Skip to Content

Color or Colour: Which is Correct, Plus the Wild History Why

To answer the question: “Is the spelling color or colour correct? What about colored vs. coloured or coloring vs. colouring?” 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 or colour
Color or colour? Your location holds the answer!

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 U.S. 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 between regions… 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!” (U.S. 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.

Color vs. colour
Color vs. colour, illustrated by colorful hair.

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 U.S. 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! (Now that’s a new type of conflict: a spelling battle!)

Noah Webster changing spelling
Noah Webster changing British spelling to American efficiency.

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 U.S. 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 U.S. English caught on, some were total flops, and were soundly rejected. In his quest to make American 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.

We’ve solved the “color vs. colour,” “coloring vs. colouring,” “colorful or colourful,” and “colored vs. coloured” mystery! Now that you’re privvy to the history, the rule should be clear: If you’re in the United States of America or writing for a U.S. audience, use the American 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!

Want another surprising fact about color? I didn’t learn until I was 40 years old what purple and green make, or the color yellow and purple make when mixed!

SUBSCRIBE to Get Updates!Stay in the loop with twice-monthly emails of new, FREE resources, and no spam.

Logan

Thursday 21st of July 2022

Canada is in America. You must have meant in U.S. English. Please try to remember that most of the western hemisphere is "America", either North, Central, or South.

Lillie Marshall

Friday 22nd of July 2022

Great point -- thank you for the correction. I'll edit now.