Rein, reign, and even rain! Those pesky homophones are at it again, causing havoc and confusion in the English language. In true ProCopyTips style, let me take you through the meaning behind each word, how and when to use it, and how to remember the difference.
Let’s look at the spelling, use, and meaning behind each word, and then I’ll take you through some examples.
Both a noun and a verb, the word “rein” can be used both literally and figuratively in English. A rein, or the more commonly used plural, reins, are the straps attached to a horse’s bit and bridle that a jockey or rider uses to control a horse.
Reins can also refer to the safety straps often attached to small children to stop them from wandering off when out walking.
The word “rein” is also used in phrases such as “taking the reins” which means to take control of something.
As a noun, “rein” or “reins” refers to the straps used to control something.
As a verb, “rein” means the action of guiding and controlling using reins.
“He needed reining in”
“The jockey pulled back on the reins to slow the horse down.”
“The new CEO has taken the reins and is bringing in new ideas.”
Again, “reign” is both a noun and a verb but with this spelling, it means to rule as the monarch, such as being the king or queen of a country. For example, King Charles III will now reign as King of the United Kingdom, following the death of his mother, the Queen, on 8th September 2022.
As a noun, “reign” is to rule as the monarch of a country.
As a verb, “reign” means the specific period of a monarch’s reign.
“King Charles III will now reign as monarch of the United Kingdom.”
“The Queen’s reign ended on 8th September 2022.”
“Rain” is also both a noun and a verb. Rain, when spelt this way, relates to the weather and is the moisture that falls from the atmosphere as rain.
As a noun, “rain” refers to the droplets of water falling from the atmosphere as rain.
As a verb, “rain” refers to the act of the rain falling.
“It’s raining outside”.
“The rain is torrential”
Free Reign, Free Rein or Free Rain?
Another variation in the mix is the use of the phrase “free rein”. This is where someone has the freedom to express themselves or act as they wish.
In this instance the spelling is REIN. As explained above, reins are the straps attached to a horse’s bit and bridle that a jockey or rider uses to control a horse.
To be offered “free rein” means that you are in the driving seat with the freedom to control your actions or express your feelings.
Rein in or Reign in?
When you rein in something you are bringing it under control e.g. ‘I want to rein in my spending’. So, again this phrase is using the analogy of the reins on a horse. Hence why the phrase is rein in not reign in.
Rein Over someone or Reign over someone?
To reign over someone means to be in control of them. To rule over a person is to have authority over them and to exercise that authority. The verb “to reign” means “to rule”. It can also mean “to govern”, “to administer”, or “to direct”.
Because the phrase reign over someone means to rule over or govern them then reign over someone is the correct spelling of the phrase rather than rein over someone.
Full Rein or Full Reign?
If you are given full rein over something e.g. ‘I give you full rein to do what you want with the design’ then it means you have full control. So we use full rein, not full reign (you’re like a horse without reins, you have control)
Taking the reins or taking the reigns?
I’m a big fan of the phrase “taking the reins.” ‘I’m taking the reins of this project’. Taking the reins means taking control of something so again it’s taking the reins not taking the reigns.
I hope this guide has helped you to understand the differences between each word and when to use each one.
- An easy way to remember “reign” is to add a “g” for gentry, which means someone of good social standing, specifically the class of people close to the nobility in position and birth.
- Rein when you are in control.
- Rain with an “a” for atmosphere when referring to the weather.