Role or Roll?

What Is the Difference between "Role" and "Roll"?

"Role" and "roll" are easy to confuse because they sound identical (i.e., they are perfect homonyms). However, their meanings are very different.
  • Role. "Role" is an "actor's portrayal of a character" or "a job or function." For example:
    • You were brilliant in your Hamlet role, dear. correct tick
    • What's your role in the office?
  • 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."
    • Call the roll, Mr. Jones. correct tick
    • Nothing beats a fresh roll straight from the oven.
    • Roll the snowman's head over to the body.
role or roll?

More about "Role" and "Roll"

"Role" and "roll" are homophone homonyms (words that sound the same). They are not homograph homonyms (words that look the same).


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. correct tick
  • What's your role onboard this aircraft? correct tick
  • The thermostat's role is to keep the temperature below 200 degrees so the casing does not melt. correct tick

Role as a Noun

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? correct tick

(2) A list

For example:
  • Please check the nominal roll to ensure we're all present. correct tick

(3) A rotating movement

For example:
  • The acrobat did three rolls and backflip. correct tick

Role as a Verb

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. correct tick
  • Roll over a bit. correct tick
  • They rolled the best cigars in the world. correct tick

(2) To move on wheels

  • The skateboarders rolled past the park attendant, and he did not say a word. correct tick

(3) To start

  • Roll the cameras. correct tick
  • Roll the credits. correct tick

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.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.