Using ‘refute’ and ‘rebut’

If you are writing an academic or formal piece, it is important to understand what ‘refute’ and ‘rebut’ actually mean.

They are often confused with or used instead of ‘deny’, ‘reject’ and ‘repudiate’*. These words mean to dispute something without providing an argument or proof.

‘Refute’ and ‘rebut’ mean to disprove by argument or evidence but in slightly different ways:

  • To refute is to prove something to be false or to disprove by argument.
  • To rebut is to try to prove that something is false or to present an argument against it.

These distinctions may not matter too much in everyday discourse, but it does matter when you want your audience to take you seriously.

*This is a decidedly ugly word, right?


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