Gray and grey are two very similar words, both used globally. However, there are several differences between them. The question concerning the correct spelling of these two words is frequently asked on the Internet. Let’s look deeper into their origin and peculiarities of their usage in the past, as well as and today.
Grey vs Gray – A little bit of history
There is a simple explanation why these words look so similar. Both of them came from the word “grǽg” (from Old English). This variation existed for many years before the two versions appeared. The spelling changed gradually with the variation of ei, ey, ai, and ay.
The first one to come was “grey”, which appeared in the 18th century. It was one century when American writers adopted the other variation of the word – “gray”. Until the 1840s, those words were equal. According to the Oxford Dictionary, “gray” was first applied by S. Johnson (the writer and lexicographer from England) and in the 20th century, “grey” was officially accepted as a British version. “Gray” got standardized earlier, as we can see references to “gray” in the “grey” entries in the Webster’s Academic and Webster’s Condensed Dictionaries (of 1867/1897 editions).
Today “gray” is considered the American variation, while “grey” is the British one. Thus, the fundamental difference’s dialectal. Nevertheless, we can hear each in both languages.
Usage of Grey and Gray
“Gray” and “grey” are both applied as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. The denotation is a color between white and black (and its shade). When using them, we should consider the audience.
It might seem that the two words are completely interchangeable, but this isn’t the case, and there are instances when only one fixed variation is used. First of all, it concerns proper names. For example, if anyone has a surname “Gray”, it’s impossible to apply “Grey” whoever the audience is. The same concerns the other titles, such as the dog breed Greyhound or tea name Earl Grey, and so on.
There is one more exception – a scientific issue, denoting a joule of radiation energy by a kilo of matter. It always sounds and is spelled as “gray”.
Grey vs Gray – Shades of meaning
There’ve been several attempts to differentiate the two tints of color with these words. The sense for gray was just a mix of black and white, while the grey color was considered to be a bit bluer. However, this distinction wasn’t officially accepted.
Nevertheless, many surveys discover that lots of people still see this slight difference in shades. Some of the Americans think, “grey” is much darker than “gray”. The others consider that “grey” is lighter and looks prettier than “gray”. There are also people, who feel the connotation of bleakness in the word “grey” and can even write “grey” speaking about unpleasant, nasty weather to complain about.
Though dictionaries do not reflect the difference, we should take such “colloquial” features into consideration and remember when to apply a certain version of the word.