Career & Education

Blond vs blonde: What's the difference?

Sunday, May 05, 2019

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Grammatical gender is an unfamiliar concept to some native English speakers. If you're learning a language like Spanish, for instance, one of the earliest lessons is that some nouns are feminine (la mesa for “the table”) and others masculine (el café for “coffee”). Gendered words are part of many other languages around the world, too, but not so much in English — or are they?

Believe it or not, English shared the practice of gendering nouns until around the 1200s. And, around this time, it also began borrowing vast amounts of words from French, which, like Spanish, has grammatical gender. This is how we get the whole blond vs blonde bombshell. So, what's the difference?



You probably know blond as a hair colour. It literally means “light-coloured”, and was first recorded in English in the mid-1400s. It derives from the French blond, which refers to “light brown” and similar hues.



Blonde and blond essentially mean the same thing. It's just that in French, blond is the masculine form, both as a noun and adjective; adding the 'E' makes it feminine. So, a woman with blond hair is “une blonde”, a man, “un blond”.


If we are going to be technical about the word's French origins, then in English, “blonde” as a noun or adjective should be applied to women or girls “having light hair and usually fair skin and light eyes”. That means a man or boy is a “blond”, or has “blond” hair — not blonde hair with an E.

The Associated Press (AP) Style Book upholds this rule. Garner's Modern American Usage, on the other hand, cautions against using blonde due to risks of sexism. Having a blonde moment or being a dumb blonde isn't really about hair colour, is it?

Further complicating matters is the fact that blond, in American English, is often the preferred default adjective while British English tends toward blonde. Can you say confusing?

Style guides aside, the blond and blonde distinction may be breaking down in popular writing. A March 2019 PopSugar article celebrated female country singer Maren Morris's new “blond” hair. Meanwhile, in January 2019, a Time headline noted male actor Chris Messina's “blonde” hair on the red carpet.

And, it's not just hair. Starbucks sells blonde, not blond, espresso, and some brewers serve up blonde ales. Do they mean to feminise their coffee or beer, or is it just that we are using blond and blonde more interchangeably these days?

As Random House copy chief Benjamin Dreyer observes in his 2019 style guide Dreyer's English: “Blonde carries some heavy cultural baggage by way of the mouldy pejorative 'dumb blonde', so use it thoughtfully and carefully, if at all.”

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