Role vs. roll

  • Role relates to people’s functions and to parts played by performers. Roll is broader, having many definitions, including (1) to move by repeatedly turning over, (2) to recur, (3) a register or catalogue, (4) a list of names, (5) a deep rumble, (6) a rapid succession of short sounds, and (7) a scrolled piece of parchment or paper. That fourth definition is the one meant in the phrase roll call, which is commonly misspelled role call.


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    The homophones roll and role actually have a common origin—the Latin rotula, diminutive of wheel—but they differentiated long ago and share no common ground in modern English.



    Glenn Close has played many big roles in her career. [New York Daily News]

    She has been on the honour roll throughout her years here. [Calgary Herald]

    She’s a brilliant role model and style icon. [Daily Mail]

    Liberia has made a bid for funding from the Gavi to roll out the pneumococcal vaccine against pneumonia next year. [Guardian]

    British troops, NATO officials say, will also remain in Afghanistan long past the end of 2014, largely in training or mentoring roles. [Sydney Morning Herald]

    Good thing they’re keeping the cinnamon roll warm for her. [Los Angeles Times]


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