Gage vs. gauge?

Gage and gauge often share the same meaning, but “gauge” is the preferred English spelling for topics regarding measurement, estimation, or mathematics.

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What is the difference between gage and gauge?

The English Language contains several alternate word spellings, but if you’re feeling stuck between words like gauge and gage, The Word Counter has your back. Whether you’re trying to “gauge” the feeling of a room, place a “gauge” on a motorcycle, or discuss the standard gauge of a gun barrel–– the spelling of “gauge” trumps “gage.” 

But if you’re used to using “gage” instead of “gauge,” you’re not entirely wrong. Most English dictionaries cite “gage” as an alternative spelling of “gauge,” but this pass in grammar only applies to specific instances. 

When do the words gauge and gage mean the same thing?

We can use the words “gage” and “gauge” as alternate spellings of the same word when they involve concepts of measurement, distance, or mathematics. One of the most common ways to use “gauge” and “gage” interchangeably is to reference a device that measures, counts, or weighs something, such as a sensor, dipstick, dial, voltmeter. 

It’s also common for English speakers to use “gage” or “gauge” when describing the act of analyzing the feelings or emotions of a situation. For example, if you “gauged” the mood of a comedy show, you might say the audience is “amused” or “giddy.” The trick to this form of “gauge” is that people rarely ever use “gage,” which is partly why these terms are so tricky. 

The word “gage” appears in industry jargon, but “gauge” is still the preferred spelling for most English writers (and especially outside of American English). Therefore, people who work in technical fields are more likely to see interchangeability between “gage” and “gauge,” while traditional English is more likely to use “gauge.” 

While it seems bizarre to insist on a spelling that’s different from technical jargon, “gauge” is more traditional than “gage.” English speakers began using the word “gauge” in Middle English to convey a standard of measurement, and we use this spelling variant nearly identical to the original Old French gauge (noun) and gauger (verb) (or jauge and jauger from Old Northern French). 

When is gage and gauge different?

The word gage carries a different definition from gauge when it’s an archaic noun that describes a form of collateral, a pledge, or a type of fruit (random, right?

In the context of ‘risk’ or a ‘pledge,’ the word “gage” stems back to Old French with gage (noun) or gager (verb). The Old French terms derived from Germanic origins and have connections to verbs like “wage” or “wed,” which makes sense if you consider the term’s archaic context. 

English speakers initially used “gage” to mean ‘a token of defiance,’ which often appeared as an enemy’s glove. If someone took the glove, they accepted a challenge to fight. “Throw up your gage” is another expression where the word “gage” means ‘fight,’ where the overall phrase means ‘forfeit the fight.’ 

Additionally, the word “gage” is also shorthand for a type of plum called Greengage. Although the fruit is native to Iran, English speakers began using the term “gage” in honor of Sir William Gage, the English botanist responsible for introducing the plant to Europe in 1724. 

Writing tip: Don’t confuse gauge with gouge!

Make sure you’re not confusing the word gauge with the verb gouge, which refers to the act of creating a hole (e.g., “gouge one’s eye out”) or “swindling” people out of their money. The two words look alike, but they have entirely different meanings and pronunciations. 

What is the definition of gage?

The word gage is a noun or verb that infers a pledge, risk, or a wager. Alternatively, we can use the word gage as a variant alternate spelling of gauge, which then conveys a standard measurement or the act of measuring. 

Gage as a noun

1. An engineering term synonymous with “gauge” for concepts involving distance, size, measurements, or mathematics (See the definition of gauge). 

2. A token or symbol of defiance given to an opponent and received as a pledge to fight (archaic). For example, 
“The soldier picked up the enemy’s gage as a promise to fight.” 

3. A form of collateral, pawn, or security to ensure that one keeps a pledge or promise (archaic). 
“The convict posted gage knowing he’d never return for court. He’d rather lose a year in savings than his life in prison.”

4. Greengage, a type of small green and yellow plums named after English botanist Sir William Gage. 
“Mother placed a bowl of gages on the table.”

Noun synonyms:

Gage [2]: Guarantee, pledge. 

Gage [3]: Assurance, collateral, guaranty, indemnity, insurance, security.

Gage as a verb

  1. The act of taking a pledge, offering something as collateral, or placing something at stake (archaic). 
    “He gaged his life to win the King’s trust.” 

Verb synonyms:

Collateral, guarantee, pawn, risk. 

What does gauge mean?

The word gauge is a noun or verb that generally conveys the concept of measurement or estimation. 

Gauge as a noun

1. The standard dimensions or measurements of a distance or size (e.g., the thickness of sheet metal, shotgun barrels, or the fineness of a knitted fabric). 
Example sentences include, 
“Dad uses a 12-gauge shotgun.” 
“The instructions suggest a narrow gauge wire.” 
“The cool kids wore large gauges in their earlobes.” 

