Grammar

Ax or Axe? Do You Really Need that E?

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I recently wrote a line that used the word for a chopping instrument. For a moment, I wondered whether it should be ax or axe.

I guess I never really paid much attention to whether I usually write ax or axe. I know I’ve seen both of them plenty of times over the years.

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I originally wrote ax. But before I moved on to the next line, something told me to add the E at the end.

Why? I don’t really know. So I looked it up and found a controversy.

Merriam Webster, who ought to know for sure, says either is correct. But those clever dictionary people point out that axe is the more popular choice.

I looked into it by checking out a few home improvement websites. Both Lowe’s and Home Depot spell it with an E.

Walmart spells that way as well, and even when they’re referring to the body spray for men. (That’s a brand name, of course, so they have to spell it the way the manufacturer does.)

WritingExplained reports a slight preference in American English for the two-letter version. It illustrates the point with compound words that use ax or axe. It says British English prefers pickaxe, poleaxe, and broadaxe while the American equivalents aren’t spelled with that extra E.

But regardless, sometimes you’re at the mercy of your style guide.

The funny thing is everytime I write axe, Grammarly suggests a correction with ax. Even though it seems axe is the more common spelling, Grammarly seems to hate it. That’s funny, though, because the Grammarly blog clearly leans toward axe, even in idioms like getting the axe or having an axe to grind.

I looked it up in my trusty Associated Press Stylebook, the guide I use here on this blog and in my professional life. AP Style is clear: Use ax, not axe.

The preferred spelling seems to be the three-letter variety. Is that the one you use?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.