To answer the question: “Is the spelling color or colour correct?” we first need to know your CONTEXT: where in the world you are, or for which group of people you are writing. Why? Because the “color vs. colour” quandary is geographically and culturally dictated! Let’s explore why.
Color vs. Colour: U.S. vs. U.K.
Both the spellings “color” and “colour” are correct — they are just used in different parts of the world. The spelling “color” (with no “u”) is used in the United States of America. The spelling “colour” (WITH a “u”) is used in the United Kingdom, and in all parts of the British Commonwealth: Australia, India, Ghana, Canada, etc.
You can remember the difference between color and colour because “U.K.” has a “U” in it (and uses the spelling “coloUr”), while “America” does not (and uses the spelling “color”). You can also remember that the American version is shorter because our culture is so often in a rush! (Keep reading to find out the crazy historical reason for the spelling difference in America… but first, some foundational definitions.)
Definition and Pronunciation of Color and Colour
Both color and colour have the same definition. As a noun, these words refer to the hue or pigmentation of something. For example, “I’m seeing colors in her hair that don’t appear in nature, so she must have dyed it!” (American English) or, “The colour of her dress is a shocking red” (British English).
As a verb, the words color and colour mean to add or change the hue or pigmentation of something. For example, “I want to color my hair orange and green!” (American English) or, “Don’t colour the walls with those crayons — draw on the paper instead” (British English). Both “color” and “colour” are pronounced the same: KUH-lr.
Why are Color and Colour Spelled Differently?
It’s a fascinating story why there are two different correct spellings of “color” in the world. Here’s the origin: In the early 1800s, a U.S. lexicographer and dictionary creator named Noah Webster decided that the United States of America should use different spellings than British English — ideally to make words shorter, simpler, and more logical.
In the 1806 and 1828 American dictionaries that he published, Webster changed most of the “ou” British spellings of words to “o” — including turning “color” into “colour.” He also changed “flavour” to “flavor,” “rumour” to “rumor,” “honour” to “honor,” and many more. He argued that eliminating unnecessary letters (like that silent “u”) could save money on printing!
Other Noah Webster Spelling Changes:
The famous Merriam-Webster dictionary is a direct descendant of Noah Webster’s work, and explains more of Webster’s American spelling changes from British English:
- Webster reversed “re” to “er,” so “centre” (British English) became “center.”
- He removed many double Ls, hence the “traveling or travelling” divide between the U.S. and U.K.
- He changed the “s” to “z” for words like “organise” (which became “organize”) and “realise” (which became “realize”).
- Webster simplified spellings, for example, changing “draught” to “draft” and “plough” to “plow.”
Failed Webster Spelling Changes:
Though many of Noah Webster’s spelling changes from British to American English caught on, some were total flops, and were soundly rejected. In his quest to make English spelling more logical, Webster proposed the following word revisions:
- Change “soup” to “soop.”
- Change “near” to “neer.”
- Change “women” to “wimmin.”
- Change “tongue” to “tung.”
And so on. Honestly, many of Webster’s wild proposals make total sense, and it’s curious to wonder why some of his ideas got traction, while others were tossed aside. “Soop” is such a cute word!
VIDEO: Color vs. Colour
Color or Colour? Now You Know.
Now that you’re privvy to the history, the rule should be clear: If you’re in America or writing for an America audience, use the spelling “color.” If you’re in the rest of the world besides the U.S. — since the British Commonwealth spans most everywhere — or just want to have a fancy British flair, use the spelling “colour.” Enjoy!
The author and artist, Lillie Marshall, is a National Board Certified Teacher of English and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. All art on this site is original and hand-drawn by Lillie. She launched DrawingsOf.com Educational Cartoons in 2020, building upon the success of her other two sites, AroundTheWorldL.com (established 2009) and TeachingTraveling.com (founded 2010). Subscribe to Lillie’s monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media to stay connected!