Right, Rite, Wright, and Write: How to Choose the Right Word

Learn how to wield these confusing homophones with precision

A boy writing on a notepad
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The homophones "right," "rite," "wright," and "write" are pronounced the same but have very different meanings, histories, and uses. Many definitions are associated with these terms, especially with "right." All were inherited from a Germanic form.

How to Use "Right"

The most common of the four words in the English language is "right," which can be a noun, verb, adjective, or adverb.

As a noun, "right" means something proper or morally or socially correct (right versus wrong); appropriate (to do right); a politically conservative position (speaking on the Right); legal, moral, or natural entitlement (has the right); the copyright ownership of something, usually plural (the movie rights to a novel); or a position or direction (as opposed to left).

As a verb, "right" can mean to make straight; to recover one's balance, especially after a fall (right oneself); to set in order; to avenge, redress, or rectify an injustice or injury; or to turn to the right.

As an adjective, "right" means that which is done in accordance with justice or goodness (the morally right choice to make); correct or true (the right answer); of a particular religious belief or principle (the right doctrine of God); leading in the correct direction (the right road); perfectly suited for (Mr. or Ms. Right or the right person for the job); or to be normal, natural, or sound in mind (in his right mind). And, of course, "right" also refers to something on the right-hand side of an object from the perspective of the observer.

Finally, when used as an adverb, "right" can mean in a direct course or line (stepped right), immediately following (right after), occurring soon in time (I'll be right with you), or in a fitting or appropriate manner (it must be done right).

How to Use "Rite"

The noun "rite," borrowed from Latin ritus, refers to a formal act or observance in religious or other solemn ceremonies, or a ceremony itself (the rite of baptism). In a nonreligious sense, "rite" means a custom or habit.

How to Use "Wright"

The noun "wright" is an Old English word, and it always refers to a person who builds, creates, or repairs something (as in playwright or shipwright). In American English, "wright" is mostly seen as a suffix to whatever is being worked on.

How to Use "Write"

The verb "write" comes from Middle English and was first used in the 15th century. It means the action of forming letters, symbols, or words on paper or the like, whether with pen or pencil, typewriter or computer; to set down in written form; to frame a written statement; or to convey information by a letter (he wrote me today); to express one's feelings or thoughts in written form; or to compose or set down on paper a literary composition, narrative, verse, or the like.

Examples

"Right" as a noun primarily refers to entitlement or ownership.

  • I was thrilled when the producer bought the rights to my novel.
  • He has a right to make his own decisions now.

"Right" as an adjective refers to immediacy or to justice or fairness.

  • The only right thing to do was to go back home and apologize.
  • She had to run right home after school every day to do her chores.

As a verb, "right" means to set in order or recover one's balance.

  • The furious man tripped and then tried to right himself.
  • After the storm, Allen righted the room.

As an adverb, "right" refers to direction:

  • The bear looked right at me and then slowly walked away.
  • Turn right at the next corner and walk three blocks to the library.

The noun "rite" is a celebration or custom that's often tied to religion.

  • The rite of passage was a three-day ritual to welcome the young people of the village into adulthood.
  • Two important rites of Protestantism are baptism and communion.

"Write" also refers to the practice of authorship:

  • I write to my mother every other Sunday.
  • Every spring, he writes a celebratory poem.

"Wright" means an artisan or a person who creates or manufactures things; the term is frequently seen in American English as a suffix or a person's surname.

  • My great-great-grandfather was a shipwright in London.
  • Lorraine Hansberry was an African-American playwright whose most famous work was "A Raisin in the Sun."

How to Remember the Differences

Remember that "right" always means something similar to "correct" or "true"—the word "right" as in right hand, means strong or correct in many languages, including English. Some scholars believe that's because most people are right-handed, meaning their right hand would be stronger or more adept than their left.

"Rite" is from Latin and refers to mostly religious events—these days, the only place where Latin is regularly spoken is in some Christian churches.

"Wright" is obscure unless it's used as a suffix—think of it as referring to the Wright brothers (who made planes) or Frank Lloyd Wright (who made buildings).

"Write" always refers to the action of creating language appearing on a page or screen (or in your head); remember that it's spelled like "white," the color of paper.

Sources

  • New York Theater. “Book Review: Looking for Lorraine Hansberry.” New York Theater, 17 Feb. 2019, newyorktheater.me/2019/02/15/looking-for--the-radiant-and-radical-life-of--hansberry/.
  • “Right.” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/right.
  • “Rite.” American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Rite, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=rite.
  • “Wright.” Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wright.
  • “Write.” American Heritage Dictionary Entry: Write, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=write.