Right, Rite, Wright, vs. Write: How to Choose the Right Word

Correct, Ceremony, Maker, and What a Writer Does

A boy writing on a notepad
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The four homophones "right," "rite," "wright," and "write" have very different meanings, histories, and uses. There are many definitions associated with these four, especially with "right."

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. In all these cases, the terms were inherited from a Germanic form.

As a noun, right means something proper or incumbent upon a person's duty; something morally or socially correct (right versus wrong); fairness in a decision ("to do right"); politically conservative ("speaking on the right"); legal, moral, or natural entitlement ("has the right"); the copyright ownership of something, usually as a 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 herself"); 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 ("that is 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"); and to be normal, natural, or sound in mind ("in his right mind"). And, of course, it also refers to something on the right-hand side of an object from the aspect of the observer.

Finally, when used as an adverb, right can mean in a direct course or line ("stepped right"); or immediately following ("right after"); or 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 a religious or another solemn ceremony, or the ceremony itself (such as "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, it is mostly seen as a suffix to whatever is being worked on.

How to Use Write

The verb write comes from the Middle English, first used in the 15th century, and 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 a written form; to frame a written statement; or to convey information by a letter ("he wrote me today"); to give expression of one's feelings or thoughts in written form; to compose or set down on paper a literary composition, narrative, verse, and so on.

Examples

Right as a noun primarily refers to a direction; but also to ownership.

  • Turn right at the next corner, then walk down three blocks to the library.
  • I was thrilled when the producer bought the rights to make my novel a movie.
  • He has a right to make his own decisions now.

Right as an adjective refers to the immediacy or to just or fairness of things or people.

  • Ashley made up her mind right at that moment to go back to school.
  • The only right thing to do was to go back home and apologize.

Right can be a verb, when it means to set in order:

  • The furious man tripped and then righted 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.
  • She had to run right home after school every day to do her chores.
  • When the boy was called in class he stood right up.

Rite is a celebration, generally tied to religion:

  • The rite of passage was a three-day ritual to welcome young people of the village into adulthood.
  • The two most important rites in the Protestant church are baptism and the Eucharist.

And write refers to the practice of authorship:

  • I write my mother every other Sunday.
  • She wrote a poem to celebrate the spring.

Finally, wright is a rare term that means an artisan or a person who makes things, and is typically seen in American English as suffix or a person's surname.

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

How to Remember the Differences

Remember that "right" always means something like "correct" or "true"—the word "right" as in "right hand" means "strong" or "correct" in many languages, including English, and some scholars believe that's because most people are right-handed, so right is the stronger and more adept.

Rite is from the Latin, and rites are mostly religious events—these days, the only place where Latin is regularly spoken is in a Christian church.

Wright is obscure unless it is a suffix attached to something that is being produced—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; remember it is spelled like "white," the color of paper.

Sources

  • "left, adj.1, n., and adv." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/106982?
  • "right, n.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165853
  • "right, adj. and int.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165855
  • "right, v.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165856
  • "right, adv.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/165857
  • "rite, n.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/166351
  • "wright, n.1." OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. Web http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/230697
  • "write, v.OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2018. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/230750