Flier vs. Flyer: What’s the Difference?

There is a lot of confusion about these two words, partly because there isn’t much consensus on how to use them, but today I want to address that confusion.

What’s the difference between flier and flyer? Is it a dialectal difference? Are they used in different contexts or to refer to different things? Can they be used interchangeably?

Today, I want to answer these questions, talk about how these words are used, and summarize the most popular and authoritative usage guides’ opinions on them.

After reading this post, you will have solid understanding of the flier vs. flyer debate and a clear path forward.

What is a Flier/Flyer?

A flier (flyer), of course, can either refer to a pilot/air traveler or a handbill/leaflet. There is some disagreement on which spelling applies to which, however.

When to Use Flier

fliers or flyers grammar rulesWhat does flier mean? For many years, the The AP Stylebook held that flier was the preferred choice to refer to both pilots and handbills.

Its classic entry read,

  • Flier is the preferred term for an aviator or a handbill. Flyer is the proper name for some trains and buses: The Western Flyer.

It also applied this to the term frequent-flier, which AP spelled as such.

In its 2017 style book, however, it completely reversed this stance, citing that most airlines don’t follow the practice outlined by AP. For instance, United, Delta, American, Southwest, Frontier, and JetBlue Airlines all use the term “frequent-flyer”—not “frequent-flier.”

Therefore, AP changed their entry. It now reads,

  • Flyer is the preferred term for a person flying in an aircraft, and for handbills: He used his frequent flyer miles; they put up flyers announcing the show. Use flier in the phrase take a flier, meaning to take a big risk.

According to new AP Style prescriptions, flier is only used in select phrases,

  • He took a flier on that investment.

Garner’s Modern American Usage and Fowler’s Modern English Usage both state that flier is the standard, preferred form in American English for all senses of the word.

When to Use Flyer

What does flyer mean? Given AP’s recent change, it now matches other publications, such as that of The Economist (a British publication), which says flyer is the preferred choice to be given to both pilots and handbills.

Garner’s and Fowler’s both state that flyer is the standard, preferred form in British English for all sense of the word.

Disagreement

flyers or fliers differenceAs you can see, there is no real agreement on the use of these two words. Some publications simple chalk the different spellings up to a British-American English divide.

The problem with this, however, is that even the British-American divide between these two words isn’t fully agreed upon or even borne out in practice.

For instance, the Daily Telegraph (a British publication) style guide says to use flier—not flyer. And Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (an American dictionary) says that flyer is a common spelling for a handbill in the United States.

Others, such as AP, simply say use flyer for both.

The reason for this is because, long before flight took place as we currently know it, flyer was a slang term, eventually become widespread in use, to refer to refer to a single sheet of paper meant to advertise or inform—especially those used by police stations as warrants for arrest. The term arose out of the widespread dissemination of these advertisements, similar to a flock of bird taking flight.

In other words, both spellings have coexisted together for many years.

What Should You Do?

Given the complete lack of agreement on how to use flier or flyer, the most important thing for you to consider is consistency. Be sure to your writing stays consistent and don’t vary word choice throughout your text,

If that is too up in the air for you, here are three common ways writers deal with the flier vs. flyer dilemma,

  1. Use flyers in all senses, with the exception of the phrase a flier (The AP Stylebook).
  2. Use fliers in all senses (The Daily Telegraph, traditional AP stance).
  3. Use fliers to refer to pilots and flyers to refer to handbills (sometimes observed in American English).

While these two words still seem to be finding their way in spelling and usage, most places seem to be centering on flyer in most senses. Given this, I would recommend writers to observe the new AP Style rule.

Remember the Difference

If you do choose to observe the AP Style rule, here is a great trick to keep track of flyer vs. flier.

  • Flier is only used in the phrase a flier, which often refers to a risky investment. Flier and investment both contain the letter I.
  • Flyer is the term to use for all other instances.

Summary

Is it flier or flyer? Since there is no universally accepted rule for when to use which word, it’s most important to stay consistent.

Whether you are using flyer or flier, pick one word and stick with it in your article.

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