Reign vs Rein: What’s The Difference Between These Homophones?

Because only one letter makes them different, but the meanings are quite different, reign vs rein can trip up writers. This guide will help.

Does a king reign or rein over his subjects? The addition of the letter g to these words significantly changes the meaning. Because reign and rein are homophones, getting the English spelling right can be hard.

Before you write about free reign or free rein, make sure you know which version of these two words to use. Studying the definitions, synonyms and etymology, as well as some common phrases that use the words, will help you get the different meanings more straight in your mind.

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What is the Difference Between Reign vs Rein?

Reign vs rein: What’s the difference?
Decoding reign vs. rein requires understanding where they came from and what they mean

So what is the difference between reign vs. rein? Do you reign in a horse or rein in a horse? Decoding homophones requires understanding where they came from and what they mean.

The Definition of Reign

The word reign has both a verb meaning and an on meaning. When used as a noun, reign means “a royal authority” or “the period of time during which someone reigns.” Here are some examples:

  • The queen's reign has been a time of major change throughout history.
  • The reign of the Puritans was a time of strict religious rules.

The word reign can also be used as a verb, in which case it means “to possess or exercise sovereign power” or “to be predominant or prevalent.” Here are some example sentences:

  • In England, the sovereign reigns but does not actually make laws.
  • In the preschool classroom, chaos reigned on the first day of school.

The Synonyms of Reign

Some words that have a similar meaning to reign include:

  • Sovereignty
  • Preeminence
  • Domination
  • Ascendancy
  • Predominance

The Etymology of Reign

Reign comes from the Middle English word reign. This comes from the Latin word regnum. Both of these words mean royal or royalty.

The Definition of Rein

Reign vs rein
Rein means “A narrow strap fastened to a horse's bit 

When used as a noun the word rein means “A narrow strap fastened to a horse's bit by which a rider or driver controls the animal,” or “a restraining influence or controlling power.” It can also mean “opportunity for unhampered activity or use.”

Here are some example sentences:

  • Keep a tight rein on your horse to prevent him from bolting.
  • The director gave the actor full rein to develop the character.
  • The CEO handed over the reins of the company to his successor as he prepared for retirement.

When used as a verb, rein means “to control or direct with or as if with reins.” or “to check or stop by or as if by a pull at the reins.” Though it can have non-equestrian uses, this use is often related to the reins of a horse.

Here are some example sentences:

  • You need to rein your impatience and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
  • Rein in your horse and listen to your instructor for a moment.

Synonyms of Rein

Rein has some synonyms, including:

  • Headship
  • Head
  • Driver's seat

Etymology of Rein

The word rein comes from the Middle English word reine and the Anglo-French word resne or reine. These words all mean to restrain.

Common Phrases Using Rein and Reign

There are some common phrases using rein that do not refer to a leather strap to control horses. These include:

  • Rein in: Rein in is a phrase that means to limit or control something. It can refer to horses, but can also refer to behavior or other actions.
  • Free rein: This phrase means unrestricted freedom to act or decide for one's self. Giving a horse free reign means to let them choose where to go while holding the reins loosely, and the phrase now means giving freedom of choice in non-equestrian areas.
  • Reign of terror: This phrase typically refers to the leadership of someone who has tight rules or does not respond well to the people underneath them. It can refer to a leader of a country, like a monarch or sovereign, but it can also refer to management or other leadership positions.

A Final Word on Reign vs Rein

Reign and rein are confusing words because they are homonyms. The silent g in reign does not change the pronunciation of the words. 

If you are referring to the royal office or sovereign rules, you will use the word reign. If you can remember how to spell sovereign, which also has a silent g, you may be able to keep these straight.

If you are referring to horses or holding back something, you will use the word rein. 

FAQ About Reign vs Rein

What is the difference between reign and rein?

Reign with the silent g refers to a king or queen. Rein with no g refers to a strap used to guide horses or restraining something like behavior.

Do you have free rein or free reign?

The correct word to use for this phrase is rein because free rein refers to giving the freedom to make one's own choices.

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Author

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.

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