‘Rein’ or ‘Reign’: What's the Difference?

By Carly Forsaith, updated on February 28, 2023

Whether to use 'rein' or 'reign' can often be a tricky choice. Both words sound alike, so which one should you choose? That's what we'll learn in this article.

  • In short, a 'rein' helps you control something literally or figuratively, whereas a 'reign' is a period of governance.

Is It 'Rein' or 'Reign'?

'Rein' and 'reign' are homophones, meaning they sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings, so they are not interchangeable.

To confuse matters further, their meanings are related: they both have to do with control and power. Let's look further into the definition of each word.

What Does 'Rein' Mean?

The word 'rein' comes from the Latin retinere, which means "to hold back."

'Rein' can be either a noun or a verb.

The noun 'rein' refers to a strap or long piece of material used to direct a horse or even, sometimes, a child.

Pull on the left rein if you want the horse to turn left.

I strap my child in reins when it's busy out.

It is often used in the plural form' reins.'

The verb 'rein' refers to the act of using reins or, in a figurative way, restricting. Usually, the verb is used with the preposition 'in' to make the phrasal verb 'rein in.'

Rein in your enthusiasm until we receive the final decision.

Some popular idioms are quite telling of the meaning of the word, such as 'take the reins,' which means to take control, and 'free rein,' which means unrestricted freedom of action.

What Does 'Reign' Mean?

'Reign' comes from the Latin regnum, which means "kingship, dominion, rule, realm." Fittingly, the word 'reign' refers to the period of time that a person, thing, or idea dominates or has a strong influence.

The word 'reign' can also be a noun or a verb and can be used figuratively or literally.

As a noun, it looks like this:

The Queen's reign was the longest of any British monarch.

As a verb, it looks like this:

She could not control the children, and henceforth chaos reigned in the classroom.

Another popular way to use the word is in its present participle form: 'reigning.'

For example:

There was a reigning sense of calm in the air.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'Rein' or 'Reign'

As homophones, 'rein' and 'reign' sound the same, so you'll only have to learn the pronunciation once.

The words rhyme with 'pain,' 'train,' and 'sane.' This is what they sound like:

[ rayn ]

The International Phonetics Alphabet spells them like this:

/ reɪn /

How to Use 'Rein' or 'Reign'

Let's take a look at some examples of these two words used in a sentence, so you can get a better idea of how they're used in context.

Examples of 'Rein'

Can you rein in your dog? It's scaring the children.

Pull on both reins to get the horse to stop.

Unfortunately, the organization doesn't hold the reins on this one.

Examples of 'Reign'

Your reign of terror has come to an end.

Bold colors reigned the fashion catwalks in the 90s.

He reigned justly and fairly.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it; 'rein' and 'reign' are two different words but with similar meanings. Let's review what we've learned:

  • 'Rein' is a way to control
  • 'Reign' is a period of governance
  • Both words can be a verb or noun

If you found this article helpful, head to our blog to learn about more confusing words like these.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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