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October 18, 2012

Lite or Light? Which Spelling Is Right?

Chelsea blog 2 


by Chelsea Lee

Consider the following APA Style spelling question, and choose which answer you think is most correct.

Q: Which spelling should be used for an APA Style paper, lite or light?

  1. Always use light. This is the correct way to spell the word, and the spelling lite is appropriate only when referring to the proper names of products that use it.
  2. Always use lite. Language is changing, and lite is the new, more phonetic way to spell light.
  3. Choose either spelling, so long as you are consistent—they’re interchangeable forms of the same word.
  4. Choose the spelling appropriate to the meaning you want to convey and the context of your writing.

Which answer did you choose and why? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section, and we’ll share ours below.


The best answer is (d): Choose the spelling appropriate to the meaning you want to convey and the context of your writing.

To explore the meanings of light and lite, we consulted Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, our dictionary of choice for APA Style. You are doubtless familiar with the many meanings of light when used as an adjective, so we won’t repeat them all here, but you might be surprised to discover that lite is in the dictionary at all.

In fact, two possible meanings for lite are provided: The first refers us back to Definition 9a for light, which reads, “made with a lower calorie content or with less of some ingredient (as salt, fat, or alcohol) than usual” (“Light,” n.d.). The second reads, “diminished or lacking in substance or seriousness . . . specifically: being an innocuous or unthreatening version,” with examples of “lite news” or “film noir lite” (“Lite,” n.d.).

Thus, we can conclude three things. First, for the majority of meanings, light is the proper spelling; second, for a particular meaning (e.g., describing low-calorie foods), the spelling lite is a variant of the standard light; and third, for another particular meaning (something lacking in substance or threat), lite is the proper spelling. Therefore, the proper spelling of the word depends on the intended meaning, but for nearly all meanings that spelling is light.

For words with the same meaning but variant spellings, context determines the proper choice: The more formal the context, the more formal the spelling. Variant spellings such as lite or thru or tonite pass muster as legitimate options if you’re designing advertising materials or naming a new product, because creativity in spelling is acceptable in these contexts. However, in the more formal universe of academic writing, when presented with variant spellings you should use the most common, formal, and accepted spelling of a word—light (or through or tonight).

We hope this helped shed some “light” on the matter of proper spelling in APA Style!


Light. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/light

Lite. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary (11th ed.). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lite


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