Both “colors” and “colours” are correct spellings of the plural form of the noun “color.” The difference between the two spellings has to do with regional variations between American English and British English. In American English, the standard spelling is “colors,” while in British English, the standard spelling is “colours.”
Etymology of Color vs Colour
The word “color” comes from the Old French word “colour.” This entered English in the Middle English period. The French spelling was adopted in Middle English, so “colour” became the standard British spelling. In the 16th century, the spelling was changed to “color” in American English to be in line with the Latin word “color.” So the American and British spellings diverged.
In modern English usage, the key difference between “colors” and “colours” is that “colors” is the preferred spelling in American English, while “colours” is preferred in British English.
Here are some examples of the regional variations:
- In the United States, the flag consists of red, white, and blue colors.
- In the United Kingdom, the flag consists of red, white, and blue colours.
- In America, children learn their colors using crayons.
- In Britain, children learn their colours using colouring pencils.
So the American spelling is “colors” and the British spelling is “colours.” Both are widely used and accepted as correct within each region.
Is One Spelling More Correct?
Since both “colors” and “colours” have a long history of use and are standard in American and British English respectively, neither spelling is inherently “more correct.” Here are some points on the correctness of each spelling:
- In American English, “colors” is undoubtedly the standard spelling and “colours” would be seen as a misspelling.
- In British English, “colours” is considered proper and correct while “colors” would be seen as a misspelling.
- Both have an extensive history of use dating back hundreds of years in written English.
- Major dictionaries list both spellings as correct variants.
- There is no consensus that one spelling is more etymologically justified or accurate than the other.
So in summary, both spellings are considered correct and standard in their respective regional dialects of English. Neither spelling is inherently right or wrong outside of its regional context.
Grammar and Usage
The grammar and usage rules for “colors” vs “colours” are the same. The choice between these spellings depends on whether you follow American or British spelling conventions. Some key grammar and usage notes:
- The plural colors/colours always takes a plural verb – e.g. The colors are vivid. The colours are beautiful.
- Both can be used with the same color-related expressions – e.g. bright colors, light colors, bold colours, dark colours.
- Hyphens can be used in compound color descriptions – e.g. sky-blue color, yellow-green colour.
- They have the same comparative and superlative forms – e.g. more colorful, most colorful; more colourful, most colourful.
Aside from the spelling difference, colors and colours function identically in terms of grammar when writing in American or British English respectively.
Usage in Different English Variants
Here is an overview of how “colors” and “colours” are used in different national and regional varieties of English:
|Variant of English||Standard Spelling|
|Canadian English||Both (colors more common)|
|New Zealand English||colours|
|South African English||colours|
So in summary:
– “Colors” is standard in American English.
– “Colours” is standard in British, Australian, and New Zealand English.
– Canadian English uses both, with “colors” being more common.
– In South African English, “colours” is the standard spelling.
But it’s important to note many English speakers are exposed to both British and American variants through media, entertainment, online content, and more. So people may be familiar with both spellings regardless of where they live.
Usage in Publishing
The key factor determining whether publishers use “colors” or “colours” is the target audience and common practices in their location.
Books, magazines, and other content published in the United States will nearly always use “colors” following the American English standard. Publishers in the United Kingdom and other regions where British spellings are standard will generally use “colours.”
However, some publishing in English does cross regional borders. In these cases:
- Books or articles may maintain the author’s original spelling, whether colors or colours.
- Editors may choose a spelling based on the main audience.
- British publishers may use American spellings when publishing for an American market and vice versa.
- Style guides may dictate using one spelling over the other for consistency.
So in published writing, the use of “colors” vs “colours” should match the target region and audience. But exceptions can occur when content crosses regional borders.
Usage in Business/Technical Writing
In business and technical writing, American spellings like “colors” tend to dominate, even in companies with British English roots. Some reasons for this:
- Simpler American spellings like “colors” are often preferred for clarity.
- Style guides may mandate American spellings for consistency.
- American English is very prevalent in global business contexts.
- British companies increasingly use Americanized spelling in international business.
However, there are still some cases where British spellings like “colours” may be used:
- In companies based in the UK or British-influenced regions.
- When targeting a primarily British audience.
- In less formal internal communications.
- When quoting British sources directly.
So for maximum clarity and reach, “colors” is generally the safer choice for business and technical writing. But “colours” can be used judiciously in British or international contexts.
In summary, “colors” and “colours” are both correct spellings with regional variations. “Colors” is standard in American English, while “colours” is standard in British English. Neither spelling is inherently right or wrong outside its regional context. Publishers, businesses, and writers should choose “colors” or “colours” based on their audience and context rather than notions of correctness. When in doubt, defaulting to the simpler “colors” is usually a safe choice in international contexts. Ultimately, English has room for both colorful variations.