Role vs. Roll (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use role vs. roll with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.
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Let's roll around the roles of role and roll in this week's Grammar Rules. After all, explaining the differences in homophones is kind of how we roll around here and simultaneously the role of these posts in the first place.

(Click here for more grammar rules for writers.)

So let's roll through these!

role_vs_roll_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Role vs. Roll

Role has a very specific meaning that is tied to a part that is played (as in an acting role) or a function performed (as in the role that a zipper plays in keeping a coat closed or the role a cashier plays in collecting money for a store). As such a role model is someone who exemplifies a specific role and the verb role-play means to take on (or act out) a part that is not commonly yours.

Roll, on the other hand, has many meanings, including a text that can literally be rolled up or a list of items (as in people's names for a roll call), as well as the process of moving (or rolling) dice, sound produced by a drum (or drum roll), a series of successes (or on a roll), or even a smaller form of bread. And that's just some of the nouns! As a verb, roll can be used to refer to balling something up (like rolling a snow ball or dough), wrapping something up (or rolling something up), moving on wheels, flowing in a continuous stream, or finding a lot of success. We could probably roll out a few more meanings, but I think these definitely scratch the surface.

Make sense?

Let's go through a few examples:

Correct: In the role of an actor, he was praised the world over, though he was considered less of a role model as a father.
Incorrect: In the roll of an actor, he was praised the world over, though he was considered less of a roll model as a father.

Correct: Since the desk has wheels, we can easily roll it from one room to another.
Incorrect: Since the desk has wheels, we can easily role it from one room to another.

Correct: His role in the great snowball fight is to roll up new snowballs for the others to throw.
Incorrect: His roll in the great snowball fight is to role up new snowballs for the others to throw.

Maybe the best way to keep this one under control is to avoid thinking of all the possible meanings of roll and instead focus on the one meaning of role. If you can keep role's role straight in the role vs. roll debate, then you should feel comfortable rolling with roll the rest of the time.

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Grammar and Mechanics

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