Role and roll are homophones, meaning they sound the same — but they have different meanings.
Here’s how to tell them apart:
Role is always a noun and refers to a part that someone (or something) plays, like a character in a movie or someone’s position in work or society.
Roll can be a verb or a noun and has many meanings. The word often refers to something with roundness or circularity, like a rolling stone, a roll of wrapping paper, or a dinner roll. Additionally, a roll can also be a list, like an attendance roll.
In my role as the grammar guy (which I just decided to call myself), I’ve provided further definitions as well as some examples below. So let’s get rollin’!
When to Use Role — with Examples
The character that an actor plays in a film, TV show, or stage play is referred to as their role. For example,
Halle Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress — the only Black woman to do so — for her role as Leticia Musgrove in the 2001 drama Monster’s Ball.
This meaning has extended to refer to the part that someone (or something) ‘plays’ in other arenas, like work, society, major events, and more. For example,
US President Teddy Roosevelt is known by many nature lovers, praised for his role in expanding the National Park system.
Nature and nurture both play a role in human development.
When to Use Roll — with Examples
As a verb, to roll means to turn by rotating, to spin, like a wheel or a ball. Similarly, it can refer to wrapping or winding something. Roll can also refer to waves, sound, and other things that have an undulating motion. Some examples:
- he rolled up the wrapping paper
- she rolled the dice
- the thunder rolls
- a rolling stone gathers no moss
This meaning is often used proverbially, like in the phrase, “let’s get the ball rolling,” which means to get going or move something along. When we want to say that someone arrived somewhere, we may say that they “rolled up” to the place, probably a reference to the rolling of wheels.
Roll also serves as the noun form of this meaning. For example,
- a roll of wrapping paper
- a roll of the dice
- a roll of thunder
A roll can also be a baked good. When a small portion of bread dough is rolled into a ball and baked, we call it a dinner roll. A jelly roll is a sponge cake rolled up with fruit filling.
Anyone else suddenly hungry?
Finally, roll can also mean a list.
For example, a student who is on the honor roll is on a list of good students. And when we “call roll,” we take attendance — by going through a list of people.
- This meaning comes from the scrolls, or rolls of paper, that lists used to be written on.
Using Role and Roll in the Same Sentence
To further help you distinguish the separate roles these words play, let’s roll them into the same sentence. (See what I did there?)
- The prince didn’t want to play the role of “spoiled royalty,” so he rolled up to events driving his own car.
- In his role as the family baker, papa often made homemade cinnamon rolls.
- The role of the homeroom teacher often includes roll call, to see which students are present.
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