Whoa or Woah: What’s the Difference?

Everyone is familiar with this popular exclamation, but not everyone is so familiar with its spelling.

When you are dealing with a word that is transmitted primarily through oral communications, such as an exclamation, spelling often varies, so let’s set the record straight.

What is the Difference Between Whoa and Woah?

In this post, I will discuss the proper spelling and common misspellings of this word and give a brief outline of its history.

Plus, at the end, I will give a tip to remember the correct spelling: whoa or woah?

Let’s get started.

When to Use Whoa

how to spell woah or whoa in a sentenceWhoa, W-H-O-A, is the correct spelling of this word and dates back to at least the 17th century.

What does whoa mean? Whoa comes from the word ho, which first came into Middle English as a command to slow down or draw your horse to a stop. Sometime around the year 1620, the spelling evolved into what we now use today, whoa.

Aside from its use with horses, whoa is a popular exclamation used to express surprise, amazement, or great pleasure.

  • Whoa, when did you become such a great photographer?
  • He thought, “Whoa, that looks like Billy the Kid.” –L.A. Times

Popular Misspellings of Whoa

There are two primary spelling errors that take place with the word whoa.

  • Woah (Incorrect)
  • Whoah (Incorrect)
  • Whoa (Correct)

As you can see below, these errors even slip by the editors of large publications, places that should really know better.

  • “The realization that I could have easily died – that was like woah [read whoa], I’m 16, that’s crazy to think about,” Haugh said. –The Washington Post
  • I sampled several items, the first being John’s famous shrimp and spinach enchilada—two corn tortillas filled with sauteed grilled shrimp, covered with salsa blanca especial, topped with Jack cheese and sides of Mexican cilantro rice and black beans. This is a definite whoah! [read whoa] –The Orange County Register

So, why the uptick in misspellings of whoa? This word is almost 400 years old; why the uptick now?

The first thing we must keep in mind when speaking of an “uptick” or a “rise” in a misspelling of any word is a sense of perspective.

whoa versus woah meaning and grammar rules

The above chart graphs whoa vs. woah vs. whoah on a timeline since the year 1800. As you can clearly see, the “increase” in the two misspelling is so negligible that it hardly registers a blip on the screen. Plus, the increase that we do see can probably be explained away by the huge increase in use of whoa overall.

To say that whoa is the preferred spelling would be an understatement. It’s the only spelling in wide use.

It is true that this graph only deals with books; it doesn’t take into account online newspapers and magazines, blogs, social media, etc., which are where the errors most likely take place.

These spaces do not have the same kinds of editorial requirements that traditional publications have, making them ripe for misspellings.

Furthermore, words like whoa are particularly vulnerable to misspellings by nature. As I mentioned above, this word is primarily communicated through speech; it’s an exclamation. This means people don’t see it as often in text.

If it isn’t regularly seen in text, the spelling is likely to vary quite a bit, as writers aren’t sure how to spell whoa themselves. And given the informal nature of social media and the Internet, the conditions are ripe for misspellings.

All of this said, there is no real evidence to suggest widespread increase in the misuse of whoa. People do misspell it online and occasionally in print, but the graph above clearly shows the spelling is one-sided in edited, professional writing.

Trick to Remember the Difference

how to spell whoa or woah correctlyStill not sure you can remember woah vs. whoa? Remember this simple trick and you will be set.

The best way to remember the spelling of whoa is to simply ask yourself “How do I spell whoa?” Write this sentence down and say it aloud to yourself.

  • How is whoa spelled?

How and whoa both have the ho next to each other.

If you can remember that the “h” and the “o” need to be next to each other, you will be set.

Summary

Is it woah or whoa? Here’s a rundown of this common exclamation.

Whoa is the correct spelling and dominates popular usage.

Woah is a common misspelling.

Whoah is also a misspelling.