Cue and Queue

Commonly Confused Words

cue and queue
In Lessons From the Land of Pork Scratchings (2008), Greg Gutfeld says, "I like the word queue because, in order to spell it, you must first ask four vowels to stand in line behind a consonant. The word is an embarrassment of riches, vowelwise. And that must drive the vowels nuts. Because they are probably British.". (Jurgen Ziewe/Getty Images)

Although cue and queue are pronounced the same (in other words, they're homophones), they have different meanings.

Definitions

The noun cue refers to a signal or a prompt to do something (such as speak a line in a play). In addition, the noun cue refers to a rod used for hitting balls in the game of pool, billiards, or snooker. As a verb, cue means to give a signal or a prompt.

The noun queue (more common in British English than in American English) refers to a line of people who are waiting for something or to a sequence of items.

The noun queue can also refer to a braid of hair or (in computing) a list of data items. As a verb, queue means to form or join a line.

Also see the Idiom Alerts below.

Examples

  • "In rehearsing for the screen test, I realized that I couldn't see the cue cards."
    (Tina Fey, Bossypants. Little, Brown and Company, 2011)
  • "My mother's voice was steady, and I took my cue from her, straightening my shoulders and bringing my gaze up to meet my uncle's."
    (Kim Barnes, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country. Doubleday, 1996)
  • "He picked up the cue, sank the twelve, sank the fourteen, took two shots to sink the fifteen, and finished off by sinking the cue ball on a three cushion rebound."
    (Donald E Westlake, The Hot Rock. Simon & Schuster, 1970)
  • "My fellow autograph hunters in the queue were an incredible mix of people. Old, young, couples, strange men in jumpers, the odd Brit—everyone. But the queue was incredibly slow-moving, and it was hot."
    (Danny Wallace, Friends Like These. Little, Brown, 2009)
  • "Reporters were bused from their hotels to the Bush compound and told to queue up behind ropes."
    (Kitty Kelley, The Family: The Real Story Of The Bush Dynasty. Doubleday, 2004)
  • "Daisy, sensing that if she didn't hightail it out of there right behind the trim man with the trim laptop, the beefy-headed man would run her right over. Gathering her stuff in her lap. Not missing her cue to join the queue."
    (Stacey McGlynn, Keeping Time. Crown, 2010)


    Idiom Alerts

    - Cue Up and Queue Up
    "To cue up something (such as a DVD, a security camera, or a digital recorder) is to set it up to play at a particular point. For example, "She cued up the last of the video again and checked the time stamp on the image" (M. Diane Vogt, "Surviving Toronto").

    To queue up is to form or join a line. For example, "At breakfast they queued up to get their meal tickets verified, then queued up again to get a ladle full of mush and a weak cup of coffee or tea or some other anemic simulacrum" (Elizabeth Norman, We Band of Angels).
     

    Jump the Queue
    "[To] jump the queue [is to] (1) push into a queue of people in order to be served or dealt with before your turn; (2) take unfair precedence over others. The US version of this expression is jump [or cut] in line."(Judith Siefring,
    The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2004)

     

    Practice

    (a) "At lunchtime, they all stood in the _____ at the bank, then they all bought a sandwich and came back to eat it at their desks."
    (Joe Moran, Queuing for Beginners. Profile, 2007)

    (b) "The theater professor looked around the wings. He smiled at a man with blacked-out teeth in patched hat and baggy overalls who was entertaining stagehands with his antics as he waited for his _____ to go on."
    (Michael Malone, Foolscap, or the Stages of Love.

    Little, Brown, 1991)

    Answers to Practice Exercises

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs

    Answers to Practice Exercises: Cue and Queue

    (a) "At lunchtime, they all stood in the queue at the bank, then they all bought a sandwich and came back to eat it at their desks."
    (Joe Moran, Queuing for Beginners. Profile, 2007)

    (b) "The theater professor looked around the wings. He smiled at a man with blacked-out teeth in patched hat and baggy overalls who was entertaining stagehands with his antics as he waited for his cue to go on."
    (Michael Malone, Foolscap, or the Stages of Love.

    Little, Brown, 1991)

    Glossary of Usage: Index of Commonly Confused Words

    200 Homonyms, Homophones, and Homographs