Posted by: episystechpubs | December 4, 2012

Editor’s Corner: Rein, reign, or range?

This week and next week I’m going to go through some of the questions and pet peeves you’ve brought up over the last few months. Today the question is: Is the phrase free rein, free reign, or free range?

From Daily Writing Tips:

The expression to give free rein to is figurative. It means to give a person freedom to act on his own authority. It derives from an equestrian term:

free rein – a rein held loosely to allow a horse free motion; the freedom that this gives a horse. (OED)

The word reign derives from a Latin word for kingship. To reign means to exercise the power of a king. The sense of this “reign” has become conflated with the expression “to give free rein to.” The confusion has become so complete that it’s beyond correction.

So, the original spelling of the phrase is “to give free rein to,” but more people use the spelling of “reign” and associate it with the power of the king, rather than a happy-go-lucky trotting horse. The last phrase, however, does not relate to either of these, unless you’re talking about the king’s farm animals.

“Free range” is used to refer to livestock and poultry that are allowed to roam around, graze, and forage for their own food, rather than being stuck in a barn and eating whatever is thrown on the ground or piled in the trough.

[Photo from]

Kara Church

Senior Technical Editor

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