Gage vs. Gauge: What’s the Difference?

English has a lot of confusing words in it. Words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently; words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same; and you can’t forget those words that have such similar meanings it’s difficult to tell them apart.

Today’s two words have the same pronunciations, but they have different meanings and functions in a sentence.

What is the Difference Between Gage and Gauge?

In today’s post, I will highlight the differences between gage vs. gauge. I will define each word, use it in an example sentence, and provide examples from outside authorities like newspapers and magazines. Plus, at the end, I will give you a trick to easily remember the difference.

After reading this post, you won’t ever again second-guess yourself by thinking, “Should I be using gage or gauge?”

When to Use Gage

definition of gage versus gaugeWhat does gage mean? Gage is defined as something given as security against an obligation; a pledge.

  • Bring a sufficient gage or don’t bother coming along.
  • His car acted as a gage for the bank.

In this sense, gage is functioning as a noun and is similar in meaning to a down payment on a house or collateral for a loan.

Gage can also refer to something, such as a glove, that is thrown down as a challenge to fight. Shakespeare famously uses this in Richard II.

  • Cousin, throw up your gage.

In this sense, “throw up” means to surrender or give up. To say to someone, “throw up your gage” was a way of saying, “cancel your challenge” or “forfeit the fight.”

Gage has also, historically, functioned as a verb with the definition to pledge as a security; to offer as a stake in a bet; wager.

As you can clearly see, gage, in all of these senses, is pretty well obsolete. The Oxford English Dictionary marks the verb gage as obsolete, and it won’t be long until the noun catches up.

Other Uses of Gage

Gage does have a few other uses.

The first is a shortened version of the word greengage, which is a variety of fruit.

The second is as a variant spelling of the word gauge, although it is not advisable to use gage this way. Gauge is the preferred spelling to mean measure (see below).

When to Use Gauge

gauge versus gage definition and meaningWhat does gauge mean? Gauge, as a noun, is defined as a standard dimension, quantity, or capacity.

  • This looks like 30 gauge steel.
  • We took our 12-gauge shotgun hunting.

A gauge is also a type of measurement tool, such as a tire gauge, a pressure gauge, a fuel gauge, an oil gauge, etc.

  • The air gauge says your tire pressure is 35 PSI.

Gauge, as a verb, is defined as to measure dimensions, evaluate, or estimate.

  • Marine biologists gauge the depth of the ocean with sonar.
  • Astronomers can gauge how far away a star is by the light it emits.
  • Ferrari, which sells six-figure Italian luxury sports cars, set a price range on Friday that it will use to gauge investor demand for the I.P.O., which will be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. –The New York Times

Trick to Remember the Difference

Not sure you’ll be able to remember all this? Here’s a trick to remember gauge vs. gage.

A gauge is both a measurement and a measurement tool. Gauge and measure both have the letter “U” in them. If you can pair these two words by the common letter “u,” you will be all set.

Additionally, there is very little chance that gage will ever make its way into your writing, as evidenced by the fact that dictionaries now mark it as obsolete (or at least on its way to obsolescence).

You could just as easily remember the difference between these two words by reminding yourself that gauge is the only word you will use 99 percent of the time.

Summary

Is it gauge or gage? If you were to choose based purely on probability, gauge would win every time.

Gage is the spelling of an obsolescent word meaning a pledge, a challenge, etc.

Gauge is the spelling to use when you measure measurement, estimate, or standard.

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