Is it free rein or free reign? These phrases are technically correct, but only one has a significant definition and use.
In this guide, you’ll learn that the accurate expression to use is free rein. Learn what it means and how to use it in a sentence.
What Does Rein Mean?
Rein is a noun referring to a long strap on a horse’s bit, which the rider controls. Here are some examples of rein in a sentence.
- I detached the reins from the horse to keep him comfortable.
- Does it hurt when horseback riders slap the animals with reins?
What Does Reign Mean?
Reign is also a correct spelling for a different word. It’s a noun that means a period of time where a sovereign or monarch rules. It’s also one of the verbs that mean to hold royal office or rule as a king or queen. Below are examples of reign as a noun and verb:
- The reign of Queen Elizabeth II is the longest in Britain. (noun)
- The reign of video rental stores ended in the 2000s. (noun)
- Queen Elizabeth II reigns over Britain. (verb)
Reign is also the word we use in the phrase reign of terror. It means a period of remorseless repression.
Is it Free Rein or Reign?
Free rein and free reign have correct spellings. But the right phrase to use in writing is free rein, which is an expression that means freedom to do as a person pleases.
As the ngram shows, free rein is more commonly used than free reign.
Free rein is associated with the phrase rein in, and the verb phrase take the rein. Both correct expressions originate from horseback riding in the 17th century.
Free Rein Meaning
Free rein comes from horseback riding terminology that people use to mean the act of holding the reins or controlling the horse loosely. It also means giving the horse freedom to move.
Reins are the leather straps used by riders to control their horses. In a literal sense, when the rein is free, it gives the animal freedom of movement at its own pace. In metaphorical senses, free rein doesn’t have anything to do with physical reins.
When you keep a tight rein on anything, it means you have all forms of control over it. But when you keep a free rein, you give it complete freedom. This idiom which refers to giving a great deal of freedom of action goes back to 1635.
- The horse let go of the metal bit in its teeth when the man kept a free rein.
- The boss gave the artist free rein so he could exercise his creative freedom over the project.
- The CEO gave me free rein over the write-up. I thanked him for giving me, an average person, trust and creative control.
Free reign isa usual spelling error that doesn’t make sense. You might also notice that the phrase is redundant since reign already means exercising sovereign power, which indicates freedom.
Another incorrect phrase is free rain from the homophone rain. Rain refers to the moisture from the atmosphere falling.
How to Remember the Difference
Remember that the shorter word rein is the correct word to use in the figurative expression about freedom, which is free rein.
The most figurative senses of rein involve control. It comes from the word rein, a narrow strap on the horse that the rider controls.
Free reign is a common spelling error in modern times. It’s considered a redundant phrase because reign, which means the period a sovereign rules,already implies freedom.
Free Rein Synonym
- A free hand.
Is it Reins of Power or Reigns of Power?
The correct phrase to use is reins of power, which means the control of an organization or country. This term also has origins in horseback riding.
How Do You Use Free Rein in a Sentence?
- I gave Jim free rein on office supplies shopping.
- Let’s convince Julia to give you free rein.
- My kids have free rein in the house.
We haven’t got the free rein, the free hand that maybe has been perceived in the media, that we can go and sign whoever we want and pay extortionate fees and wages. [Yahoo News]
The second part of this sergeant’s letter calls for yet another vow. It reminds us that war, by its nature, breeds corruption and gives free rein to abuses of all sorts. [The Nation]
Giving our imaginations free rein, we might envision tiny quantum drones that can tinker with or deliver molecules. [New Scientist].
Summary of Free Rein vs. Free Reign
Free rein is one of the several common expressions English writers misspell. The correct term to use is free rein meaning freedom to do what one wants. This expression has its roots in horseback riding.
What other phrases do you find confusing?