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Roll vs. Role: The Difference, and Which to Use for “Call” and “Play”

How can two words be so common, yet so often mixed up? Let’s explore the confusing homophones, “roll” vs. “role,” including which should be used in phrases with “call,” “play,” and “model” — and which is delicious to eat. As always, I’ve combined my English teacher mind with my hand-drawn cartoons to help the distinctions stick in your mind… with a smile.

Roll vs. Role
When should you use “roll” vs. “role?”

“Roll” Definition and Meaning

Using “Roll” as a Verb (Multiple Ways)

In the “roll vs. role” dilemma, let’s start with “roll:” a word which actually has several meanings: both as a verb and as a noun. The first VERB (action word) definition of “to roll” means to create a tight little bundle of something by folding it in circles upon itself, and is often followed by the word “up.”

EXAMPLE: I like to roll my homework sheets into tubes of paper that I then use to blow pumpkin seeds at people. One day my neighbor rolled up her shade so she could lean out and scream, “That’s disgusting! You better apologize.”

In the second type of “roll” verb usage, it means: to start or go. For instance,Roll the camera now! The dragon is about to eat me and I want to capture that on video!” Also: Let’s roll! I’m ready to leave this weird filmmaker’s studio.”

Third, “rolling” can refer to something which is visually or audibly undulating up and down, such as with “rolling hills” that have pretty wave shapes. Fourth, in the most common verb definition, “to roll” means: to go in a revolving, circular manner — like a ball tumbling along the ground — or to move by using a vehicle with rotating wheels. Here is a purple hedgehog demonstrating a ROLL forward:

Roll definition, meaning, example
Using “roll” (verb) in a sentence.

Using “Roll” as a Noun (Two Ways)

Now it’s time to use “roll” as a noun (thing) — but wait! — “roll” has TWO different meanings in its noun incarnation! The first definition of “roll” as a noun is the most delicious: a round type of bread, or a cylindrical food that has been made by rolling (verb) up something, such as a sushi roll or jelly roll. Burp!

The second type of “roll” noun definition is: a list of names, and is often used in the phrase “taking a roll call,” which means taking attendance by reading from such a list to see who is present from it. Let us now briefly pause to admire these adorable bread rolls, then move on to defining “role.”

Bread rolls
An example sentence with “roll” as a noun.

“Role” Definition and Meaning

The word “role” is always a noun, and means the part an actor plays in a theatrical production, movie, or TV show, OR the job or function someone or something has in a group or a system. Here are some example sentences:

  • A morning cup of coffee often plays the role of a magic fairy in the lives of adults, miraculously waking them up and transforming them from tired, surly ogres into friendly and productive humans.
  • The day actors for the school play were decided, I was thrilled to be cast in the role of “Broccoli King.” I immediately bought all the green face paint from our local store.
Playing a role
In a theatre production, actors play ROLES.

Expressions using “Roll” and “Role”

We’re already established which of these homophones to use for “Roll Call” and “Play a Role,” but which is correct for other common expressions and phrases?

“Role Model,” NOT “Roll Model”

The term “role model” is spelled correctly by using the word “role” because the phrase refers to someone who plays the part of showing you the right thing to do. For example: My aunt has been my role model in learning about chakra colors and healing because she’s always reading and talking about the deeper aspects of our bodies and souls.

Roll vs. Role VIDEO:

Expressions with “Roll”

1. Rolling in money.

The expression “rolling in ____” is a great one, because it means you have so much of something, that we should picture you diving around in it like a pig happily splashing in mud.

2. Roll of thunder.

It’s quite beautiful that we talk about the sound of thunder in terms of “rolling” — which is usually a visual description, but here is used for sound. It’s likely because the noise of thunder is so deep and elemental that you can almost see the sound waves rolling up and down through the stormy air.

3. On a roll.

This expression means “doing well, and continuing to do better and better.” Picture a snowball rolling down a hill, gathering more and more speed and snow as it goes as a metaphor for the increasing success indicated by this extression. For example: “That flower crown artist is on a roll! She sold $1,000 of crowns yesterday, and $2,000 today.”

4. Roll with the punches.

This expression means to stay calm and moving forward, even when crazy or difficult things are happening. For this metaphor, visualize someone rolling forward in a car, and robots punching it, but the car keeps moving onward, and the person inside maintains a placid smile. EXAMPLE: “Even though I got attacked by an angry octopus and stubbed my toe on a sea cactus, I rolled with the punches and kept on swimming, arriving safely on shore by nightfall.”

5. How I roll.

I love using the phrase “how I roll,” which is a fun, casual and confident way of saying “how I like to live my life.” For example: “You want me to stop using such bright colors in my creative drawings? No, no, no. That’s not how I roll at all! I’m a technicolor gal, thank you very much.”

Roll vs. Role
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“Roll vs. Role” in Sum

Though I’ve been teaching English for 17 years, I confess that writing and illustrating this “roll vs. role” article became far more complex than I anticipated. These two little four-letter words are massively common, and yet are used in so many different ways! What a fascinating language English is. Thanks for being on this journey, and feel free to check out some other popular ELA lessons below:

Homophones List and Lessons:

Literary Devices and ELA Vocabulary:

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