Ripe vs. Rife

By Maeve Maddox

Researching banking in the Roman Empire, I read the following in a scholarly discussion of Roman tax collecting:

The process was ripe with corruption and scheming.

The context calls for the word rife, not ripe. The process was not “ripe with corruption,” but “rife with corruption,” that is, the process was riddled with corruption.

In simplest terms, ripe conveys readiness, whereas rife conveys abundance.

Ripe is related to reap. When something is ripe, it is ready to be harvested or eaten. Ripe may be used literally or figuratively:

You can tell if a peach is ripe or not by a gentle, yet firm squeeze with your fingers.

When the time is ripe, I myself will deal out justice in strict fairness.

Rife means abundant, prevalent, or widespread. When something is rife, there’s a lot of it:

In the tiny community of Peyton Place, immorality was rife.

Jones made his money when manufacturing opportunities were rife.

Ripe is often followed by a prepositional phrase beginning with for:

The field is ripe for harvest.

The World’s largest Net Lease Is Ripe for A Takeover

Why Commercial Real Estate Is Ripe For Disruption in 2015

Rife is often followed by a phrase that begins with the preposition with:

Judicial Races Now Rife With Politics

Nursing Profession Rife with Occupational Hazards

Congress Rife With Gridlock and Partisanship

Rife is frequently used in a negative context, but it can also be used to denote the abundance of something positive, like opportunities.

Here are some examples of the misuse of ripe and rife on the Web, with corrections:

Incorrect: Men’s health industry ripe with content marketing opportunities
Correct : Men’s health industry rife with content marketing opportunities
Correct : Men’s health industry ripe for content marketing opportunities

Incorrect: Myanmar is ripe with Economic Opportunities
Correct : Myanmar is rife with Economic Opportunities
Correct : Myanmar is ripe for Economic Opportunities

Incorrect: The commission uncovered an industry ripe with corruption and unjustifiable rates.
Correct : The commission uncovered an industry rife with corruption and unjustifiable rates.

Incorrect: The industry is ripe with challenges, but it is also ripe with opportunity.
Correct : The industry is rife with challenges, but it is also ripe for opportunity.

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