you want to be on the safe side, pricey is the way to go.

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Thanks for adding some more in-depth insight about the usage of these spellings, Reg! I wish I could accept more than one answer! And those links (COCA/BNC) are highly useful! Bookmark –  Leif Jul 12 '11 at 11:08
    
I thought about it, and decided to change this to my accepted answers, since it's more in-depth and explanatory than the answer that I originally accepted, and it also answered my second question more accurately. –  Leif Jul 13 '11 at 15:08
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According to NOAD [New Oxford American Dictionary], this is just a variant spelling.

pricy |ˈprīsē| adjective variant spelling of pricey.

So at least in America it's spelled both ways.

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I know you don't always trust NGram, but it's 6,500 for pricy against 325,000 for pricey, with no major difference between US and UK usage that I can see. In short, pricy is very definitely a 'variant' of the 'standard' form pricey. –  FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 2:41
    
Thanks for the answer Robusto, and your comment FumbleFingers. It was interesting to see the NGram; I hadn't thought to use this as a technique to determine which of the variations are most commonly used, but Google let me do that quite easily: ngrams.googlelabs.com/… –  Leif Jul 12 '11 at 3:18
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"Pricey" is definitely more commonly used in American English.

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If you want to follow the rules strictly, then it should be "pricy".

The reason being, the rules for dropping the silent 'e' is as follows. If the suffix starts with a vowel, then the silent 'e' is dropped. As in "chase/chasing" or "haste/hasty".

Thus, if you follow the rules strictly, it would be "pricy".

However, both spellings are in common use, and if you aren't that strict on the rules, either can be correct. It's up to you. As you said, the dictionary lists them both... :)

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By 'the rules', you effectively mean the rule that recommends dropping the 'e'. The rule being followed by others (the majority, by a huge margin) is to spell it the way everyone else (including dictionaries) does, –  FumbleFingers Jul 12 '11 at 2:37
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Strictly, this is somewhat contrary to the truth. –  Grant Thomas Jul 12 '11 at 10:21
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It's a bit dicey following that sort of rule ;-) –  psmears Jul 12 '11 at 10:45
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protected by Jasper Loy Jul 14 '12 at 20:43

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