Whoa or Woah – Which is Correct?

Many people use this word everyday, often without really thinking about it. But it’s a term which is likely written less than it is spoken, so even if you’re familiar with it you might not be sure how to spell it.

Whoa is the correct spelling. Woah is often used informally, such as online or in text messages, but technically it’s incorrect. If you want to write professionally, you need to make sure you always use “whoa”.

What does whoa mean?

While you might frequently use it, you may not know the actual definition of “whoa”.

Whoa is an interjection or expression that means “stop”, even if it isn’t always knowingly used for this purpose.

A woman looks down at her smart phone in one hand while typing with her other hand on a laptop.

The history of whoa

Whoa has been used as far back as the 15th century. It’s thought to be a variant of the word ho, which is an interjection used to command a horse to stop. By the latest 1800s, whoa was used in other settings and for different purposes, namely to express astonishment or surprise.

While whoa is the correct spelling, woah began being used more recently, especially since the 1980s. Woah is thought to be a product of the digital age, springing up from online message boards and now being used across social media platforms.

Informally, whoa can be used to give someone time to pause, like an alternative to “wait a minute”. You might say “Whoa, I love your haircut.”

What’s the difference between whoa and woah?

Whoa is the correct spelling, so it should always be used in professional or formal writing. Both mean the same thing, so the only difference is what whoa is correct and woah is incorrect.

However, woah has become so popular that many people use it without realising it’s wrong. In informal writing, such as social media, it’s therefore not so bad to use it. Just like text speak, it may be technically incorrect but everyone knows what you mean.

Which is more popular, woah or whoa?

Google Trends data shows that, worldwide, “woah” (red) is more frequently searched online than “whoa” (blue). This suggests that more people tend to use the incorrect spelling.

A Google Trends line graph shows a red line outperforming a blue line.
Over five years, woah was search more frequently than whoa

When to use whoa

If you want to write seriously and get your work published, then making sure words are spelled correctly is vital. This includes any uses of “whoa”. Even though many people instead use “woah” day to day, your writing should follow the correct version.

When to use woah

By default, you should use whoa because it’s the right way to spell it. However, there’s no harm in using woah in more casual writing. Social media posts, Youtube comments, and chat group messages are just some of the places that you could likely use woah without any scrutiny.

Because of the popularity of woah, some style guides actually now allow this misspelling. If you want to submit your writing somewhere, then you should make sure to check the style guide first. But, to play it safe, it’s better to stick to using whoa.

How to remember the difference between whoa and woah

If you often mix-up the spelling and aren’t always sure whether to use whoa or woah, then there’s one simple trick to remember which spelling is correct.

First, just ask yourself: “How do you spell whoa?”

Think of the first two letters of the question word “how” – “h” and “o”. These are both found in the same order in “whoa”. So it’s as easy as asking yourself how, identifying the “HO”, then choosing the spelling that also has “HO”.

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So, is it woah or whoa? Ultimately, there’s only one correct spelling and that’s whoa. However, woah is used very commonly and, in some informal settings, there’s no harm in using it.

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