Grammar Police: Mr. Grey and his gray sweater.

Grammar and spelling are most people's least favorite subjects, and for those of us that adore them we become the bane of dinner parties. Politely correcting a person's syntax doesn't make one very popular. However, today's warrant issued by the Grammar Police is over the words 'gray' and 'grey'.

Much speculation has been done in the world of grammar as to what the proper spelling of that color that lies between white and black. There is even a website devoted entirely to the subject.

As the website says, but dictionaries will not tell you, the proper spelling - in America - for the color gray is grAy. With an A. In America, if you spell the word G-R-E-Y, you are spelling someone's name.

Yes, folks, spelling can be different between European English and American English. Such differences can be seen in the words:

  • Color in America & Colour in England
  • Theater in America & Theatre in England
  • Monologue in America & Monolog in England
So, I suppose I'm being nit-picky here, but that is the job of an Officer of the Grammar Police. If you are in America, and you are addressing Mr. Grey (or discussing my favorite comic character, Jean Grey), then you end the word in -ey. If, however, you are discussing the color, it is not capitalized and it ends in -ay.

Spelling it grey sounds like you're inviting people over for tea, which, if you are, I shall cease complaining and bat my eyelashes and promise to bring the sugar lumps. Also, it sounds pretentious and purposefully hipster - using a spelling that is reserved for other countries and isn't used by the majority of the population in your own country - and is mildly douchestastic. So, no, you don't look cool, and nobody will mistake you for a Brit just because you spell something incorrectly.

Remember the sentence: Mr. Grey wears a gray sweater. 

All shall be well.

You have been served.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte


  1. I actually found this really useful. For some odd reason, yesterday I couldn't remember how to spell gray right in a text, and it bugged the crap out of me. "Mr. Grey wears a gray sweater" is the perfect way to remember it from now on.

    Thanks Fire Lyte!

  2. As a Brit and a fellow grammar geek I can sympathise with "we become the bane of dinner parties". I can cope with 'gray' but 'color' makes me feel slightly ill-I know it's completely irrational. I do,however, take some issue with: "nobody will mistake you for a Brit just because you spell something incorrectly", judging from the rest of the article I don't think the exact denotation of this sentence was what you were going for, but I don't think it's fair to say the British alternative spellings are 'incorrect'. As a qualifier I should imagine you were intending to suggest that British spellings are incorrect, or unusual, in relation to the American standard, and that the point of the article was the connotation of using British spellings in an American setting, not to suggest they are wrong.
    Blessings, Matthew

  3. Correct, Matthew. It is, indeed, 'incorrect' in the context of Americanized English grammar. I had more than one grammar professor in college circle a word, such as 'colour', and annotate 'You are not in England,' in the margin.

    Yes, British spellings are correct for Brits in Europe. Once you cross the pond, as it were, the spellings become "incorrect."


  4. I always used to complain about the fact tat I grew up learning to spell theatre as I just wrote it(born American, btdubs), and as an adult suddenly had it marked wrong. After taking some theatre classes, I found out both spellings are okay; they now use theater to indicate location, and theatre to mark concept.

  5. Canada also uses many of the British spellings. Although I'm a Canuck, for several years I used American spellings for some reason. Now, I use Canadian spellings--and MS Word goes NUTS when I spell something with a "u" where it thinks there shouldn't be one--like "favourite", rather than "favorite" (gosh, it felt weird to write that word like that), as I have yet to figure out how to set the dictionary to British or Canadian English. However, some words are spelled the same way on both sides of the US/Canada border, like "humorous".

  6. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I think spellings like grey, gray, colour are actually completely unimportant because they are legitimately right in the big ol' family of English. As a bilingual person, I use a spelling if it's correct and since I read a lot of British lit as a child a I use grey for the color and I have no remorse for it - most people do not get confused.

    At the same time, I get antsy if people romanize Japanese differently than I do. For same I write "shimasu" but "simasu" is legitmate it some schools. I prefer my way because it's very clear that "SHI" is pronouced like "she" and not like "sea". Does it matter? Maybe - even if someone doesn't know Japanese, I feel like they'll pick up correct pronunciation from the way I learned to romanize.

    This distinction simply doesn't exist in British vs American spelling.


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