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

Learn How to Wield These 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 each of these terms, especially "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.

Noun

As a noun, "right" can mean:

  • something proper or morally/socially correct (right versus wrong)
  • appropriate (to do right)
  • a politically conservative position (the candidate's right-wing policies)
  • legal, moral, or natural entitlement (the right to speak)
  • the copyright ownership of something, usually plural (the movie rights to a novel)
  • a position or direction, opposite left (on your right)

Verb

As a verb, "right" can mean:

  • to make straight (right the canoe)
  • to recover one's balance, especially after a fall (right oneself)
  • to set in order; to avenge, redress, or rectify an injustice or injury (to right a wrong)

Adjective

As an adjective, "right" can mean:

  • that which is done in accordance with justice or goodness (the 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 something (Mr. or Ms. Right or the right person for the job)
  • to be normal, natural, or of sound mind (in his right mind)

Adverb

Finally, when used as an adverb, "right" can mean:

  • in a direct course or line (turn right at the light)
  • 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 to 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 that 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 attached to a noun that tells what is being worked on (e.g. a playwright creates plays).

How to Use Write

The verb "write" comes from Middle English and was first used in the 15th century. It always has to do with recording language, but more specific definitions include:

  • the act of forming letters, symbols, or words using a pen, pencil, typewriter, computer, etc.
  • to set down in written form; to frame a written statement
  • to convey information by a letter (he wrote me while he was away)
  • to compose or set down on paper a literary composition, narrative, verse, or the like.

Examples

Now that you know how to use each of these homophones, study these example sentences to see how these words often appear.

  • 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.
  • "Wright" means an artisan that creates or manufactures things. The term is also a common surname in American English: My great-great-grandfather was a shipwright in London.
  • "Write" refers to the practice of authorship: I write to my mother every other Sunday.
  • As a noun, "right" primarily refers to entitlement or ownership: I was thrilled when the producer bought the rights to my novel.
  • As a verb, "right" means to set in order or recover one's balance: The furious man tripped and then tried to right himself.
  • As an adjective, "right" refers to immediacy or to justice or fairness: The only right thing to do was to go back home and apologize.
  • As an adverb, "right" refers to direction: The bear looked right at me and then slowly walked away.

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 this is 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 mostly to religious events—now a "dead language", Latin is primarily found today in some Christian churches and in scholarly pursuits.

"Wright" is largely obscure unless 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

  • American Heritage Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.
  • “Right.” Merriam-Webster.
  • “Wright.” Merriam-Webster.