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Whether to use gauntlet, gamut, or gambit -- A Redoux

Updated on September 23, 2015

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

Hey, Folks, this hub got an Editor's Choice and very few comments. Say something. Please.


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    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 17 months ago

      Chris, I love your reply, quite clever! Mike's contribution does give us an opportunity to point out the differences in the spelling of the "King's English" and ours, and thanks for backing me up. I hope that in the future our two countries won't be speaking entirely different languages.

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 17 months ago from Missoula, Montana at least until March 2018

      I'm always looking for a new word or a new way to use a word. Using two of these together would be clever if it turned out grammatically correct.

      I hadn't heard of gantlet, but I checked and will back you up on your response to Mike. He may now run the gauntlet and take a gambit on surviving the two files of logophiles on HP who take pride in having mastered the whole gamut of words in the English language.....even though we haven't.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 22 months ago

      So sorry, Mike, I was in the hospital when you wrote this and am just now getting back to you. You must be British. "Gauntlet" is the American spelling. "Gantlet" for gauntlet is a second choice even for the Brits. A gantlet is where two railroad tracks overlap. Or are you pulling my leg?

    • profile image

      Mike 2 years ago

      No, no, no, no. You do not "run the gauntlet". You run the "gantlet".

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Stephanie, I was surprised, too, but I saw writers criticizing people for confusing these words (not on HP) and it gave me the idea. Thank you for the comment.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 3 years ago

      Thank you Audrey, and for passing it on. Since we all seem to be in the word business, sometimes we really have to watch how we put them together. LOL

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 3 years ago from New Jersey

      I never would have thought people would confuse these three terms. But your information is extremely useful and well composed.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      I love semantics! How many of us love how words fit together! Passing this on!

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 4 years ago

      Love your puns. I'm really surprised at how many hits this hub gets without comments. I expected it to be shelved long ago. Thanks for the comment and the vote.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

      As a semantics lover, MizB, I am more than happy to throw down the gauntlet and take the gambit of exploring the gamut of your interesting hubs. So there. Voted Up, too.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 5 years ago

      Thanks, I'm glad you liked the hub. I'll enjoy the apple!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Thank you so much Mizbejabbers! I have used all 3 of these words at some time or another, I'm sure.....separately, I suppose.....and whether I used them correctly, I would guess, I did, because I do know their meaning....but it never ever hurts to get some sound, detailed explanations to make a mental note!!

      I'm always happy to L E A R N !! You are a nice teacher. I shall bring you an apple!! lol