Dec 12, 2010

Reigns vs Reins: a Brief Look at English Usage

 by Marsha Ward

Today I want to investigate the difference between the words reign and rein, with side tours to rain and lines. But first:

Reign is a noun (person, place or thing) describing what a king does between his coronation (crown placed on head, scepter handed over, etc.), and his death or disposition (head removed, drummed out of the country, and the like) . My handy Webster's New World Dictionary, revised and updated, ca. 2003, cites it thusly: "1 royal power 2 dominance or sway 3 the period of rule, dominance, etc." In the intransitive verb state, it also means "1 to rule as a sovereign 2 to prevail," as in "peace reigns." I'll briefly mention regnant, an adjective meaning ruling, predominant, or prevalent, but only to point out the g in there, so you think about g being in the ruler's reign.

Also, if you think of "sovereign" or "peace reigning," you won't confuse reign with rein or even rain.

A rein (noun) is "1 a narrow strap of leather attached in pairs to a horse's bit (the mouth thingie) and manipulated to control the animal: usually used in plural. 2 a means of controlling."

You can talk about "giving free rein" if you mean to "allow to act without restraint." That can apply to ideas or actions.

Since rain sounds like the pair above, I'll mention that this mostly refers to that wet stuff that falls from the sky. Of course, there are variations, but they aren't too important in this context.

I promised you a look at lines. Here's why it's important when we discuss reins. The latter word is used when you're referring to a character who is astride a horse and what he or she is holding in one or two hands, depending on their riding proficiency. The former, lines, is the word used in the context of wagons, stagecoaches, and other animal-drawn conveyances. Okay, vehicles! They are those leather straps the teamster or coachman uses in directing his intentions to the animals in harness. Never, never, never use the word reins in your historical novel when your character is driving a vehicle.

Your Homework: How is an ox-powered cart or wagon directed by the driver?


  1. You got me there Marsha. I haven't a clue. So how is an ox-powered cart or wagon directed?

  2. I thought the person walked along side with a stick. I wonder why they carry a big wooden yoke rather than lighter leather harness?

  3. It looks like they trained the calves by walking ahead with carrots etc. and cracked a whip overhead for attention for gittyup, gee and ha (I think they said gee was right and ha left) It also said there was a big metal ring in the middle of the yoke where a lead rope could be hooked.
    So I think I was off on the stick thing.


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