Flier or flyer?

American English speakers use the words flyer and flier interchangeably, although The Associated Press Stylebook recommends using the word flyer for pilots, plane travelers, and brochures. The word flier is correct for describing risks, although it’s never correct for British English.

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What is the difference between flier vs. flyer?

The English words flier and flyer are simply alternate spellings of the same noun, but as an adjective, flyer can also have different meanings. The predominant way to use flier or flyer is for describing someone who is flying via aircraft. However, we also use fliers and flyers to describe paper handouts that advertise sales, events, or lost animals. 

Word variants between American English and British English frequently occur, such as gray vs. grey and toward vs. towards, to name a few. But, in addition to regional dialects, how we write and define flyer vs. flier depends on whether we’re required to use a writing style guide.

British English flyer vs. American English flyer/flier

British English speakers and most American English speakers use the noun flyer to describe an advertisement via a sheet of paper or brochure. But for everything else, it appears as though British and American English are at odds with how to define flier vs. flyer

According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, the word flier is the standard American English spelling while the word flyer is standard for British English (“Flier; flyer” 395). Fowler’s Modern English Usage agrees with Garner’s Modern American Usage, except it clarifies how “flier” is a common variety between flier vs. flyer. Garner’s additionally states that “flyer” is recommended in British English for all senses and especially for handbills. 

As for understanding how American English uses the words flyer and flier, the most common spelling references come from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which is also available online. According to Merriam-Webster, flier is the correct spelling for American English and lists “flyer” as the less common form. 

Flier vs. flyer for English media style guides

Contrary to what Merriam-Webster states, media style guides such as The Associated Press Stylebook list “flyer” as the correct word to use for a plane passenger and handbills. Therefore, it’s correct to use “flyer” for terms such as “frequent flyer,” as well.  The AP Stylebook also states that the word “flier” is correct for the phrase “take a flier,” which means to “take a big risk” (“Flier, flyer” 109). 

The AP Stylebook is the predominant writing guide for American journalists and media professionals, from but other publishers use different style manuals such as the Chicago Manual of Style. University publishers are more likely to use CMS, which, from online examples, indicate that the preferred spelling of flyer vs. flier is “flyer.” 

In either case, all professional writing guides borrow their spelling preferences from specific dictionaries. For instance, the AP Stylebook prefers Webster’s New World College Dictionary as a primary source and defaults to references such as The American Heritage Dictionary of English Language or the Concise English Dictionary

What does flier mean?

The word flier is a noun and a common spelling variant of the word flyer. When describing a paper pamphlet, however, it’s more common to use the word flyer instead. In North America, English speakers use “flier” to describe:

Someone that navigates an aircraft or travels as a passenger on an aircraft.

For example,

“I’m earning frequent flier miles today.”

Synonyms:

Aviator, co-pilot, traveler, pilot, passenger. 

A questionable and reckless risk used in the phrase “take a flier,” which can involve investments or adventures. 

For example,

“I took a flier in digital marketing after the local newspaper folded.”

Synonyms:

Adventure, chance, crapshoot, gamble, venture.

What does flyer mean?

In the United States, the noun flyer is the less common variant of the noun flier.  British English speakers use flyer over flier for every sense of the word, which includes:

Someone that flies as a passenger or pilot on an aircraft, or an animal or person that flies differently. 

For example,

“Does a plane pilot earn frequent flyer miles while working?” 

Synonyms:

Airman, air traveler, air passenger, airwoman, airline customer, co-pilot, pilot, wingman.

A person or thing that moves quickly. 

For example,

“The first pitch was a high-flyer.” 

Synonyms:

Foul ball, flyball.

A handbill or piece of paper that advertises an event or product. 

For example,

“Here’s a flyer for the new a-list nightclub.”

Synonyms:

Advertisement, announcement, bill, brochure, bulletin, circular, handout, leaflet, poster, public notice.

The abbreviated version of the phrase “flying start,” for a winning or aggressive start. 

For example,

“The team was off to a flyer…

Synonyms:

Advantageous beginning, kick-start, lead.

A risky or suspicious investment, or the act of taking a chance (i.e., “take a flyer.”)

Example sentences include,

“Going to college and accruing debt involves owning a flyer that works against one’s credit score.”
“I don’t know what will happen, but I am going to take a flyer on this one.” 

Synonyms:

Gamble, opportunity, risk.

The word flyer is also an adjective

Alternatively, the word flyer can represent the informal, adjective of “fly” in a comparative sense. The use of the adjective flyer is new for Modern English speakers, as it appeared in the early 19th century.

In North America, the adjective fly describes someone as hip and stylish. For example,

“Her shoes are flyer than yours.”

Synonyms:

Attractive, cooler, fashionable, fresher, new, stylish.

In contrast, British English speakers use the adjective fly to describe someone as worldly and wise. For example,

“He won’t miss his flight. He’s flyer than that.”

Synonyms:

Experienced, street smart, well-traveled, wise, worldly. 

How to remember the difference between flier vs. flyer?

One way to remember the difference between flyer vs. flier for The Associated Press Stylebook is to remember the following faux-headline:

“Americans read flyers while flying to the UK.” 

The AP Stylebook uses the British “flyer” instead of “flier” for the topic of flight and advertising pamphlets. If you can associate the UK “flyer” with international flights and plane brochures, you can use “flier” for everything else that is “domestic” in the US (such as taking a risk). But remember, British English only uses “flyer.” 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between flier vs. flyer with the following multiple-choice questions.

  1. Which of the following forms do we use the word flier? 
    a. Noun
    b. Adjective
    c. Verb
    d. A and B
  2. Which of the following forms do we use the word flyer? 
    a. Noun
    b. Verb
    c. Adjective
    d. A and C
  3. If you work for a newspaper in New York, which is the correct way to use flier vs. flyer
    a. Frequent flyer program
    b. Frequent flier program
    c. Take a flier
    d. A and C
  4. Let’s say you work for The Daily Telegraph in the UK: Which is the incorrect way to use flier vs. flyer
    a. Take a flyer
    b. Frequent flyer
    c. Flyer handouts
    d. Flyer sneakers
  5. True or false: American dictionaries and news media guides provide different spellings of flyers and fliers.
    a. True
    b. False

Answers

  1. A
  2. D
  3. D
  4. D
  5. A

Sources

  1. Capitalization.” Style Manual & Services Guide, University Publications, Emory, 2004. 
  2. Flier.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  3. Flyer, flier.” Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 4 ed., Oxford University Press, 2015. 
  4. “Flier; flyer.” Garner’s Modern English Usage, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 395.
  5. “Flier, flyer.” The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law 2017, Associated Press, 2017, pp. 109. 
  6. Fly.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. Flyer.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  8. Flyer.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.