'Roll' vs 'Role': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on July 18, 2023

‘Roll’ vs ‘Role’: What’s the Difference? English really loves to play tricks on people with words that sound the same but don’t overlap when it comes to meaning. It keeps things more exciting but also makes learning the language more difficult. This article will not only teach you new words, but also give you a glimpse into the world of homophones. 

In a rush? Here’s a short overview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Roll’ is a verb meaning to turn over and over, moving in one direction
  • ‘Role’ is a noun meaning someone’s part in a situation

What’s the Difference Between ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role’?

Aside from the obvious spelling difference, these words have very little in common. While ‘Roll’ has many meanings and forms, ‘Role’ has very few. 

For example, ‘Roll’ can be both a verb and a noun and appear in various settings, while ‘Role’ is strictly a noun used only in two types of situations. More on the specifics of this will come later.

  • As previewed above, ‘Roll’ describes an action of movement, particularly in a circular motion.
  • ‘Role’ describes a person’s standing or purpose in a situation.

So if these two words are so different, why compare them to each other? 

Simply put, since these words sound exactly the same, they are difficult to tell apart. This is thanks to them being homophones

  • Homophones are words that are spelled differently, pronounced the same, and have different meanings. It comes from the Latin roots ‘homo,’ which means “same,” and ‘phone,’ which means “sound.”

Here are some examples of other homophones:

Homophones can be hard to identify at times, but learning both versions of the word is the best way to solidify them into your vocabulary. In that vein, let’s take a closer look at ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role.’

Definition of ‘Roll’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Roll’ is a verb that means: 

  • Move or cause to move in a particular direction by turning over and over on an axis
    • “The car rolled over into a ditch.”
  • (of a vehicle) move or run on wheels
    • “The bus was rolling along the highway.”
  • Turn (something flexible) over and over on itself to form a cylinder, tube, or ball
    • “He rolled the handkerchief into a ball.”
  • Flatten or spread something by using a roller or passing it between rollers
    • “Roll out the dough on a flat surface.”
  • (of a loud, deep sound such as thunder) reverberate,
    • “The first peels of thunder rolled across the sky.” 

Other verb meanings of ‘Roll’ include: 

  • Turn or cause to turn over to face a different direction
  • Turn one’s eyes upwards as a sign of disapproval
  • Throw (a dice or die)
  • (of a moving ship, aircraft, or vehicle) rock or oscillate around an axis parallel to the direction of motion
  • (of a drop of liquid) to flow
  • (of waves or smoke) move or flow forward with an undulating motion
  • (referring to a machine, device, or system) operate or begin operating
  • Curl up tightly
  • Pronounce a consonant (typically R) with a trill
  • (of words) flow effortlessly

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Roll’ can also be a noun that means: 

  • A cylinder is formed by winding flexible material around a tube or by turning it over on itself without folding
    • “a roll of carpet” 
  • A movement in which someone or something turns over on itself
    • “The roll of the dice”
  • A prolonged deep reverberating sound 
    • “Thunder exploded roll after roll.”
  • A very small loaf of bread to be eaten by one person
  • An official list or register of names
    • “It was time for the teacher to call the roll.”
  • The undulation of the landscape
    • “rolling hills of grass”

As we can see, the word ‘Roll’ has many meanings, yet none overlap with its homophone partner. Let’s learn a little more about this form of the word. 

Synonyms of ‘Roll’

  • Revolving
  • Circling
  • Envelope
  • Gyrate
  • Entwine
  • Rotate
  • Spiral
  • Spin
  • Ball 
  • Barrel
  • Reel 
  • Rotation
  • Barrage

Antonyms of ‘Roll’

  • Halt
  • Stand
  • Stop
  • Untwist
  • Stabilize 
  • Square

Phrases with ‘Roll’

  • Roll up
  • Dinner roll
  • That’s how we roll
  • Roll call
  • On a roll
  • Roll over
  • Towel roll
  • Be on a roll

Definition of ‘Role’: What Does it Mean?

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Role’ is a noun that means: 

  • An actor’s part in a play, movie, etc.
    • “Her role as a war-torn mother in Paris.”
  • The function assumed or part played by a person or thing in a particular situation.
    • “She assumed the role of big sister.”

Synonyms of ‘Role’

  • Part
  • Character
  • Performance
  • Appearance
  • Portrayal
  • Function
  • Duty
  • Post

Antonyms for ‘Role’

  • Fun
  • Whole
  • Unemployment
  • Disregard

Phrases with ‘Role’

  • Played a role
  • Their role
  • Starring role
  • Lead role

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role’

Knowing what a word means and how to spell it is only half the battle when it comes to learning new vocabulary — you also need to know pronunciations. The beauty of homophones is that you learn to say two different words for the price of one. Here’s how to pronounce ‘Roll’ and ‘Role.’

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Roll’ and ‘Role’ as a guide: 

  • ‘rōl’ (with a long “o” as in ‘hole’)

How to Use ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role’ in a Sentence

The final key to learning new vocabulary is seeing how they work in the real world. Especially with homophones like ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role,’ which sound the same, context clues in a conversation are what will help determine which word is being used. Let’s take a look at some example sentences that can help provide context clues. 

‘Roll’ Example Sentences

  • She rolled over onto her other side to get more comfortable on the couch. 
  • The car rolled to a stop in the middle of the road as the gas slowly emptied out. 
  • He hoped to roll a seven to move the number of spaces on the board he needed to win the game. 
  • She filled up on rolls during the first course, so she got full before making it to dessert. 
  • Taking roll on the first day was always the hardest for teachers learning to pronounce new names. 
  • A single tear rolled down the actress's cheek as she tried to conceal her sadness. 

‘Role’ Example Sentences

  • His favorite roles to play were always the villains because the characters were more dramatic. 
  • Her role as an office intern meant she had to do a lot of filing and picking up coffee orders. 
  • My brother just got a starring role in a new Netflix original drama series. 
  • She was excited to pull the role of a murderer for the murder mystery dinner party. 

Final Advice on ‘Roll’ vs ‘Role

Learning new words can also be a great opportunity to learn more about language tricks. In this article, you learned more about homophones and how they can trip up a reader or writer if not used in the right context, which is why using them correctly in conversation (when they aren’t written) is extra important. But homophones are also a great way to learn new words by really nailing down their meanings so you don’t mix them up. 

Want a recap? Here’s what we covered: 

  • ‘Roll’ is a verb with a variety of meanings, but it typically means to turn over and over on an axis. It can also be a noun describing a rounded thing. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Role’ is a noun describing a person's (typically an actor’s) function in a situation. 

You can find more information on homophones in other articles, as well as articles explaining other confusing words to help expand your vocabulary. Remember that context clues can be your best friend in a conversation, especially with words you know sound identical.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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