Ruff vs. Rough – Spelling, Usage & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

“Ruff” and “rough” are two words that are often confused because they sound similar and have some overlapping meanings. However, they are actually quite distinct and have different connotations and uses. Stick with me as I go over the details and definitions of both words. I also provide examples of each in full sentences to show you the difference between ruff and rough.

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Ruff Meaning Explained

Some might think it’s one of those obsolete terms or made-up words, but “ruff” is a noun that refers to a frilly collar or ornament worn around the neck, typically as part of a garment or costume.

It is often associated with historical or formal attire, such as the ruffs worn by Elizabethan actors or the ruffled collars found in Victorian-era dresses. I’ve also seen it as an actual last name, like Lindy Ruff, Charles Ruff, or Tommy Ruff, for example.

I’ve also seen the word ruff used to describe things such as the state in which some animals, like moose or deer, are in when mating season is in full swing.

Ruff, when capitalized, is part of the official name of the Ruff bird. And poker players probably recognize the term in regard to a trump card.

How Do You Use Ruff in a Sentence?

Here are a few examples I whipped up that show how to use the word “ruff” in a sentence:

  • The actor playing the king wore a grand ruff of shimmering gold fabric around his neck.
  • The bride’s wedding gown featured a delicate lace ruff around the neckline.
  • The costume designer made sure to include ruffs on the outfits of the courtiers in the play to give them a sense of regal splendor.
  • Ruff in the breeding season is sometimes called rutt.
  • James said he played a spade ruff last night during the card game, but now I know it means he played a trump card.
  • We’re here to spot the migratory Ruff bird for the first time. 
  • Alexander Pope wore a lot of ruffs with his attire.

Is It Rough or Ruff in Golf?

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While you might find some people use the spelling of ruff when talking about the areas around a golf course, it’s actually spelled rough if you want to be correct.

Rough Meaning Explained

“Rough,” on the other hand, is an adjective that has a wide range of meanings. It can describe something that is physically rough or coarse to the touch, such as rough sandpaper or a rough piece of fabric. It can also describe something that is rugged or harsh in appearance, such as rough terrain or a rough sea.

In addition, “rough” can be used to describe something that is unpleasant or difficult, such as a rough day at work or a rough patch in a relationship.

Using the Word Rough in a Sentence

  • The rock was too rough to climb, so we had to find a different route.
  • The rough sea made it difficult to keep the boat steady.
  • I had such a rough day at the office, with nonstop meetings and deadline pressure.
  • This lace collar feels so rough on the skin.
  • You need to sand out all rough spots so we have nothing but flat surfaces to work with.

Rough as a Verb

“Rough” can also be used as a verb, meaning to make or become rough or rough around the edges. For example:

  • The artist roughs out the basic shapes and forms of the sculpture before adding fine details.
  • The jeans were rough from years of wear and washing.

There are a few other uses of “rough” that are worth noting. “Rough draft” refers to an initial, rough version of something that is not yet complete or polished, such as a paper or manuscript. “Rough around the edges” is an expression that describes someone who is not refined or polished but rather is a bit rough or unpolished.

For example:

  • I’m just sending you a rough draft of the proposal, so there will be some changes and additions later.
  • Sure, she’s a bit rough around the edges, but she’s got a good heart and is always willing to help others.

Rough vs. Ruff: You Decide

So, to sum it all up for you, “ruff” is a noun that refers to a decorative collar or ornament, while “rough” is an adjective that can describe something that is physically rough, harsh, or difficult. “Rough” can also be used as a verb and has additional meanings such as “rough draft” and “rough around the edges.”

Enjoyed reading about these homophones? Check out some others we covered: