cue vs. queue

What is the difference between cue and queue?

A cue (pronounced /kju/) is either a signal or stimulus used to prompt or elicit a certain action, or a long, pointed stick used in the games of billiards and pool. Cue can also function as a verb based on the first definition, meaning “to give such a prompt or signal.” For example:
  • “He hit the ball with such force that the tip of his cue dug into the surface of the pool table.”
  • “I missed my cue and ended up walking onto the stage in the wrong part of the scene.”
  • “Will you please cue the lights so the audience knows we’re about to begin?”
The homophone queue means “a line of people” or “to wait in a line of people,” as in:
  • “If you wish to speak to a member of the staff, please join the queue.”
  • “It feels like I’ve been queueing for hours!”
While cue has a very phonetic spelling (meaning its pronunciation is easy to deduce from its spelling, and vice versa), queue can be a bit more difficult due to the seemingly extraneous UE at the end of the word, which comes directly from its French origin.
Queue is also much more common in British English than it is in American English (whose speakers tend to just say “line” or “wait in line”), so many writers who have learned the American patterns of spelling and pronunciation incorrectly use the spelling cue instead. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to remember the correct spelling of queue; it just has to be committed to memory.
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