Rain, reign or rein? People often make mistakes when choosing between homophones (words that sound the same but have different spelling and different meanings). I see errors in the use of ‘reign’, ‘rein’ (and, occasionally, ‘rain’) almost every week.
Here’s how to sort them out.
‘Rain’ tends to cause the fewest problems – at least in terms of language (literal and figurative).
The rain (precipitation), in Spain, stays mainly in the plain (literally).
It’s raining in my heart (figuratively).
When deciding on ‘reign’ or ‘rein’, hesitant or careless writers tend to get it wrong. ‘Reign’, seems to pop up everywhere, and in all the wrong places.
Just a few examples:
Their ambition was reigned in.
The manager firmly held the reigns.
She was given a free reign.
In these (incorrect) sentences, the words the writers were looking for were ‘reined’, ‘reins’ and ‘rein’.
Even the late Queen Elizabeth ll, whose ‘reign’ lasted 70 years, did not have a free ‘rein’ but was constrained by Parliament and the Constitution.
‘Reign’, as a noun, refers to the period of time a monarch is on the throne. It can also relate loosely to power exerted by other leaders.
The verb ‘to reign’ means to hold office as a king or queen or, in some cases, to exert influential power in a society or organisation.
A ‘rein’ (noun) is a controlling device (as in a horse’s rein). The word comes from Latin, via Old French.
A ‘free rein’ is unrestricted power or choice.
‘Rein’ also features in various verb forms:
To ‘draw rein’ or ‘rein in’ is to restrain or limit.
To ‘take the reins’ is to be assume control.
The word ‘reindeer’ comes from two Norse words: hreinn (‘horned deer’) and dyri (‘animal’). Even though drivers (including Santa Claus) use reindeer in harness (with reins) to draw sleighs, the word ‘reindeer’ has nothing at all to do with ‘reins’.
I discovered another interesting fact while doing some research. In the Icelandic language, hrein(n) has a meaning associated with ‘clean’ or ‘pure’ and is a slang word for ‘virgin’.
Now you’re clear on whether to use ‘rain’, ‘reign’ or ‘rein’, why not find more ways to Be Word Wise.