How to Use Cue vs. Queue Correctly

Some terms sound the same but have different meanings, causing hesitation and writing issues. An example of these homophones is queue vs. cue. Is it in the cue or in the queue? Cue the lights or queue the lights? And is it cue the tears in a theater? Learn the correct answers by reading this article!

As a verb, queue means get in line or place in line. Both these homophones are often used with up—cue up meaning prepare something to start on cue, and queue up, meaning get in line. 

How to Use Cue

Homophones like ant and aunt or aye and eye or, in this case, cue and queue can be tricky. The proper meaning of cue is a stimulus that leads to action. The noun can also mean a hint, encouragement, or suggestion–for example:

  • And that’s my cue to share why I’m right in front of you. 
  • Smaller banks obtain their cue from the Federal bank.

You’ll also hear the word cue in theaters. One of its additional meanings is a sign that actors receive when they’re about to do something onstage at the proper time. Because of its use in the performing arts, the word has carried over to television and the big screen–for example:

  • In her 30 years of acting, the actress never missed a cue. 
  • When the lights turn on, that’s your cue to shout your line. 

The meaning originated in 16th and 17th-century theater. Q used to mean Quando, meaning when.

Cue is also in the word cue card. Actors, news reporters, and other people on television use these to remember their lines and gestures at the precise time. These cards give direction to actors unseen by the audience–for example:

  • Do you trust a candidate who still needs cue cards when explaining his platforms?
  • Just read from the cards on the wall.

Another denotative meaning of the technical term cue is in games of pool and billiards. It’s the slender stick or tapered stick hitting the cue ball in motion. Here are some examples:

  • Ashley’s billiard cue and billiard balls lay on the table.  
  • The pool cue hit my elbow.
  • She acted like a professional pool player when she held the billiard cue.

Lastly, the verb cue refers to the act of signaling someone–for example:

  • Cue me when her line is coming up so that I can carry the props.

Cue in a Sentence

Then there’s that impressive skill set: barking, whimpering and rolling over on cue. [Wall Street Journal]

A younger brother, Garret, is also in the cue. [Our Colorado News]

For example, given that Venmo doesn’t exist in the UK, it seems likely that it’s now going to be more of a faff to share rides with friends if you have different banks and apps. Cue awkward texts reminding friends that they owe you money. [Mashable]

How to Use Queue

The noun queue comes from the Latin word meaning a lineup of things or people waiting for their turn–for example:

  • A queue of people waited for the latest iPhone model. 
  • There was a queue of vehicles trying to enter the resort.
  • The queue of cars stretched back to the next street.
  • Japan has some of the most solid law-abiding queues for public transportation.

You can also use the noun as a term in computing. Users can add TV shows and films to their online queues for the list of items they want to watch. You can also use it for the list of songs you want to play.

Queue’s other meaning in computing is a list of items in a file–for example:

  • Enter this information in the proper queue.
  • Can you see my infographic in the print queue?

Queue can also be a verb, which means to form a line–for example:

  • I will queue up the karaoke songs we will sing. 

Queue in a Sentence

He said that when he arrived at 5.30am, there were fewer than 50 people outside the store. However, there was no clear queuing system in place. [Straits Times]

There’s a queue every lunch time outside a particular eaterie in London’s West End, waiting with varying degrees of patience for sandwiches. [Telegraph]

Hundreds of shoppers queued for hours outside luxury watch store on Saturday. [Daily Mail]

Is it Cue or Queue the Music?

The correct phrase to use is cue the music, a term in performance that is used when you’re preparing to play a piece of music. 

Again, cue here means a hint or a signal. It’s the same as when you say cue the lights or cue the tears in a theater performance. 

However, the phrase queue the music is also technically correct. It means to line up the music. For example, you can say you queued up the music you will play at your party. But it does not mean to start playing music.

Cue or Queue to Leave

The proper term is cue to leave, which means a signal to go. But you can also use queue to leave in rare contexts. The difference in meaning is that queue to leave means a line you will leave.

Wait for Your Cue Meaning

To wait for one’s cue means to wait for your turn, usually in theater. For example, someone’s nod is your signal to enter the stage. While they’re not yet nodding, you are still waiting for your cue.

Bottom Line

Now, do you understand the difference between cue vs. queue? Cue refers to signals or hints, such as cue the lights, in the cue, or cue the tears. Queue means a lineup or sequence.

Memorize the meaning of these words so you’ll be confident when using them on your next writing project! Learn more about homophones on our site, so you don’t use the wrong words when writing.

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