2. A measuring instrument that determines mechanical proficiency, dimension, or an estimated quantity. For example,
“Let’s check the tires with a pressure gauge.” 
“If the car’s fuel gauge is low, it’s time to visit the gas station.” 
“To measure a building’s strain, use a strain gauge.” 

3. A ship’s position relative to another vessel (leeward) and the direction of the wind (windward).
“We can measure the ship’s relative position to the leeward with a lee gauge or windward with a weather gauge.” 

4. The gauge, gauge integral, or more specifically, the Henstock-Kurzweil integral, defines an integral for a partial mathematical function
“Today, in calculus, we learned to use a constant gauge for Reimann integration.”

Noun synonyms:

Gauge [1]: Archetype, basis, barometer, benchmark, criterion, example, guide, indicator, model, principle, reference, rule, sample, standard, touchstone.

Gauge [2]: Device, dial, index, instrument, measure, needle, pointer.

Gauge as a verb

1. The act of measuring or estimating a quantity, size, dimension, or capacity. 
For example, 
“We need to gauge the car’s dimensions before building a garage.”

2. The act of verifying compliance with limits and stipulations, estimating the size or quantity of something, or; assessing the mood or emotions of a situation. 
“NASA can gauge the amount of rocket fuel necessary for takeoff.” 
“The principal met with the student to gauge the situation.” 
“Reporters often gauge an event’s attendance numbers.”

Verb synonyms:

Gauge [1]: Ascertain, calculate, calibrate, compute, conclude, determine, estimate, quantify. 

Gauge [2]: Analyze, assess, appraise, evaluate, judge, measure, reason, reckon, scale, span, suppose, weigh.

How to use gauge vs. gage in a sentence?

When it comes to constructing a sentence with the words “gauge” or “gage,” topic context is everything. You must know your audience.  

If you’re writing for the general public, you can’t go wrong using “gauge” because it encompasses most definitions of “gage.” In fact, it’s improbable that a professional publication would choose to use the word “gage” when “gauge” carries the same meaning. 

To illustrate, let’s take a look at how news publishers use the word “gauge” when it’s synonymous with “gage:” 

“Mentor cross country runners use Johnnycake Jog as preseason gauge.” –– The News-Herald
“But companies use a bewildering array of benchmarks in their compensation decisions. These gauges often vary, even within the same industry …” –– The New York Times
“A single LED gauge is mounted above the handlebar.” –– Forbes

Authors also use the word “gauge” to discuss technical processes such as railway construction. For example, 
“… survey, design, and construction of narrow-gauge railways has given me something of a pull over the professional engineer.” –– “Minimum Gauge Railways” by Arthur Heywood

As we can see, professional publishers make a deliberate choice to use “gauge” instead of “gage, whether they’re discussing the measurement of feeling, estimation, construction, or a measuring device. 

Word variance between “gage” and “gauge” is more likely to occur outside the realm of publishing. For instance, marketing websites often feature advertising campaigns that are written by industry patrons. In this case, the difference in word choice becomes a matter of industry jargon that is directed toward a niche audience. 

For example, 
“… the use of technically superior strain gages can provide significant advantages to the engineering development process …” –– Globe News Wire
“The 30 EWRi is a compact depth gage with a 1.5 mm contact and 25 mm gaging range with integrated wireless data transmission.” –– Laser Focus World

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between gage and gauge with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false: the word gage is a variant spelling of gauge. 
    a. True
    b. False
  2. Which of the following is not a definition of gauge? 
    a. Standard of measure
    b. A type of plum
    c. Estimation
    d. Measuring device
  3. Which of the following is not a definition of gauge? 
    a. The act of measuring
    b. A type of plum
    c. A token of defiance
    d. None of the above
  4. Which of the following phrases uses gage/gauge incorrectly? 
    a. Temperature gauge 
    b. Strain gage
    c. 12-gauge shotgun
    d. Bowl of gauges
  5. The words gauge and gage both derive from ______________.
    a. Old Latin
    b. Proto-Germanic languages
    c. Old French
    d. Old English

Answers

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

Photo Sources

  1. Photo by Olia Gozha
  2. Photo by Roman Kraft 

Sources

  1. Gage.” Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 2020.
  2. Gage.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  3. Gage.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  4. Gauge.” The Merriam-Webster.com Thesaurus, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  5. Greengage.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., 2020.
  6. Gouge.” Lexico, Oxford University Press, 2020.
  7. Harper, Douglas. “Gage.” Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020.
  8. Harper, Douglas. “Gauge.” Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020.
  9. Heywood, Arthur. “Minimum Gauge Railways.” Project Gutenberg, 3 Dec 2013. 
  10. Morgenson, Gretchen. “How to Gauge a C.E.O.’s Value? Hint: It’s Not the Share Price.” The New York Times, 17 June 2016.