Seasons greetings, Rudolph here.
It has come to my attention that some of you humans are getting in a pickle about rein and reign, so I thought I’d spare 60 seconds to sort you out.
Firstly, let’s have a quick look at the dictionary definitions of rein.
rein (n) – a long strap used to control a horse
set of reins (n) – two of these straps joined together
to rein (v) – to restrain or hold back
If it helps you remember it, think of a reindeer wearing reins. That should do it.
Now let’s look at its homophone, reign.
reign (n) – the period during which a monarch rules a country, or a person or thing is dominant or powerful
reign (v) – to exercise the power and authority of a sovereign, to predominate, or to be the most recent winner of a competition
It’s when these words are used as part of idioms that people get confused. For example, I hear from my friends over at Oxford Dictionary that as many as a third of you mistakenly use reign instead of rein in the phrase to give free rein.
This is an understandable mistake, but it changes the meaning of the idiom somewhat. Someone with free reign would be free to rule over others, whereas someone with free rein is simply allowed considerable freedom (which is the original and ‘correct’ meaning).
Other idioms that use rein include:
to take the reins – to lead or assume control, eg ‘I’d like you to take the reins on this project.’
to rein in – to stop, check or impose control on, eg ‘John needs to rein in his team – they’re not complying with the guidelines we set out.’
to rein back on – to reduce the intensity of something, eg ‘We need to rein back on the amount we’re spending on advertising.’
For reign, there are two main idioms, but they’re rarer:
to reign over – to exercise exclusive power over something, eg ‘He reigns over the company like a tyrant.’
a reign of – a period of time with a particular character, eg ‘It happened during Colin’s reign of terror.’
Generally, if you find yourself wondering which one you need, it is more likely to be rein, dears, especially if you’re talking about restraint. If you’re being a bit snarky about power, however, reign may be the one you’re looking for.
Here’s wishing you a very merry Christmas. If you could rein in your urges to sing songs about unfortunate features of my face, I’d be ever so grateful.
More 60-second fixes:
- Spaces and units
- Should have or should of
- Affect and effect
- Bear and bare
- Compare to and compare with
- Complimentary and complementary
- Different from/to/than
- Judgement or judgment
- Lead and led
- Palate, palette and pallet
- Spelt/spelled, learnt/learned and dreamt/dreamed
- Stationary and stationery
- Substitute for/with
- 60-second quiz
15 / 10 / 11
60-second fix: bear and bare
Ah, what a wonderful language English is. You can bear a child, bear a responsibility, ask someone to bear with you, bear a heavy load or bare your teeth. Confusion arises in the verb form, especially in the past tense. In the present tense, there are two spellings: bear and bare. to bear has two […]
19 / 05 / 12
60-second fix: different from/to/than
Every now and then, you’ll come across someone who insists that different to and different than are wrong, and that only different from is correct, writes Cathy Relf. For the most apoplectic example, we’ll cite the now semi-defunct Queen’s English Society’s, who complain: ‘At a conservative estimate, it can be said that some 90% of […]