Auntie and aunty – which is correct?
The short answer is: they both are! Auntie and aunty are informal terms used to describe a person’s aunt, and both spellings are acceptable in everyday language. Our dictionary entry for these words has an informal label: this shows that a word is mainly used in in casual conversation or writing, with friends or people you are familiar with. Outside of the most formal and official contexts, however, both auntie and aunty are perfectly acceptable ways to refer to your aunt.
In our dictionary entry, we give auntie as the main headword, with aunty given as a variant. This is mainly because – though both are considered correct – auntie is by far the more common spelling. The Oxford English Corpus – the 2.5 billion-word database we use to research the English language – shows that auntie is more than twice as common as aunty, with 72% of examples using the -ie spelling, opposed to only 28% for the -y ending.
If auntie is so much more common, therefore, should it not be considered the ‘correct’ spelling, and aunty condemned as an error? Though it may be less popular now, aunty dates back at least as far as auntie, and is possibly even the older spelling, with examples found as far back as the early 18th century. Both forms seem to have originated in Scots use, with some of the earliest evidence for them found in Scottish songs, and in the work of the poet Allan Ramsey (1684-1758).
The Scots origin of auntie/aunty is unsurprising, as the use of the -y and –ie suffixes to create familiar, informal terms and pet names also originated in Scots, before being adopted into wider English usage. Both endings are considered equally acceptable: one is no more ‘correct’ than the other. There are many words in English that use both -ie and -y spellings like this, such as baddie/baddy, foodie/foody, cardie/cardy, kiddie/kiddy, meanie/meany, and even one of the 21st century’s most famous new words, selfie, which is usually spelled with an –ie ending, but which is also occasionally seen as selfy (though this is even less common than aunty, representing well under 1% of the examples on our Corpus).
The way you spell auntie/aunty may also depend on where you are in the world. As the table below shows, the preferred spelling differs greatly across the English-speaking world.
|East Asian English||84%||16%|
|South African English||71%||29%|
In the US, East Asia, Great Britain, and Canada, auntie is by far the preferred form, with over 80% of examples using this spelling. However, in Australia, New Zealand, and India, the opposite is true, with a marked preference for aunty. Which spelling do you prefer, and does this tally with the trends shown above?