Band vs. Banned: How to Use the Right Word

The meanings of these homophones couldn't be more different

Silhouette of band performing on stage

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The words "band" and "banned" are homophones, meaning they sound alike but have different meanings. Though both terms are thought to have origins in Old English, they share no root words and are therefore semantically unrelated. In fact, they are often used as different parts of speech: "band" is typically a noun but might be a verb, and "banned" is typically a verb but might be an adjective.

How to Use Band

As a noun, "band" most often refers to a musical group or to any group of people joined for a common purpose. In addition, the noun "band" means a ring, a restraint, a belt, or a specific range of wavelengths or radio frequencies. As a verb, "band" means to mark with a band or to unite for a common purpose, as in "band together."

How to Use Banned

"Banned" is the past tense and past participle form of the verb "to ban," which means to forbid or prohibit, such as "they are banned (prohibited) from entering the country," or "the book was banned for use by the school board."

Examples

Knowing when and how to use each of these terms can ensure that you don't confuse your readers; for example, by using a word meaning "to forbid" when you're trying to describe uniting or joining.

  • Whenever possible, the individual members of the "band" travel from gig to gig by rented car.​ Here, "band" refers to several members of a group who have come together for a common purpose, in this case, to make music.
  • The diadem is a "band" of gold more than an inch in width and 18 inches in length.​ In this case, the diadem (crown) is an enclosed circle of gold that rings the crown of the head. In a similar use, "band" can also mean a "ring," such as a "wedding band."
  • The demand for new radio stations in the 1960s prompted the FCC to push new licensees into the FM "band." Here, "band" refers to a frequency range.

Because "banned" usually has a very specific grammatical construction—the past tense and past participle of the verb "to ban"—it has a narrower range of uses.

  • The Nazis "banned" many books when they autocratically ruled Germany in the 1930s and 1940s; their list of "banned" books was long. In this sentence, "banned" is used first as a verb and then as an adjective. You can tell which use is correct by swapping out the terms with synonyms. The Nazis "prohibited" (banned) many books when they ruled Germany; their list of "forbidden" (outlawed, banned) books was long.
  • In 1926, H.L. Mencken was arrested in Boston for selling a "banned" copy of the American Mercury magazine. In this case, Menken was arrested for selling a prohibited magazine.

How to Remember the Difference

The best way to tell the difference between "band" and "banned" is to replace the term with a synonym. For example:

He placed a wedding "band" on her finger.

You know that "band" can mean "ring," so you could say: He placed a wedding "ring" on her finger. "Banned," however, can never mean "ring," so you know from the context that you cannot use the term "banned" here.

In his play, "Henry V," William Shakespeare used this now very famous line:

"We few, we happy few, we 'band' of brothers..."

In this case, "band" means a group of people joined together for a specific purpose. In what is known as the St. Crispin's Day Speech, British monarch, King Henry V, was rallying his nobles before the Battle of Agincourt, during the 100 Years' War, after which his troops came together, joined in a unified cause, to fight their French opponents. You know that "banned" as a noun means "forbidden" and that it wouldn't make sense to say: "We few, we happy few, we 'forbidden' of brothers" or "we 'outlawed of brothers."

"Band" can also, less commonly, be employed as a verb. For example, "The teens decided to 'band' together to form a 'band.' " Another way of putting this would be: "The teens decided to 'come' (band) together to form a 'rock group' (band)."

You can also tell when to use "banned" with the swap-out technique. The school board "banned" the books from use in the curriculum; the "banned" (forbidden) books were prohibited from use for many years. You would never say: "The school board 'group' (band) the books; the 'group' or 'ring' (band) books were prohibited from use for many years." If you use this simple trick, you'll know immediately which term is correct.

Practice Makes Perfect

Because of the very different nature and uses of these terms, there are no exceptions where "band" could be used in place of "banned" and vice versa. Practice can help you to quickly distinguish the correct terms, as the brief exercises below demonstrate:

  1. Chuck and his friends formed a rock _____, but they had trouble finding an instrument for Amos to play.
  2. My father used to hide _____ books in a little vault he had built in the basement.
  3. The rival factions were forced to _____ together to protect their homes against a new enemy.

Answers ​

  1. Chuck and his friends formed a rock band, but they had trouble finding an instrument for Amos to play.
  2. My father used to hide banned books in a little vault he had built in the basement.
  3. The rival factions were forced to band together to protect their homes against a new enemy.
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Nordquist, Richard. "Band vs. Banned: How to Use the Right Word." ThoughtCo, Apr. 27, 2021, thoughtco.com/band-and-banned-1689312. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, April 27). Band vs. Banned: How to Use the Right Word. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/band-and-banned-1689312 Nordquist, Richard. "Band vs. Banned: How to Use the Right Word." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/band-and-banned-1689312 (accessed October 24, 2021).