Easily Confused Words: Reek vs. Wreak

Reek and wreak are easily confused words. They are also homophones, meaning they sound identical, but are spelled differently and mean different things.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It suggests what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions couldn’t be more off base and produces humorous results.

Reek is a verb. It means to smell badly, to have a horrible odor.

Wreak is a verb. It means to create bad outcomes, destruction, and problems on something or someone. Wreak havoc is a common phrase, havoc being literal or figurative massive destruction or devastation.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Rekha was almost ready for her cafe’s opening night. She unlocked the door and stepped into the kitchen. It reeked of foul dairy. One of the refrigerators in the back had broken, and been left wide open. The food in it hadn’t been moved to another refrigerator. If she didn’t take care of this situation quickly, it would wreak havoc on her reputation as a restaurateur. 


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