Word Choice: Cue vs. Queue
  • 3-minute read
  • 2nd February 2021

Word Choice: Cue vs. Queue

The words “cue” and “queue” sound the same, but these are very different terms! To find out how to use them correctly in your writing, check out our guide below.

Cue (Signal)

As a noun, “cue” typically refers to a signal or prompt to take action. Traditionally, this came from the world of acting, where a “cue” is a signal for a performer:

The actor missed the cue for his big speech.

More generally, though, “cue” can refer to any signal or prompt for action:

The arrival of the bridal couple was our cue to open the champagne.

When he started clearing up the empty bottles, I knew it was a cue to go home.

We can also use this word as a verb to mean “give someone a signal”:

I’ll cue you when I want you to start speaking.

Alternatively, “cue” can be used in relation to games like snooker, pool, and billiards. In these cases, a “cue” is the rod used to strike the white “cue” ball.

Billiards balls and cues.
Billiards balls and cues.
(Photo: analogicus)

Queue (Wait in a Line)

“Queue” is a common word in English outside the USA (e.g., in British or Australian English). As a noun, it refers to a line of waiting people or vehicles:

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A queue of people waited to board the bus.

The queue of cars stretched back for miles.

As a verb, meanwhile, it refers to the act of waiting in line:

We will queue for hours to buy tickets for the concert.

They queued up outside, waiting for the shop to open.

If you use “queue” as a present participle (i.e., an -ing verb), the most common spelling is “queuing.” However, some people and publications prefer “queueing,” and both forms are acceptable as long as you are consistent.

Finally, though, keep in mind that “queue” is rare in American English! If you’re writing for a US audience, then, you should say “line” (noun) and “wait in line” (verb).

A queue of people.
A queue of people.
(Photo: hulkiokantabak)

Summary: Cue or Queue?

These words sound the same, but they differ completely in usage:

  • Cue refers to a signal or a prompt.
  • Queue refers to a line of people waiting for something.

Note that “queue” has a lot of vowels, almost like they’re waiting in line after the “q”! Keep this in mind if you struggle to tell these words apart. And if you’d like any more help with your writing, don’t forget our proofreading experts are always available.

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