Free rein 🏇

Oftentimes when we’re clearing up confusion about a group of ​homophones​, we need to cover each word in the group.

That’s not the case with today’s group of same-sounding words with different meanings: We’re tackling reign and rein, which, of course, both sound like “rain” (the word, not the actual weather event). And while you rarely see “rain” confused with “reign” or “rein,” it’s tricky to remember the difference between the latter two of these homophones.

One reason is probably that they both have to do with control. When used as a verb, ​“reign” means​ to exercise sovereign rule or be the predominant force. It can also be a noun, meaning a royal authority or the time that such an authority rules. As a noun, “​rein​” is the strap you use to control an animal (typically a horse). It can also be used as a verb: She reined in her horse.

"Reign" is the term you use to describe a monarch or a predominant force: "Elizabeth I reigned over England and Ireland for more than 40 years." "Even though she tried to stick to the agenda, chaos reigned in the meeting." A "rein" is what you use to control horses: "She grabbed the reins." The expression is "free rein": "The students were given free rein to choose any topic they wanted for their final presentation."

To add to the confusion, “​take the reins​” and “​hold the reins​” mean to take control and wield power, respectively. So yes, it is correct to say that a monarch takes the reins at the start of her reign 🤷‍♀️

“Reins” is correct in these idioms because they ​originate​ from horse management. Similarly, the phrase is free rein, as it also comes from horseback riding, meaning the reins on a horse are held loosely so that the horse can move around as it pleases.

If you’re feeling confident after today’s lesson, take a stab at our ​commonly confused words quiz​. Hit reply to let us know how you did.

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