Band vs. Banned: How to Use the Right Word

These terms are homophones—they sound alike—but have very different meanings

Silhouette of band performing on stage

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The words "band" and "banned" are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings. Despite the fact that the terms actually sound identical to the human ear, they are generally used as different parts of speech: "band" is usually a noun, though it can also function as a verb; "banned" usually functions as a verb but it can also be used as 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, such as "band together."

How to Use Banned

"Banned" is the past and past participle form of the verb "to ban," which means to forbid or prohibit, such as "he is 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 term can ensure that your meaning is clear in your writing. Examples can help, such as:

  • 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" means, as Merriam-Webster describes, "a range of frequencies (as of radio waves)​."

Because "banned" usually has a very specific grammatical construction—the past and past participle of the verb "to ban"—it has a narrower range of uses. But, it is just as important to know the term. For example:

  • 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.
  • A similar use would be: 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" or "forbidden" 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 a "ring," so you could say: He placed a wedding "ring" on her finger. "Banned" can never mean "ring," so you know from the context that you cannot use the term "banned" here. You would never say, for example, "He placed a wedding 'prohibited' (or outlawed or forbidden) on her finger." You know, then, that the correct term here is "band," meaning "ring."

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 using the swap-out technique, you would never say: "We few, we happy few, we 'forbidden' of brothers" or "we 'outlawed of brothers." First, the phrasing does not sound right to the ear—due to the use of the word "of" after "band." You also know that Henry V's nobles were certainly not a "forbidden" group, though they might have appeared as such to the soon-to-be-defeated French.

"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 'rock group' (band)."

You can 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." The swap-out may seem somewhat silly in this example, but that's the point. If you use this simple trick, you'll know immediately which term is correct, and which is not.

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, Mar. 25, 2021, thoughtco.com/band-and-banned-1689312. Nordquist, Richard. (2021, March 25). 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 April 13, 2021).