This Is Why Americans Say “Fall” Instead of “Autumn”

The two words are interchangeable, but there's a clear preference in America

The air gets crisp, the leaves start to turn and we break out our cozy sweaters. We are, of course, talking about the season of pumpkin spice and everything nice, which goes by two names: fall and autumn. Although both refer to the same season, Americans tend to say “fall” more than “autumn” (like when talking about their excitement for the first day of fall). Why is that, though? Is there some unspoken confusing grammar rule we don’t know about? Here’s what to know about the autumn vs. fall debate.

Is autumn also called fall?

Fall and autumn were both once known as “harvest,” according to dictionary.com. And “harvest” is technically the earliest name for this season. But the phrase was a bit confusing because it refers to both the time people usually harvest crops and the actual harvesting of crops. Autumn, a word dating back to the late 1300s, became popular as an alternative.

The word fall likely stems from “the fall of the leaves” or “falling of the leaves,” phrases poets liked, according to Merriam-Webster. People shortened the phrase to “fall” in the 1600s. The English empire grew, followed by the eventual independence of the United States. From there, time, distance and new freedom contributed to the many differences in English spoken in America and Britain.

Who says autumn and who says fall?

Aerial view of Mountain Forests with Brilliant Fall Colors in Autumn at Sunrise, New Englandheyengel/Getty Images

Although both fall and autumn stem from Britain, autumn was the more popular word for a long time. Both have had their ups and downs in popularity. It wasn’t until the 1800s that American English and British English took unofficial stances on these words: fall is the word of choice in the U.S., and autumn in Britain. It’s still unclear why America clings so strongly to fall. Some speculate it has to do with daylight savings time, as in “spring forward, fall back.”

Autumn vs. fall: Which one should you use?

Good news: It’s acceptable to use either autumn or fall when referring to the season filled with colorful leaves and fun fall activities (like a visit to the apple orchard). If you wish to be more formal, you could choose autumn for both speaking and writing. Next, learn why color is spelled differently in Britain and America.

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Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.