Real vs Reel: How to Choose the Right Word

The two words sound alike but have different meanings

A fishing reel
My first real fishing reel was a Penn Battle Spinning Reel.

Penn Fishing Tackle Manufacturing Company

The words real and reel are homophones: they sound alike but have different meanings.

Definitions of Real vs Reel

The adjective real means actual, true, genuine, authentic, or sincere.

The verb reel means to sway, stagger, spin, or whirl. As a noun reel refers to a dance or to a wheel or cylinder on which wire, rope, thread, or film is wound; the related verb means to wind or pull in on a reel.

Examples of How to Use Real and Reel

  • Marie relied on humor to hide her real feelings.
"Zoe lived for the mail, for the postman—that handsome blue jay— and when she got a real letter with a real full-price stamp from someplace else, she took it to bed with her and read it over and over."
(Lorrie Moore, "You're Ugly, Too." The New Yorker, 1990)
  • When I touched the lamp, I felt a shock that caused me to reel across the room.
  • Gus tossed his rod and reel into the bottom of the fishing boat.
"War films such as Back to Bataan, which employed actual veterans of various campaigns as well as newsreelesque narrators and musical soundtracks, blurred the distinction between war reportage and fictional drama, collapsing reel war with real war."
(Sharon Delmendo, The Star-Entangled Banner: One Hundred Years of America in the Philippines. Rutgers University Press, 2004)

Idiom Alerts

  • Get Real!: Get real is an informal expression used to tell someone to be realistic: that is, to accept the truth about an issue and not indulge in fantasy.
"You have to get real about you. And when I say real, I mean one hundred percent, drop-dead, no-kidding real. No defensiveness, no denial—total honesty. Get argumentative, be rigid, be defensive and hardheaded, and you will lose for sure."
(Phillip C. McGraw, Relationship Rescue. Hyperion, 2000)
  • The Real Deal: The idiom the real deal refers to someone or something that's regarded as authentic or superior in a particular way.
"'Sideshow acts are not magic tricks; they're the real deal,' said Adam Rinn, the school's dean. 'So gulping down a sword for the first time can be scary.'"
(Jonathan Wolfe, "New York Today: Sideshow School." The New York Times, August 22, 2016)
  • The Real McCoy: The idiom the real McCoy means the genuine person or thing (as opposed to a fake or an imitation).
"If the whiskey reads 'straight bourbon,' the whiskey must be aged at least two years. There can be no funny business of mixing in any coloring or adding flavor enhancers, so if you're looking for the real McCoy, make sure the label doesn't say 'blended whiskey.'"
(Chad Berkey and Jeremy LeBlanc, The North American Whiskey Guide From Behind the Bar. Page Street, 2014)
  • Reel In: The phrasal verb reel in means to attract or draw in somebody or something.
"[Regis] McKenna was one of the first to recognize that for most products, successful marketers cannot depend on slick ads to reel in customers."
(Chris Murray, The Marketing Gurus. Portfolio, 2006)
  • Reel Off: The phrasal verb reel off means to say something quickly and easily.
"Alex reeled off a list of the contents, pointing to each little package as he named it. 'OK. For lighting fires, I have waterproof matches, a candle, a flint and a magnifying glass. Those are needles and thread. A liquid-filled compass—'"
(Chris Ryan, Alpha Force: Survival. Red Fox, 2002)