A common question that comes up is whether flyer or flier the correct spelling for the popular promotional tool we so often see in advertising. Here is the quick answer:
- Both flyer and flier are acceptable. Which one to use is a matter of personal preference and whether you routinely use the American or British spellings.
- The Guides don’t all agree, but there is generally a preference for flyer.
- Google’s Ngram also shows that flyer is more commonly used.
Now let’s dig in a bit deeper, and I will share a personal anecdote that triggered this post.
Flyer or Flier?
Dan from the office sent me an email recently to tell me I had misused a word. He said:
Just a friendly tip: You used the word flyer on your website. It should be flier.
I appreciate friendly tips, but I resisted Dan’s. The reason is that I had researched the options, flyer , and flier, and decided on flyer. The dispute about the correct spelling of “flyer” is largely caused by a lack of uniformity and conflicting preferences from different style manuals.
What Do the Manuals Say?
The Gregg Reference Manual distinctively differentiates the context of a “flier” as being a pilot and a “flyer” as an advertising brochure. Garner’s Modern English Usage confirms that in the United States, flier is used more commonly, while flyer is accepted among British regions.
Although style manuals and dictionaries may not agree on all writing issues, this means that you can personally decide how to spell “flyer/flier” unless the manual states otherwise. Utilize your creativity and pick whichever spelling best suits your needs.
I wrote back to Dan with a message as brief as his:
Hi, Dan. Which style manual do you follow?
My point was that my choice was not wrong. It was simply not Dan’s choice. He replied in more detail:
Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (online) states that flyer is the “less common spelling of flier.” Flyer is more common, but that doesn’t mean flier is wrong.
According to the dictionary, flyer/flier each means:
- one that flies
- reckless or speculative venture
- an advertising circular
“AP [The Associated Press Stylebook] — I have a newspaper background. I know it comes down to the style one adopts. I just passed it along. Merriam-Webster prefers flyer, I believe. Different words and styles might make an interesting blog for you.”
Dan is right. It is an interesting topic. Let’s look at the style guides’ pronouncements on flyer/flier:
More From the Guides
The AP Stylebook updated its listing in March 2017. According to the AP style guide, flyer is the preferred term for a person flying in an airplane, and for handbills: “He used his airline frequent flyer miles”; “they put up flyers announcing the show.” Use flier in the phrase “take a flier,” meaning to take a big risk.
The Gregg Reference Manual says that flier refers to a pilot; flyer is an advertising brochure.
Garner’s Modern American Usage says, “Flier is the standard form in American English, flyer being a needless variant. But in British English, flyer is standard.”
That means you can be a frequent flyer or a frequent flier. The alternate spellings are interchangeable and correct, depending on your style manual or personal preference.
Canadian Oxford Dictionary says, “Flyer (also flier). A pilot or aviator; a person who flies in an aircraft as a passenger.” They could be a high flyer, and also a high flier because the words are synonyms.
It adds, “North American: a small advertising leaflet that is widely distributed.” Under the entry flier, it says “variant of flyer.” British publications would use the “flyer” to describe the ad.
The American Heritage College Dictionary says, “Flier (also flyer). One, such as an insect or bird, that flies with wings. . . . A pamphlet or circular for mass distribution.” Under the entry flyer, it says “variant of flier.”
Fowler’s Modern English Usage says flyer is the recommended form, not flier. Under flier, it says, “In Oxford University Press house style, flyer is recommended for all senses. Perhaps flier is the more common of the two forms in American English.”
The Chicago Manual of Style and Microsoft Manual of Style don’t cover the topic.
After consulting many of my reference books, I say to Dan, “I prefer to use flyer.”
What’s your preference: flier? flyer? The correct answer is that it is a matter of preference. Your choice will depend on whether you routinely use the American spelling or the British spelling.
Examples from Media Sources
Here are some examples of how professional writers use flyer/flier:
“But that flyer, Merton Miller hastened to add, was strictly recreational, not serious investing.”–The Economist, 2000.
“Chevron’s Mr Robertson says that taking a flier on a project with a long lead time and high investment is simply too risky for his firm.”–The Economist, 2005.