Role Call or Roll Call – Which is Correct?

English has many words that are pronounced identically, but nonetheless mean different things. Such words are called homophones.

Role and roll are two common homophones. Both sound superficially correct when used in phrases like roll call, but can they be substituted for each another this easily?

The truth is that these words mean different things. Continue reading to learn more about the homophones role and roll as they are used in this common phrase.

What is the Difference Between Role Call and Roll Call?

In this article, I will compare roll call vs role call. I will use each of these phrases in example sentences, so you can see them in context.

I will also show you how to use a mnemonic device that will allow you to remember whether roll call or role call is correct.

When to Use Roll Call

definition of roll call definition of role call definitionWhat does roll call mean? Roll call is a noun phrase. It refers to the practice of reading from a list of names to check attendance.

Roll call is a common practice in classrooms and other settings where attendance is mandatory or important.

I have included some example sentences below.

  • Mark did not make roll call Tuesday morning, and now has to muck out the horse stalls as punishment.
  • Before the teacher was able to finish roll call, the class had already erupted into loud chatter.
  • Then the fans in right field performed their first roll call of the season. Vinny Milano, the roll call’s longtime leader, is no longer part of the ritual. –The New York Times

If you were going to use this phrase as a verb, you would reverse it, forming call roll. Calling roll is another way to say taking attendance. Additionally, if you were to use this as an adjective you would hyphenated it.

For example,

  • A roll-call vote.

According to some sources, roll call was originally used in Medieval times, when a list of names would have been rolled up into a scroll.

When to Use Role Call

define roll call define role callWhat doe role call mean? Role call is a common mistake people make when they mean roll call. It is based on the similar pronunciations of role and roll.

  • A role is the function a person carries out or a part someone plays in a theatrical production.
  • Roll has many meanings, but one of them is a list of names.

Thus, despite being homophones, role and roll have different meanings, and cannot be freely interchanged in the phrase roll call.

For good measure, I have included a chart that shows the relative usage of role call vs. roll call in English since 1800:

role call versus roll call

As you can see, roll call is appropriately much more common.

Trick to Remember the Difference

You should only ever use roll call when referring to this procedure. Role call is a spelling error.

Remember, in the days of old, a roll of names would have been rolled up into a scroll. Thus, roll call is the correct version of this phrase.

Summary

Is it roll call or role call? Roll call is a noun that refers to reading names from a list to take attendance. Role call is a common mistake based on the similar pronunciations of roll and role.

To summarize,

  • Roll call is the correct phrase.
  • Role call is a spelling error.
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