“Free Rein” vs. “A Monarch’s Reign”

The words rein and reign are homophones (they sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings). They are misused often in popular media (and in Facebook posts).

Reign refers to the rule of a monarch over a kingdom. It is usually used as a noun (“Queen Elizabeth II’s reign has lasted just over 61 years, as of last week”) or as a verb (“Queen Elizabeth II began her reign on February 6, 1952″).

Rein refers to the straps you hold when riding a horse to control speed and direction. It also functions as a noun (“Keep aholt of them reins, Hoss!”) or as a verb (” You better rein in those kids of yours before they get out of control.”)

The confusion often occurs because most people are unfamiliar with the word rein, and substitute reign into phrases that properly use the word rein instead, particularly into the phrase free rein.

Free rein is a phrase indicating that you have loosened your grip on the reins of a horse to allow free movement. Thus, employees (or kids) might think they have been given free rein while the boss (or parents) are away.

Often the phrase free rein is incorrectly phrased as free reign, which is a “non-standard” use and should be avoided. Free reign is an easy mistake to make, since rein and reign are homophones and, worse, because the phrase free reign seems to make sense at first glance. However, reign refers to the period of time when a monarch is in power, and generally a monarch has very strong control over the kingdom, and so the idea of giving free reign to a monarch doesn’t actually make sense.

A fun word to describe the mistake of using free reign rather than free rein is “eggcorn”. An eggcorn is a type of malapropism in which a non-standard phrase that results when a similar-sounding word is substituted for the correct word, resulting in a phrase that has a different meaning, but is still somewhat plausible.

Other examples of eggcorns: “mute point” for “moot point”, “shoe-in” for “shoo-in”, “peak my interest” for “pique my interest”, and so on. Just watch your Facebook wall and you’ll see them flow past every day. These are good examples of errors that, once seen, cannot be “unseen” for the rest of your life.

Knowing proper grammatical style can help you in daily life, in your professional life, and on the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and GRE. If you are planning to take any of these tests, contact Bobby Hood Test Prep for more information!

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