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Whether to Use Gauntlet, Gamut, or Gambit -- A Redoux

Updated on August 14, 2018

Duh, Which Do I Use?

A common mistake people use in grammar, which includes the written word, is mistaking “gamut” for “gauntlet.” I have seen a number of articles written on the misuse of these two words, but most leave out a third word “gambit” that should be included. These three nouns have different definitions, and quite frequently have people scratching their heads over which to use. It is a good idea to make sure you are using the correct word in your dialog or other writing. A good example of an error is to write “he was sentenced to run the gamut” when “he was sentenced to run the gauntlet” was intended.

Gauntlet is a glove or a punishment

“Glove” is the first definition in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and refers to a fashion piece, an industrial leather glove or a metal piece of armor. However the second insertion of “gauntlet” is the one that concerns most writers. The second defines “gauntlet” as a “double file of men facing each other and armed with clubs or other weapons with which to strike an individual who is made to run between them.” Picture a medieval scene. Probably the second insertion exists because running the gauntlet had nothing to do with the also medieval challenge of throwing down the glove. Instead, it evolved from the Swedish word “gatlopp” which referred to a gate. “Running the gatlopp” was Anglicized into “running the gantelope, which later evolved into “gauntlet.“ A person could never wear a gamut and is highly unlikely to be punished by one.

Gamut is a range

“Gamut” for "gauntlet" is close, but no cigar. Merriam Webster defines “gamut” as: 1. the whole series of musical notes, and 2. an entire range or series. The second definition probably sprang from the first. It is easy to see why a person may confuse ”gamut” and “gauntlet” because one might think of a series of antagonists clubbing a poor guy as he runs between the two lines of angry shouting men. An example of usage of “gamut” as a common term would be a person checking a budget for the month who says, “I’ve run the gamut and found that we are over budget.” Then he may feel that he has run the gauntlet after being chastised by management for going over budget.

When you are trying to decide between “gauntlet” and “gamut”, you might think first of “gamut” and relate it to the musical scale. If you are writing of punishment, you might think, “I can’t be punished by la la la (unless it's your sister singing), so running through all those guys beating on me can’t be a “gamut.” It must be a “gauntlet.”

Gambit is taking a chance

Another common error would be to say, “I ran the gambit and found that we are over budget.” However, the budget may have been exceeded because of a “gambit” on someone’s part like spending money with the expectation that it would be collected before the end of the month. In common usage a “gambit” would be taking a chance or a gamble, which probably evolved from the game of Chess. Merriam Webster defines “gambit” as “a Chess opening in which a player risks one or more pawns or a minor piece to gain an advantage in position.

The way I remember "gambit"

I am a fan of X-Men movies and cartoons, and one of my favorite characters is Gambit. He is a young mutant whose trademark weapon is playing cards that he charges with kinetic energy, hence the reason for his nickname.

If you aren’t familiar with him, think of a “gambit” as a gamble, and you shouldn’t confuse it with running numbers in a series. That is unless you are running the numbers gambling, and then you may be beyond hope and in danger of running the gauntlet. I can't help you there.

Of course, if none of these hints work for you, there’s always the dictionary.


The three words, “gauntlet,” “gamut,” and “gambit” are all nouns and frequently interchanged in writing, however, they are not synonyms.

· Gauntlet is a glove or a punishment

· Gamut is a range or series such as numbers or a musical scale

· Gambit is a chance or a gamble

September 2015

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