Role vs. Roll – Difference & Meaning

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

There are many words in the English language that sound the same but have different meanings. Role and roll are two such words, making them easy to confuse with one another.

These types of words are homophones, meaning they sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. They aren’t only mixed up by those new to the English language either – many native speakers struggle to remember whether it is role or roll as well in their writing.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between role and roll and see how to use them properly.

What’s the Difference Between Roll vs. Role?

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The only thing roll and role have in common is that they are homophones which, as explained above, are words that sound the same but are different in spelling and meaning.

Role has a single meaning and refers to a person’s part in a larger scenario, such as an actor’s role in a play or a person’s role in their job.

Roll has a larger array of definitions and can be a physical action, sound, or physical item.

Definitions of Roll and Use

Roll is broader and can act as a noun or verb. It has many definitions, including (1) to move by repeatedly turning over, (2) to recur, (3) a register or catalog, (4) a list of names, (5) a deep rumble, (6) a rapid succession of short sounds, and (7) a scrolled piece of paper or parchment.

Examples of roll in a sentence:

  • Both children made the honor roll at school last semester.
  • She made a buttery roll casserole bake for Christmas morning breakfast.
  • My boss told me to roll out the dessert tray so we could put the final touches on the catering.
  • The storm was marked by rolling thunder and bursts of lightning.
  • The rolls of parchment in the basement library contained old mathematical equations.

Definition of Role and Use

Role is a noun and relates to people’s functions and to parts played by performers.

Examples of role in a sentence:

  • Monica tried out for the lead role in her school’s spring play.
  • As a teenager, my role in the office was to make sure everyone’s supplies were well stocked.
  • She was an excellent role model to her students and kept in touch with them even after graduation.

Origin of Roll and Role

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

Roll has many etymological origins. For example, in the 1200s, the Old French “rolle” meant a rolled-up piece of parchment or scroll. In the 1300s, “rollen” meant to turn over and over, and in the 1600s, “roll” meant a rapid, uniform beating.

Role comes from the French word rÔle during the 1600s, which means a part played by a person [in life].

Commonly Confused Phrases

It’s easy to see why role and roll are often confused with one another. They sound alike, and the difference between the two is only the difference of one letter. The following phrases are commonly confused because of these similarities.

Class Role or Class Roll?

If you are looking at a class roll or taking roll for a class, you are looking at a list of names.

On a Role or On a Roll?

You are on a roll, not on a role. This idiomatic phrase indicates you are getting things done, perhaps in a manner that is measurable. Think of it as if you were checking things off a list.

Roll Call or Role Call?

Again, when you call roll or are roll calling, you are looking at a list of names to mark off.

Let’s Review

Despite their exact pronunciations, roll and role are two very different words. Roll serves in both a noun form and as a verb depending on usage and has many definitions. As a noun, it is most commonly used to mean a physical list of items. In verb form, it is a movement of action described as turning over on itself.

Role is a noun that describes the responsibilities or actions of a person or item.

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