Wreaking Havoc

I don’t mean to wreak havoc on your life, but here’s a set of confusing words that you need to know before you wreck someone else’s life—or your prose.

Wreak and reek are homonyms—they sound the same but have oh-so-different spellings and meanings.

Reek is a verb that means to give off a strong or offensive odor.

  • My clothes reeked after spending an evening in a smoke-filled pub.

Wreak is also a verb. It means to inflict or cause damage, harm, or punishment.

  • Hurricane Katrina wreaked billions of dollars in damages all along the Gulf Coast.

Both reek and wreak are regular verbs, adding ed (reeked, wreaked) for the past tense, and ing for the participle (reeking, wreaking).

Wreck is both a noun and a verb. As a verb it means to destroy, ruin, damage, or tear down.

  • Angie’s two-year-old twins wrecked the Lego creation she’d spent hours making. Their doing so wreaked havoc with her sanity.

Wreck, the noun, refers to the damage or remains of something that has been ruined or disabled.

  • The chaos Angie’s twins wreak on her house is turning her into an emotional wreck.

Don’t wreck your writing by wreaking chaos through the insertion of improperly used words.

4 Responses to “Wreaking Havoc”

  1. julie mayerson brown July 3, 2015 at 8:32 am #

    Just to clarify…..

    “The chaos Angie’s twins WREAK (rhymes with cheek) on her house is turning her into an emotional WREAK (rhymes with check).

    Right?

    • Polly Whitney July 3, 2015 at 10:06 am #

      Julie:
      “emotional wreak” should be spelled “emotional wreck.” And, yes, the pronunciation rhymes with “emotional neck.”
      Polly

      • julie mayerson brown July 3, 2015 at 10:11 am #

        Oh my goodness, of course! And now I’m wondering what an “emotional neck” would look like!

  2. Polly Whitney July 3, 2015 at 9:58 am #

    Excellent discussion of an often confused set of homonyms.
    Thank you.

    Polly

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