Easily Confused Words: Refute vs. Refuse

Refute and refuse are easily confused words. Both revolve around the theme of rejection.

The spell-check application of most word processing software programs would not catch a slip-up of these two words. Spell-check is looking for words that aren’t in its dictionary, and words that resemble words in its dictionary but are possibly spelled wrong. Spell-check isn’t perfect. It doesn’t know and can’t guess what word you wanted or what word you meant, it can only judge the words on the page. If you used words that are all spelled correctly, it gives you a pass anyway.

Autocorrect suggests words that start with the same letters. It’s suggesting what word you may want to save time, but quite often, its suggestions are pretty off base. They don’t help you out, but they do make you laugh.

Refute (“ree-fewt”) is a verb. It means to find an accusation or claim false.

Refuse has multiple meanings.

  • As a verb (pronounced “ree-fews”), it means to reject, to decline, to say no to something offered, like an idea, proposal, product, or service.
  •  As a noun (pronounced “reh-fews”), it’s another way to say trash or garbage.

The following story uses both words correctly:

Reparata was in a difficult spot. She was the head judge of a five person panel at a pie contest. They announced the winner was Rachel Jones’ chocolate chess pie. Immediately, some competitors said that the judges had refused to try all the pies. Others said they had their minds made up before they had eaten a morsel. Reparata attempted to refute these accusations without much success. The crowd demanded a rematch.


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