91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Are you a frequent flier…or a frequent flyer?


Even competent spellers can trip over the word flier/flyer.

University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan says most dictionaries give both options, so the good news is you’re always right.

“What I was struck by, in many of them, was that if you look up flyer with a “y,” it will say it’s a variety of flier, and then when you look up the spelling with an “i,” you get the definitions,” says Curzan.

“I looked on Google Books, and it turns out the spelling with a “y” is much more common over the last 40 years – yet it is still seen as a variant.”

Curzan says that’s one of those tricky things that happens when a verb turns into a noun.

“This comes up in dryer – as in washer and dryer, as well. The dictionaries will tell you can use either. The spelling with a ‘y’ is much more common for the noun, but when you have an adjective, like ‘this shirt is much drier than that one, you use an 'i.'”

That works when you prefer drier martinis, too.

Curzan says other spelling issues happen when you get a derived form, as in when you add a suffix.

Judgment is one of them.

“I was trained that there’s no “e,” Curzan says. “The spellchecker doesn’t like an ‘e,’ but in British English, the ‘e’ is standard spelling, apparently except in the legal context. So there you’re getting a British/American difference.”

Then there’s the issue of how you spell “canceled” or “traveled.” Is it one “l” or two?

Most Americans spell them with one “l,” but there is a British distinction.

“This may be largely thanks to Noah Webster, who was trying to simplify spelling in the early 20th century,” Curzan says. “I was interested to see a piece from the New Yorker from 2013. The New Yorker style guide apparently likes the double “l” in traveled, and the double “s” in focused. 

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.