‘Reign In’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on February 3, 2023

What does the phrase ‘rein in’ mean? Is the proper spelling ‘reign in’ or ‘rein in’? In this article, we’ll look at the definition, origin, proper spelling, and example sentences of this equestrian allusion.

The short answer, though, is that ‘rein in’ is the correct spelling and not ‘reign in.’ Figuratively, this phrase means to tighten control over a person or a thing or to restrain, hold back, diminish, or slow down a person or a thing.

What Does 'Reign In' Mean?

‘Reign in’ is actually a misspelling of the verb ‘rein in.’ ‘’Rein in’ means:

  • “To slow down, restrain, or diminish someone or something: to tighten control over something or someone.”

This above definition is the figurative meaning of ‘rein in.” However, it can also be used literally to mean “to slow or stop a horse via pulling the reins.”

When you hear people using the phrase ‘rein in’ in everyday speech and writing, they are most likely applying the metaphorical meaning.

‘Reign’ Vs. ‘Rein’: Understanding the Difference

‘Rein’ is a word that can be used both literally or metaphorically and can serve as either a noun or a verb.

The literal sense of the word as a noun is usually used in its plural form– ‘reins’– to describe the leather strap that a rider can use to control a horse or another animal. These leather straps are attached to each end of a bridle’s bit, and the rider or driver can pull on the reins in order to apply pressure to the bit.

The word ‘rein’ can also be used literally as a verb to mean “to control a horse or another animal through the use of reins.”

Figuratively, ‘rein in’ is used to mean “to exert control over someone or something, to restrain someone or something.” It can be used with a noun or pronoun in between ‘rein’ and ‘in.’ For example, if your kids are running all around a restaurant, causing a ruckus, you might say, “I have to go ‘rein my kids in.’

‘Reign’  can also be a noun or a verb. As a verb, it most often means “to exercise or possess sovereign power or authority, such as a king or a queen.” As a noun, it can refer to:

  • The period of time when a sovereign occupies a position of power or thrown
  • Royal authority or rule
  • Dominating influence or power

This word can also be used beyond the discussion of royal matters. For example, the word ‘reign’ could be used to describe the time a CEO spent in power at a major corporation.

Though ‘rein’ and ‘reign’ have different definitions, they are pronounced the same way because the ‘g’ in ‘reign’ is silent.

There are a number of different mnemonics you can use to remember the difference between the two words. One way you can remember which word applies to which definition is by thinking of Good King Wenceslas, which starts with a ‘g’ and conveys the notion of royalty. ‘Rein,’ on the other hand, ends in ‘n’ rather than ‘gn,’ which is the first letter of the sound a horse makes– ‘neigh.’

Where Does 'Rein In' Come From?

The word ‘rein’ has been used as a noun since at least the thirteenth century. As a verb, it has been in use since the fifteenth century with the meaning “to direct or control with reins.”

The use of the word in the figurative sense dates back hundreds of years. We see an example of it in the writings of William Shakespeare:

“Spur them to ruthful work, rein them from ruth!”

– Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 1609

An even older example displays the use of ‘rein in’ as a figurative phrase:

"… Therefore we ought to bee the more incouraged to serue god, sith wee see that wee bee not reined in with so rough a bitte, nor held so short as the fathers of olde time were …"

– The sermons of M. Iohn Caluin vpon the fifth booke of Moses called Deuteronomie, 1583

Horses have been an integral part of human history for at least five thousand years. They were first domesticated around 3500 BC, and humans used donkeys as beasts of burden before that. The notion of using a piece of material to hold back a horse is incredibly old, and the metaphorical sense of ‘reining (something) in’ is not a new concept.

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that ‘rein in’ is a phrase that has been in use since before the start of the graph, which begins in the year 1800. Usage of the word increased in the 1970s and has continued increasing to the current day.

Examples of 'Rein In' In Sentences

How would you use the phrase ‘reign in’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • “I know that we’re going to have a blast this weekend, but I’m trying to rein in my enthusiasm, so I don’t get my hopes up too high.”
  • Mrs. Jones is so prim and proper; I can tell that she’s always secretly thinking that I should rein in the kids rather than letting them run all over the house.”
  • “I’m glad to hear that you think we should rein in spending at this point. You know what they say– great minds think alike!”
  • “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it’s time to rein in our marketing efforts. The economy is taking a turn for the worse, and we need to look at how we’re allocating our budget.”
  • “Julia thought he would be offended when she told him to rein in his eagerness before his big interview, but he didn’t even bat an eye.”

Other Ways to Say 'Rein In'

How else can you communicate a message that is similar to the meaning of ‘rein in’? Here are some synonymous words and phrases:

  • Arrest
  • Control
  • Halt
  • Stop
  • Delay
  • Inhibit
  • Limit

Now isn’t the time to ‘rein in’ your efforts to expand your vocabulary– you’re on a roll! Head over to our idioms blog for more fascinating idioms and phrases.

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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