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Reel vs. Real: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 20, 2023
"Reel" refers to a cylinder on which something is wound; "real" means genuine or true.

Key Differences

"Reel" and "real" are homophones in the English language, which means they sound similar but have different meanings and spellings. The word "reel" is typically used to describe a spool or cylinder, often for winding up some sort of line or tape. For instance, you might reel in a fish on a fishing line or watch a film on a movie reel. On the other hand, "real" is an adjective that denotes something genuine, true, or not imaginary.
Continuing with "reel," this word can also be used as a verb, indicating the action of winding something onto a reel or being thrown off balance. One might reel in a big catch while fishing or reel from a sudden shock. Contrastingly, "real" helps in distinguishing the authentic from the imitation or the actual from the fictional. A real diamond, for instance, is one that's naturally formed, not made from glass or some other imitation material.
In cultural contexts, a "reel" could refer to a lively Scottish or Irish dance. People dance to the tune of a reel in many traditional settings. In contrast, the term "real" in cultural contexts can refer to something that's not staged or scripted. For example, reality TV, despite its name, often has questions about how "real" the events and interactions actually are.
In a technological aspect, "reel" is frequently used. Films are often stored on reels, and audio recordings were historically stored on reel-to-reel tapes. Meanwhile, "real" in a technological context could relate to real-time systems, where operations aren't delayed and occur in "real" time.
While "reel" has specific meanings often tied to objects or actions, "real" can be more abstract, relating to concepts of authenticity, truth, and existence. You might question if something is real, but you'd likely never question if something is reel unless you're discussing fishing or film.

Comparison Chart

Part of Speech

Can be a noun (a spool) or a verb (to wind or to be thrown off)
Adjective (genuine, true)

Example Usage

Fishing reel or movie reel
Real gold or real emotions

Related to

Objects or actions
Authenticity, truth, existence

Cultural Context

Refers to a type of dance in Scottish or Irish traditions
Differentiates genuine from fake or actual from fictional


From Old English rǣl, related to a spool or winding
From Latin realis, meaning actual or genuine

Reel and Real Definitions


A cylinder on which something is wound.
The fishing line was tangled around the reel.


Genuine, not fake.
The artifact was confirmed to be real gold.


The action of being thrown off balance.
He reeled from the unexpected push.


True, not false.
His real intention was to help, not to interfere.


A dance in Scottish or Irish traditions.
They danced the reel with enthusiasm at the festival.


Serious or significant.
We need to address the real issues facing our community.


To bring something in by turning a reel.
She reeled in a huge fish after a long struggle.


Actual, not fictional.
Dragons are not real creatures.


A spool that film is wound on.
Old movies were often stored on large reels.


Authentic, not imitation.
I prefer real leather over synthetic materials.


A device, such as a cylinder, spool, or frame, that turns on an axis and is used for winding and storing rope, tape, film, or other flexible materials.


Being or occurring in fact or actuality; having verifiable existence
Real objects.
A real illness.


A cylindrical device attached to a fishing rod to let out or wind up the line.


True and actual; not imaginary, alleged, or ideal
Real people, not ghosts.
A film based on real life.


Do "reel" and "real" sound the same?

Yes, they are homophones, meaning they sound alike but have different meanings and spellings.

What does "real" typically signify?

"Real" usually denotes something genuine, true, or not imaginary.

Is a "reel" related to film?

Yes, films are often stored on reels.

Can "reel" be used as both a noun and a verb?

Yes, for instance, a "fishing reel" (noun) or "to reel in a fish" (verb).

How can "real" be used in a technological context?

It can refer to real-time systems where operations occur without delay.

What's the origin of "reel" in relation to winding?

It comes from Old English rǣl, related to a spool or winding.

Does "reel" have any other meanings in different contexts?

Yes, it can also refer to a feeling of dizziness or disorientation.

If someone is "reeling" in a figurative sense, what might that mean?

They might be struggling to understand or cope with a situation.

Can "reel" also mean to be thrown off balance?

Yes, for example, "he reeled from the shock."

Can "real" be used in economics?

Yes, terms like "real income" or "real value" adjust for factors like inflation.

How is "reel" used in fishing?

It's a device used to wind and unwind fishing line.

Does "real" only refer to tangible objects?

No, "real" can also refer to abstract concepts like feelings or intentions.

Is "reel-to-reel" a type of recording method?

Yes, it's an old method of recording sound on tape.

How is "real" related to reality TV?

Reality TV claims to showcase "real" events, though the authenticity is often debated.

Can "reel" be used in a metaphorical sense?

Yes, like "reeling from the news" to express shock or disbelief.

Can "reel" refer to a type of dance?

Yes, it's a lively dance in Scottish or Irish traditions.

What's the opposite of "real" in terms of authenticity?

Fake or imaginary.

Is the "real number" system in math about genuine numbers?

No, it's a mathematical term that includes both rational and irrational numbers.

What does "real estate" mean?

It refers to property, including land and buildings.

Is "real" always used to mean genuine?

Most often, but it can also refer to something significant or actual.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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