Roll call or role call?

Role call” is a common misspelling of “roll call.” The phrase roll call references the act of reading a list of names aloud.

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What is the difference between a roll call and role call?

The phrase roll call references when a list of names is read aloud to check attendance. “Role call” is a common misspelling of roll call,” but it’s easy to see why: the words role and roll sound exactly the same. 

In English grammar, we call words like these homophones. For reference, homophones are a set of words that share the same pronunciation or spelling but different meanings or origins. You might recognize other homophones from past lessons we’ve covered, such as “principal/principle,” “lead/led,” or “desert/dessert.”

Roll vs. role?

Another reason writers commonly miswrite “roll call” as “role call” is that the word role references people with assigned or assumed jobs, characters, stereotypes, or functions in a particular setting. 

The word roll, on the other hand, might reference a type of soft bread, the folds of fat on our stomachs when we slouch, the act of gathering something into a cylinder form, or even pushing a round object forward. 

Nonetheless, the correct phrase to use is always “roll call,” not “role call” (even if it looks funky on paper). 

What does roll call mean?

A roll call is an act of reading names aloud to check attendance or a list of people or things that are notable in some way. A “time for a roll call” might include checking attendance in a classroom, military post, law enforcement office, or listing a formal record of names for a news article. 

Example sentences:

  • “And, again in her other block classes, she uses roll call to engage in small talk with the students.” — Jackson Sun
  • “To the long roll call of visitors he meets each day — regional power brokers and elders, government officials, religious leaders, well-wishers who reminisce longingly about his years in power…” — The New York Times
  • “Lexington police Sgt. Jervis Middleton was driving to roll call about 11 a.m. Wednesday when he noticed a girl near the side of Claiborne Way.” — Lexington Herald-Leader
  • “The historian Jonathan Sumpton called the list of dead French magnates ‘a roll call of the military and political leaders of the past generation.’” — LancsLive

Alternatively, the phrase “roll call” might reference a type of voting process (similar to verbal voting) or type of military signal (such as a “bugle call” with a drum, trumpet, etc.). 

Example sentences:

  • “A fife and drum corps performed and a roll call of the 13 colonies with musket fire followed by the playing of “Taps” took place.” — KSAT
  • “It passed with unanimous consent without a roll call vote or objections from the chamber.” — USA Today


Canon, catalog, census, checklist, headcount, list, listing, menu, register, registry, roll, roster, schedule, scroll, table, vote. 

How to use roll call as a verb?

Roll call” functions like a verb when written as:

  • Call roll” or “take roll” (functions like an infinitive verb)
  • Calling roll” or “taking roll” (functions as a present participle)
  • Called roll” or “took roll” (functions as a past participle)

Example sentences:

  • “Often, the Senate presumes a quorum and begins without the full 51 senators, but if a senator suggests the absence of a quorum, the presiding officer must call roll.” — Newsweek
  • “If professors object to students relying on others’ notes instead of attending class, they can take roll or make class participation part of the grade.” — Los Angeles Times
  • “When he went to the lifeboats, the man taking roll of the crew under the light of the flames consuming part of the deck appeared to be in shock.” — Wall Street Journal
  • “Ms. Brauer heard about one distraught transgender freshman whose professor, while calling roll, first read the student’s feminine legal name, then announced the male nickname.” — The New York Times
  • “The pre-appointed leaders grabbed their white hard hats and coats, and they called roll to assure that each person was accounted for.” — Wisconsin State Journal
  • “Department heads took roll and reported those missing to Anderson, who then sent search-and-rescue teams into the building.” — Los Angeles Times

How to remember roll call vs. role call?

One trick to remembering the difference between “roll call” and “role call” is that when you conduct a roll call aloud, the names on the list should “roll out” in a continuous sequence until finished. 

Another mnemonic device for “roll call” is to remember how it rhymes with “scroll.” The word scroll is a “rolled up” piece of paper that includes an official list of names or orders, just like a “roll call.” 

FAQ: Related to roll call vs. role call

What are other phrases or terms with the word roll?

The word roll occurs in several other phrases that are just as easy to misuse as “roll call.” Three of the more popular phrases we hear include “roll with the punches,” “drum roll,” and “roll the dice.”

Roll with the punches

Roll with the punches” is a common phrase that describes how a boxer needs to move in a fight to avoid the full impact of their opponent. However, someone might tell you to “roll with the punches” to suggest adapting and dealing with a series of difficult situations. For example, 

“It wasn’t a bad night, but I definitely had to roll with the punches of falling off a sweaty horse saddle and tripping over the bridle.”

Drum roll

A “drum roll” (also spelled “drumroll”) is a percussionist technique of sustaining a fast and continuous drumbeat (listen here). Informal writing might also insert the word “drumroll” inside parentheses when they intend to keep readers waiting for information they want to know. For example, 

“I know we haven’t traveled in a while, but I bought us plane tickets to go backpacking in (drumroll)… Europe!”

Roll the dice

Haven’t you heard of the game dice? “A roll of the dice” is an informal idiom that describes how a result could be good or bad. Likewise, we use phrases like “roll the dice” or “rolling the dice” to describe a risky action (similarly to “it’s a gamble” or “taking my chances”). For example, 

“I should have known better than to roll the dice on those shoddy wines.”

“Discussing our moral ideas with strangers is a roll of the dice.”

Additional reading for roll call vs. role call

Can’t get enough of strange English phrases? If so, The Word Counter has plenty more lessons on popular sayings and idioms, such as: 

Test Yourself!

Test how well you understand the difference between a roll call and a role call with the following multiple-choice questions. 

  1. True or false?: “Roll call” and “role call” are two real phrases that mean different things.
    a. True
    b. False
  2. A ___________ is the reading aloud of a list of names of people with those present responding when their names are read.
    a. Rolled call
    b. Roll call
    c. Rolling call
    d. Role call
  3. A “role call” might include __________ in a list.
    a. An actor from a movie
    b. Members of a group
    c. Roles of a theatrical production
    d. None of the above
  4. The calling of a list of names in the present tense is called __________.
    a. Taking roll
    b. Called roll
    c. Calling roll
    d. A and C
  5. The phrase “roll call” is a ___________ phrase.
    a. Verb
    b. Adjective
    c. Noun
    d. Adverb

Quiz Answers

  1. B
  2. B
  3. D
  4. D
  5. C


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