rein vs. reign

What is the difference between rein and reign?

Rein and reign (both pronounced /reɪn/) can each function as a noun and a verb based on that noun’s meaning.
Rein most literally means “either of two long straps attached to a bridle used to control a horse or other animal by its rider”; figuratively, it refers to any means of controlling, directing, or restraining. By extension, it functions as a verb to mean “to check, restrain, or control” (either literally or figuratively). For example:
  • “He clutched the reins tightly as the carriage went across the narrow bridge.”
  • “The candidate vowed to loosen the reins of the government if he were to take office.”
  • “You need to rein in your mule if you want to keep control going down this ravine.”
  • “They brought in a financial advisor to try and rein in the firm’s expenses.”
Reign, one of the few words featuring a silent G, is primarily a noun meaning “the sovereign or royal rule of a monarch” or “the period during which a monarch holds power”; more figuratively, it can refer to any dominating power or influence. As a verb, it means “to possess and exercise sovereign power and rule” or “to have predominant or prevailing control or influence.” For example:
  • “The reign of Queen Elizabeth II is the longest in British history.”
  • “Following the coup, the military junta’s reign of brutality came to an end.”
  • “The king reigned with an iron fist until he was dethroned in the early 11th century.”
  • “They strove to create a country where peace and virtue reigned.”

Spelling Tricks and Tips

Because of its silent G and the overlap in meaning of “control,” writers sometimes mistakenly use rein where reign would be correct. One way to remember the difference is to understand reign’s origin. The term is etymologically related to the word regal, meaning “of, relating to, belonging to, or befitting a monarch.” So, if you’re describing the control or authority that might be considered regal, the appropriate word to use is reign
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