Word Choice: Reek vs. Wreak
  • 2-minute read
  • 10th April 2020

Word Choice: Reek vs. Wreak

Although “reek” and “wreak” sound alike, they have very different meanings, so using the wrong one could leave your reader confused. Check out our tips below to avoid mistakes when you’re writing.

Reek (Smell Bad)

The meaning of “reek” is pretty simple – it indicates that something smells horrible. It can be used as either a noun or a verb, but both refer to giving off a stink! Check out the example sentences below:

Noun: I was disgusted by the reek of the rotten food.

Verb: The changing room reeks of dirty feet.

As these show, “reek” offers a colourful alternative to just saying “a bad smell.”

Wreak (Cause or Inflict)

“Wreak” is a verb meaning “cause something to happen,” but specifically in a destructive way, involving violence, damage and/or a lack of control. It is often used in combination with words like “havoc” or “destruction”:

The recession is wreaking havoc with house prices.

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The tornado wreaked destruction on Dorothy’s house.

As shown above, “wreaked” is one past tense form of “wreak.” However, we can also use “wrought” in its place:

The tornado wrought destruction on Dorothy’s house.

This is simply a matter of preference, but “wrought” can help you sound more epic or dramatic! Take care, though, as “wrought” is also as an adjective (e.g., “wrought iron”), but “wreaked” is only ever a verb.

Summary: Reek or Wreak?

If you’re trying to figure out which of these words to use, remember:

  • Reek can be a verb or a noun, and refers to something smelling bad.
  • Wreak is only ever a verb and means to cause something, typically something violent, damaging or uncontrolled.

And if you’re feeling uncertain about the “reek” of something “wreaking” havoc with someone’s sense of smell, or have any other concerns about your writing, why not have your document proofread to ensure it’s error free?

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