Today, we\u2019re looking at one of the most commonly misspelled phrases in the English language: \u201cfree rein\u201d and \u201cfree reign.\u201d Both spellings are common, but the original (and technically correct) version is \u201cfree rein.\u201d So why is this one correct? And what exactly does \u201cfree rein\u201d mean? Let\u2019s find out.\nThe Origins of Free Rein\nThe phrase \u201cfree rein\u201d dates back to the seventeenth century. We use it to mean \u201cgive someone the freedom to do or say whatever they want\u201d:\nThe designers were given free rein to try new ideas.\nOn a literal level, \u201creins\u201d are the straps used to guide a horse. So to give someone \u201cfree rein\u201d is to give them freedom in the same way that holding the reins loosely gives a horse freedom to move. This is also why we use the phrase \u201crein in\u201d to mean \u201cbring something under control.\u201d\n\n[caption id="attachment_13512" align="aligncenter" width="439"] Just trying reining me in, bozo.[\/caption]\nThe Confusion: Rein vs. Reign\nUnfortunately, \u201crein\u201d sounds exactly like \u201creign,\u201d so they are easy to confuse. This second term can be either a noun or a verb, but in both cases refers to the rule of a king or queen. For instance, we could say:\nThe reign of Queen Elizabeth II has been largely peaceful.\nKing Henry VII reigned over England from 1485 to 1509.\nAs a result, many people think the phrase about freedom is spelled \u201cfree reign.\u201d This almost makes sense, as you could take the phrase to mean \u201cthe freedom to behave like a monarch.\u201d\n\n[caption id="attachment_13514" align="aligncenter" width="414"] Not all kings have much freedom, of course. Some can only move one space in any direction.(Photo: Michal Jarmoluk)[\/caption]\n\nNevertheless, this spelling began as an error and many still consider it to be incorrect. As such, it is always better to write \u201cfree rein.\u201d\nFree Rein or Free Reign?\nIn formal writing, idioms can help you express yourself clearly and demonstrate your command of language. As such, although \u201cfree reign\u201d is unlikely to cause confusion, \u201cfree rein\u201d is still the correct spelling.\n\nTo remember, keep the equestrian connection in mind. You will avoid errors as long as you recall that the \u201creins\u201d in \u201cfree rein\u201d are used to steer a horse. And if you need any help with your spelling, don\u2019t forget to ask a proofreader.