Easily Confused Words: Roll vs. Role

Roll and Role are homophones and easily confused words. The spell-check application in word processing software wouldn’t necessarily catch an error misplacing one of these words for the other. Spell-check is looking for words it doesn’t recognize against its own dictionary, it’s looking for words that look a little different from its dictionary and are possibly misspelled. Spell-check does not check for context or appropriate usage of similar sounding words.

Roll is a verb, meaning an object that tumbles or moves on its own. It order to roll, an object must be mostly round or spherical.  Boulders, tumbleweed, balls, these are all things that roll.

  • In the idiom, “on a roll”,  a person is experiencing long term, repeated success, as opposed to one fortunate event.
  • The term “rolling stone” came from the phrase, “a rolling stone gathers no moss,” meaning that staying in motion is an ideal state. People who behave like rolling stones move frequently, they don’t have jobs, relationships, or both, keeping them in one spot. Whether those jobs are relationships are a hindrance or not is a point of debate, both states have their good and bad points.
  • In the British idiom, “rolling in the deep”, someone is in the depths of extreme emotion usually related to their relationships, much like a ship in a vast, stormy ocean.
  • There’s a lot more idioms for “roll” that you will find at the link!

Roll is also a noun, meaning a round piece of yeast bread served with dinner.

Role is a noun, meaning a job or position at a company or business. On stage and in films, roles are the positions the actors play.

The following sentence uses both words correctly:

Whether her acting roles had her rolling in the dirt literally or figuratively, Rosa really threw herself into whatever they demanded.


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