Due to its history as a patchwork assortment of pieces from the many languages, it has interacted with over the years, English is littered with many different ways to spell the same sounds. Some examples include:
These words are known as homophones, and in today’s article, we’ll be looking at a potential pair of homophones: dying and dieing. The million-dollar question here is whether there is one correct form for this word or if are there several acceptable forms depending on the context.
If you are writing about the act of death, then 'dying' is the correct word. If you are talking about the process of somehow manufacturing dye, then 'dieing' is possibly correct.
Homophones are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings.
These should not be confused with homonyms, which are words that have the same spelling but different meanings (like how bill can refer to a check or a draft law, among other things) or homographs, which have the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings (like bow as in “draw a bow” and “take a bow”).
Another common homophone that is relevant to this discussion is dyeing. Famously, this word was used in a joke headline several years ago that read, “Betty White Dyes at Home”—the intention being that careless readers would think she had departed this life when in reality the article was about the aging TV star coloring her hair at home. (NB: Betty White died for real at the end of December 2021.)
We can get a better sense of whether “dying” and “dieing” are homophones if we peel them back and look at the root words from which they come, then review the rules for adding the -ing ending to them.
So to review the bidding, we have three different words that we are looking at in this article. If we remove the -ing ending from them, we are left with the following:
Now that we’ve got our starting point set, let’s take a closer look at how the suffix -ing works in English.
Before getting into technical details surrounding spelling, let’s review the role of the -ing suffix in English. For illustrative purposes, we will use the words swimming and speaking (derived from swim and speak, respectively) as our exemplars.
The -ing suffix serves 3 primary purposes. It:
Let’s take a brief look at each role.
Perhaps the most fundamental use of -ing is to make a verb progressive—that is, indicating that the action is in an ongoing state. In grammatical terms, this is the present participle (PART-ih-sip-ul), and can be seen in the following example sentences:
The -ing suffix allows verbs placed immediately before nouns to be used adjectivally, as in the following:
Lastly, -ing can be used as a nominalizer, creating a noun referring to the action described by the verb. In grammatical terms, this is referred to as a gerund (JER-und).
The primary spelling rules for -ing, as taught in elementary school in the United States, are as follows:
An extension on Rule 2 (we’ll call it Rule 2.5) is that if the verb ends in -ie the I changes to a Y before adding ING.
Taking Rule 2.5 into account, we can see that die and dye both go through the process as follows:
die/dye -> dy -> dying
This would strongly infer that dying is the only correct form. However, as this is the English language, the rules are simply a starting point. Looking up dye in the dictionary will show dyeing as its proper gerund form. The English language sometimes sets strict application of its spelling rules aside when it wants to distinguish between distinct meanings of similar-sounding words, much like how clothing is hung while people are hanged.
Dying is the appropriate form to use in the following cases:
Of the three options, this is the most commonly used. Here are some examples of it in use:
To the extent that this usage exists at all, it is exceedingly rare.
While English is a utilitarian language that allows for freely repurposing words into new parts of speech on the fly, this particular usage is not in common use. While researching this article we were unable to find this usage in any English dictionary. Further, it does not comply with the standard spelling rules for using -ing.
What scant extant examples exist for it suggest that it should be used to refer to the process of creating or using a die for manufacturing purposes, such as in the following:
Of the three options, this is by far the least used. As we saw when reviewing the root words above, when die is used in reference to a manufacturing tool it is used almost exclusively as a noun.
By contrast, all dictionaries and popular usage support the use of dyeing—in spite of its irregularity per the spelling rules for -ing—under the following circumstances:
When such a colorant is applied accidentally it is referred to as staining instead. Staining is also the proper term to use when applying a translucent color to a hard surface, such as wood.
Example sentences for dyeing include:
 This does not apply when a single-syllable word has a pair of vowels (known as a diphthong). Hence, bet -> betting, but beat -> beating.