Grammar

Riffle or Rifle?

Would you be able to distinguish the difference between riffle or rifle? The alternate meaning of one is similar to the primary meaning of the other!

It’s amazing what you can find in the Associated Press Stylebook. The other day, I found an entry on whether to use riffle or rifle.

I have to admit that I hadn’t recalled seeing the word riffle. And when it comes to rifle, we’re talking about a meaning other than the one you’re most likely to know. (Hint: The featured image in this post!)

Let’s take the second part first.

I think most people would know that a rifle is a kind of gun.

According to Idaho’s Hunter-Ed.com, the primary difference between a rifle and a shotgun is that the rifle has rifling, which refers to grooves carved into the barrel to put a spin on the bullet. The spin is designed to improve accuracy and distance. The shotgun, meanwhile, doesn’t usually have rifling and the barrel is thinner. 

Click the link for more on distinguishing the two. 

As a verb, however, rifle, has a few meanings. It can mean to create the aforementioned grooves known as rifling.

It can also mean to hit, throw or launch a ball or puck in a sport in a fast, hyper-accurate manner. A star hockey player, for example, might “rifle the puck” past the goalie and earn the winning goal.

But the alternate verb meaning for rifle is to “to search quickly or hurriedly through something in order to find (or steal) something.”

But what about riffle?

The AP Stylebook provided this definition of riffle:

…to leaf rapidly through a book or pile of papers

Similar to the alternate meaning of rifle, which searches through belongings or objects, riffle seems to refer to papers only.

Some definitions state riffle can refer to casually flipping through pages, meaning less of a “frantic search” and more of a less-than-interested tour of a book’s pages.


So now you know the difference between two similar-looking words.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.