Monday Muddle: rein, reign, rain

Monday Muddle: rein: (noun) a long, narrow strap typically used in the plural to guide a horse and metaphorically used to guide people or situations; (verb) to guide; to keep under control (used with adverbs like in and back) Part of the expression “free rein”. reign: (noun) the period in which someone holds power; (verb) to rule as king, queen, or other authority figure NOT part of the expression “free rein”. rain: (noun) condensed atmospheric moisture; (verb) to precipitate said moisture NOT part of the expression “free rein”.

The expression “free rein” originated with horsemanship, and literally meant that the horse was free from the control of the reins. Use in broader senses followed. “Free reign” became a common substitution, I expect because people weren’t familiar with horsemanship. I’m not sure what “free reign” would really mean. I don’t think royalty pays for the privilege of ruling a kingdom. “Free rain”, well, I think rain is free for everyone.

“To rein in” means to subdue or to control or to limit. “To reign in” would be followed by a place where royals reside and hold power. “To rain in” might be used in a weather report if you are about to say, for example, that precipitation is beginning in a particular place. It is beginning to rain in London.

“To take over the reins” means to take over the leadership of something, but not necessarily the royal throne. “To take over the reigns” would require more than one royal to die or abdicate and leave an empty throne to be filled. “To take over the rains”—I don’t think that’s a thing.