The English language can, at times, be confusing. Understanding the difference between whose and who’s, their, there and they’re, and to or too can be overwhelming. There are many times when these differences are simply dialectical difference such as color or colour or grey and gray.
According to one site “Grey and Gray both can function as adjectives, nouns, and verbs, with all uses centering on the color intermediate between black and white.” So, when do you use grey or gray? Well, the good news is, you can use it anytime you like. That’s right, grey and gray have no functional difference between them, and are often used interchangeably. Although certain regions tend to favor certain spellings of the word, both are correct to use.
Although we see no difference in using grey as to using gray, in writing, we still need to keep the audience in mind. This includes spelling certain words that are favored in a certain region of the world. The use of ‘grey’ is more often found in British English. This means, if you are writing for a journal, website or newspaper and your audience is primarily British, you will want to stick to using ‘grey’.
Once again, depending on the region, we will use ‘gray’. ‘Gray’ is the socially correct and acceptable spelling in American English. So, once again, if you are writing for an American journal or website you would use ‘gray’.
Are there any exceptions to this rule? Actually, there are. According to GrammarGirl, “Romance novels are an exception to the British-American rule, That silky-haired hunk in your forthcoming bodice ripper should have smoky grey eyes whether you publish in America or Britain—it’s the common romance industry spelling, sure to set romance readers’ hearts aflutter.” Of course, there are other exceptions to this rule as well. Some more obvious than others.
1.) Grey as a name: It is not acceptable to change the spelling of someone’s name from ‘Grey’ to ‘Gray’.
2.) Greyhound dog: You do not change the spelling of ‘Greyhound’ to ‘Grayhound’.
3.) Greyhound bus lines: As this is a brand and a name, the spelling cannot be changed.
4.) Scientific Measurement: Referring to a measurement known as ‘the gray’, the gray measures the absorption of one joule of radiation energy to one kilogram of matter.
The Bottom Line
With all of the confusing instances shared between the English language, it can be difficult to remember them all. Truly, the question, “gray or grey?” can be used interchangeably, as neither is truly incorrect. There is, however, an easy way to remember which to use depending on your audience.
Always use the ‘A’ spelling for American, and the ‘E’ spelling for English. Little tricks and tips like this can go a long way to ensure that you are always spelling correctly for your audience. And in the long run, without them realizing it, it is appreciated.