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Reeking vs. Wreaking

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Does Godzilla wreak havoc or reek havoc? Reeking is a word that usually describes something with a bad smell. Wreaking refers to something that causes destruction or damage. So really, it depends. Want to know more about these homophones? Keep reading.

Reek

As a verb, reek means a few things. Most often, it refers to a bad smell. You can either say “The pile of dirty laundry reeks” or “The pile of dirty laundry is reeking.” Both of these sentences describe the laundry’s bad odor. Here’s an example of reek as a noun: “The reek from the dirty laundry was so strong, she could smell it from the hallway.” Eew.

Reek may also mean “to emit” or “to have an air of.” This sense is usually used with negative qualities, while exude tends to be matched with positive ones. This can apply to both actual smells and abstract qualities (like emotions). For example, “The bride exuded happiness while her ex-boyfriend reeked of jealousy.”

Wreak

Wreak is a verb that means “to inflict” or “to carry out.” It’s most commonly used with havoc. However, it can also be used with other words, like rage, revenge, or destruction. Someone who wreaks vengeance inflicts punishment on those who hurt them.

Wreak can be applied to anything that causes damage. A powerful storm could wreak destruction on a neighborhood. Wreak doesn’t have to refer to physical damage. For example, a friend who cancels plans, apologizes, and then cancels again might wreak havoc on your emotions.

Both of these words can be used with strong, negative emotions, such as anger. For instance: “With his red face and clenched fists, he reeked of anger.” This example uses reek to describe the strong feeling coming from someone as if he smells of hatred. Contrast that with this “He wreaked destruction on his sandcastle.” In this case, wreak refers to a destructive action (like smashing a sandcastle).

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