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Saturday, 23 December 2017 23:19

Holly vs. Holy? Ask Scott Dreyer

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This question comes to us from Linda, the mother of a student in Beijing, China, after we had a class about Christmas reading my blog post

Q: What is the difference between the words "holy" and "holly"?

A: That's a great question, Linda! It goes to show you, just ONE LETTER can make a BIG DIFFERENCE! Both words relate to Christmas, as we saw in class. However, they are two different words with very different meanings.


HOLLY is a green bush with red berries. It has sharp leaves but, because it's evergreen, it's green all winter. Plus, since it has red berries and green and red are the dominant (main) colors of Christmas, it is often used in Christmas decorations or on Christmas cards, like this card from around 1900. You pronounce HOLLY with a short o sound, so it rhymes with MOLLY or FOLLY. You can hear it here.

Holly, when it is capitalized, is also a woman's name. 

There is a beatiful English Christmas carol called "The Holly and the Ivy." 


HOLY only has ONE L. It is pronounced with a LONG o, like you hear in ONLY, OWN, and ROLL. You can hear it here.  Holy means "sacred; dedicated to God or religion; set apart for a pure purpose." People talk about the Holy Bible, Holy Spirit or a holy place. There is a famous, beloved Christmas carol called "O Holy Night."


Want to know more about Holly, Ivy, and other Christmas greenery? Read this fine website,



Do you want to know more about English vocabulary and life in the USA? Join a class with! Contact Scott today to find out how!



Read 20757 times Last modified on Thursday, 20 December 2018 14:15
Scott Dreyer

A licensed teacher in the US state of Virginia since 1987, Scott Dreyer has been helping Chinese speakers improve their English since 1989. Dreyer lived in Taiwan from 1989-1999 where he learned Mandarin, met his wife, started his family, and realized he loved working with Chinese students. He became an award-winning author and started teaching ESL online in 2008. Dreyer and his wife and their four adult children make their home in the beautiful Roanoke Valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

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