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'Flier' or 'Flyer'?

It used to be Americans versus Brits. Now, it's easier.

By
Mignon Fogarty
A lost dog flyer

A question I get a lot is how to spell “flyer” (or is that “flier”?), as in “I want to use my frequent flyer miles” and “We’re handing out flyers in the cafeteria today.”

In the past, style guides and dictionaries didn’t always agree about how it should be spelled, so it’s no surprise that people are confused.

The good news is that today, you’re safe using “flyer” for almost everything, maybe because the airline industry uses that spelling, and it’s hard to fight marketing.

Today, you’re safe using the “flyer” spelling for almost everything.

Here’s some background in case you’re interested in the history.

Is ‘Flier’ American? Is ‘Flyer’ British?

Supposedly, “flier” was the American spelling, and “flyer” was the British spelling. That’s what the most recent edition of Garner’s Modern English Usage claims, and that claim used to be backed up by the fact that the Associated Press (an American organization) recommended “flier,” and “The Economist” (a British publication) recommended “flyer.”

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On the other hand, Webster’s Third (an American dictionary) says that the handbill is usually spelled “flyer,” and the Oxford English Dictionary (a dictionary with British roots) says that “flyer” is used in the United States to mean handbill. The Chicago Manual of Style doesn’t directly address the question, but uses “flyer” in a couple of example sentences. A Google Books Ngram search shows that “flyer” is more common than “flier” in both British English and American English and that both spellings have coexisted since at least 1800.

The AP Stylebook Changes Its Recommendation

In 2017, The AP Stylebook updated its recommended spelling from “flier” to “flyer” in all cases except the phrase “to take a flier,” which means “to take a risk,” and that change makes it a lot easier for people to choose a spelling. 

What Should You Do?

Even though “flyer” seems to be the strongly emerging standard, if you follow a specific style guide, it’s still a good idea to check if it has a recommended spelling, since both spellings do still coexist in the wild.

Mignon Fogarty is Grammar Girl and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips. Check out her New York Times best-seller, “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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