Role or Roll?

by Craig Shrives

Role or Roll?

What is the difference between "role" and "roll"?
  • Role. A role is an "actor's portrayal of a character" or "a job or function."
  • Roll. A roll is a "list (usually of names)" or a "piece of bread." The verb "to roll" usually means "to move by rotating" or "to start."
role or roll?

More about "Role" and "Roll"

The words "role" and "roll" are homonyms, which means they either look the same or sound the same. As they have different spellings, they are classified as homophone homonyms (words that sound the same). They are not homograph homonyms (words that look the same).

More about "Role"

The noun "role" means "an actor's portrayal of a character" or "a job or function (of a person or thing)." For example:
  • Teddy was totally convincing in the role of Shylock.
  • What's your role onboard this aircraft?
  • The thermostat's role is to keep the temperature below 200 degrees so the casing does not melt.

More about "Roll"

As a noun, "roll" has three main meanings:

(1) A small round piece of bread (i.e., a bread roll). For example:
  • Would you like butter on your roll?
(2) A list. For example:
  • Please check the nominal roll to ensure we're all present.
(3) A rotating movement. For example:
  • The acrobat did three rolls and backflip.
As a verb, "to roll" has three main meanings:

(1) To move by rotating or gather by rolling.
  • We used to roll the hay bales down the hill.
  • Roll over a bit.
  • They rolled the best cigars in the world.
(2) To move on wheels.
  • The skateboarders rolled past the park attendant, and he did not say a word.
(3) To start.
  • Roll the cameras.
  • Roll the credits.
Roll the Ball


The word "roll" usually has a circular, spherical, or cylindrical connection. For example:
  • Roll a cigar
  • Roll the film
  • Roll away.
You might think "roll" meaning "list" is an exception to this observation. However, if you think of a roll as a scroll, the circular link is there.

Let the last two letters of "ball" bring "roll" to mind.

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? Ms., Miss, or Mrs? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are nouns? What are verbs? List of easily confused words