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What is the difference? Or is there any? Which would be more British English?

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I was once docked points on an elementary school spelling quiz for spelling it grey -- the spelling I was more used to seeing in the books (mostly by British authors) that I read. –  TJ Ellis Nov 22 '10 at 23:09
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I have to say... this is a bit of a gray area. –  advs89 Feb 21 '11 at 21:28
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Does anyone not think that grey has a particular emotional mood than gray doesn't possess? Gray is just a color. Grey on the other hand, has an emotional valence: I'd always prefer to say I was feeling grey to-day or The sky was a dreary shade of grey, over substituting grey's counterpart in its place. –  Uticensis Apr 14 '11 at 14:01
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Try using greigh. –  ThinkingStiff Dec 13 '11 at 0:57
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Both grey and gray are correct. –  tchrist Mar 19 '13 at 18:35
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7 Answers 7

up vote 59 down vote accepted

The British National Corpus has 5445 cites for grey and 1092 cites for gray. The Corpus of Historical American English, on the other hand, paints the following picture:

alt text

(X axis: year, Y axis: incidences per million words.)

After seeing these stats, it should come as no surprise that Wiktionary marks grey as British, Canadian, and gray as US.

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Of course, some of those instances will also be proper nouns. –  ShreevatsaR Dec 18 '10 at 3:39
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@ShreevatsaR The question is, you thought of Grey's Anatomy or Sasha Grey? –  Camilo Martin Feb 7 '12 at 0:08
    
+1 for the stats. –  dj18 May 1 '12 at 18:51
    
I've added an answer that takes into account proper nouns: english.stackexchange.com/a/178758/61410 –  philshem Jun 19 at 12:01
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I grew up in England for chunks of my childhood and early adulthood and am still around people who originated from the UK, so I still encounter both spellings all the time. The easiest way to remember it is that the 'a' in gray stands for 'America' and the 'e' in grey 'England'.

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I like the mnemonic! –  John Y Dec 19 '10 at 13:15
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I have found out Google made a N-gram in its labs, it is really useful for such questions. The gap between the two spellings was important during WWII, then was really narrow, and finally it has been widening since the 1980s.

American English: alt text British English: alt text English (cumulative): alt text

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According to the Associated Press (AP) Styleguide, 'grey' is only used in the word 'greyhound' -- otherwise the appropriate use is always 'gray'. In America, anyway.

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Except for Gandalf the Grey. –  TRiG Nov 22 '10 at 18:39
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@TRiG but he wasn't American :-) –  Josh Nov 22 '10 at 21:56
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@Josh Probably would all be speaking the language of Mordor now if he was! ;-) –  Orbling Nov 23 '10 at 0:38
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According to Etymology Online, the grey in greyhound has nothing to do with the color: > greyhound - O.E. grighund, from grig- "bitch" + hund "dog" (see hound). The name usually is said to have nothing to do with color, and most are not gray. The O.N. form of the word is preserved in Hjalti's couplet that almost sparked war between pagans and Christians in early Iceland: > Vilkat goð geyja, grey þykkjumk Freyja > I will not blaspheme the gods, but I think Freyja is a bitch –  AnWulf Dec 16 '11 at 19:09
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@GEdgar No! Tolkien’s careful choices of spelling and punctuation are unaltered for American audiences. I never spell it gray myself, anywhere. Just looks wrong. –  tchrist Aug 19 '12 at 14:21
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"Gray" is generally the American spelling and "grey" the British.

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In addition to the other answers correctly stating that grEy is British English and grAy is American English...

Proper names (capitalized Gray) in British English (red line) account for more than 50% of the instances of the American spelling, Gray.

enter image description here

N-grams link

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They're interchangeable. With both spellings available, some people like to assert that they denote slightly different hues. But they don't, consistently.

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protected by tchrist Sep 26 '12 at 18:55

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