Sounds simple? No. They all sound the same.
As with other homonyms I have featured here, such as weather and whether, these words get tangled up in student prose. I take points off but give my writers a week to earn them back by showing they have learned the difference. No easy mnemonic exists, as it does for here and hear (“hear as an ear in it”). So here (not hear) we all need memorization and use in print, as though we were English-Language Learners.
We encounter our words often via metaphor: Reign of Terror, rein in your enthusiasm. We take a horse by the reins, though as the OED shows us in the etymology of the word with Middle English origins, this strip of leather going to the horse’s mouth was once spelled “reign.”
So does a monarch reign by taking the reins of the population, metaphorically, and leading them? Not so much in these days of nearly universal constitutional monarchies, but we begin to see how the words could be confused! Reign shares a different Middle-English Origin (regn vs. reen), according the OED. In those ancient words, we can hear the difference. Not so now. “Reign” has multiple senses that include the realm of a monarch as well as the period of time the monarch rules.
How to get students to stop confusing them? I have no idea. Sorry to rain on your parades, but -10 points and one week to read this post, kids!
Please send us words and metaphors useful in academic writing by e-mailing me (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.
Image of Queen Elizabeth II’s Gold State Coach: note footman beside the horses’ reins, at the start of her reign, courtesy of Wikipedia.