Defer To: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
August 13, 2023

The expression "defer to" means submitting or yielding to someone else's judgment, opinion, or decision. It implies a sense of respect or trust in another's wisdom or authority. You might defer to someone's judgment when you believe they know more about a particular subject than you do, or you might defer to a superior at work.

In short:

  • The idiom "defer to" means letting someone else decide or respecting their opinion.
  • It is often used when someone has more knowledge or authority in a specific area.

What Does "Defer to" Mean?

The phrase "defer to" means to respect and yield to someone's judgment, decision, or authority. If you "defer to" someone, it means you trust their knowledge or position and allow them to make a decision or lead the way.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • "Defer to" means to step back and let someone else take control because of their expertise or position.
  • You might use it when you want to show respect for someone's superior knowledge or status.
  • This phrase implies that you are willingly giving up your control or opinion in favor of someone else's. It's not just about obeying orders but about recognizing someone's better judgment or higher authority.
  • It is often used in formal settings, such as in the workplace or academic discussions.
  • You can use it in a sentence like: "Moving forward, I will defer to the committee's decisions." This shows your trust in your committee's decisions.
  • Similar phrases include "yield to," "bow to," "submit to," and "give way to."

Where Does "Defer to" Come From?

The expression "defer to" comes from the Latin word "differre," which means "to carry away, defer, postpone." With time, its meaning shifted more towards yielding to someone's judgment or authority. Today, it represents the act of recognizing and respecting someone's superior wisdom, knowledge, or position.

Historical Example

"Since, however, the purpose of this inspection statute is safety and the Department of Commerce has no special information as to the technical and administrative problems that may be involved, we defer to the views of the Federal Communications Commission with regard to the subject bill."

- United States Congressional Serial Set, 1817

10 Examples of "Defer to" in Sentences

To help you understand when to use this phrase, let's look at some examples from different situations:

  • Keeping in touch with friends can be hard, but I always defer to the tried-and-true method of weekly phone calls.
  • The students would defer to their professor's judgment when selecting a research topic.
  • While I think the show must go on, I defer to the director's decision to postpone the performance due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Though he had his own ideas, he chose to defer to his manager's decision for the sake of team unity.
  • I wasn't sure if I should post the announcement now, but I decided to defer to my team's opinion and stay tuned.
  • During the meeting, the assistant made sure to defer to the executive director.
  • When it comes to tough decisions, I defer to the philosophy of 'make it or break it.'
  • In matters of safety, always defer to the guidelines provided by authorities.
  • Renee wasn't sure about the new fashion trend, but seeing her friends glow up, she decided to defer to her advice.
  • Even though I'm proud as Punch of my culinary skills, I'll defer to your recipe for Thanksgiving dinner.

Examples of "Defer to" in Pop Culture

The phrase also appears in various pop culture areas, usually symbolizing respect for authority or expertise.

Let's explore some examples:

  • In the book "Spiritual Leadership" by J. Oswald Sanders, the phrase is used: "Willingness to concede error and to defer to the judgment of one's peers increases one's influence rather than diminishes it."
  • A quote from Kate Racculia reads: "The desire to defer to a higher power is an old habit and a powerful one. She wants to take everything she's seen and felt and pass it on."
  • Mary J. Ruwart's quote: "We defer to authority figures because we believe that they know more than we do. If a mistake is made, it's easy to lay the blame at their feet."
  • In the movie "Star Trek Into Darkness" (2013), there's a line: "I defer to your good judgment, Captain."
  • In the movie "School of Rock," Dewey Finn's character says: "I pledge allegiance... to the band... of Mr. Schneebly... and will not fight him... for creative control... and will defer to him on all issues related to the musical direction of the band."
  • In the TV Movie "Conspiracy" (2001), Dr. Georg Leibbrandt's character states: "I defer to the SS."
  • A line from the movie "BROMATES" goes: "You are a Hopey Brave. And what you need to do as a Hopey Brave is to defer to your elders, which is me when it comes to matters of the heart."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Defer to"

There are many other ways to express the idea of "defer to."

Here are some of them:

  • Yield to
  • Submit to
  • Give way to
  • Follow the lead of
  • Respect the wishes of
  • Bow to
  • Hand over to
  • Give in to
  • Agree with
  • Comply with

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Defer to":

  • What does "defer to" mean?

"Defer to" means to submit or yield to someone else's judgment, opinion, or decision, especially when they have more knowledge or experience in a particular area.

  • How can I use "defer to" in a sentence?

You can use it as a verb phrase in a sentence. It's usually followed by a person or authority to whom one is deferring. For instance: “Age is just a number, but when it comes to life experience, I defer to my elders.”

  • Can "defer to" indicate a sign of respect?

Yes, "defer to" often indicates a sign of respect for someone's knowledge, authority, or position, especially in a professional or formal context.

  • Is it a sign of weakness to "defer to" others?

Not at all. Choosing to "defer to" someone else can actually be a sign of strength and humility. It demonstrates a willingness to learn from others and acknowledge their expertise or superior understanding in certain areas.

  • Can "defer to" be used in informal situations?

While "defer to" is often used in more formal or professional contexts, it can also be used in informal situations. For instance, if a group of friends can't decide where to go for dinner, one might say, "Let's defer to John; he knows the best restaurants in town."

  • Can "defer to" imply dependency?

Not necessarily. "Defer to" mainly implies respect for another person's judgment or expertise. It doesn't suggest a dependency unless the person constantly defers to others without making any decisions themselves.

  • Does "defer to" mean the same as "agree with"?

While both phrases can involve accepting another person's viewpoint, "defer to" emphasizes more the respect for the other person's expertise or role, while "agree with" simply denotes concurrence with their opinion or decision.

  • Can you "defer to" an idea or concept?

Typically, people "defer to" other people rather than ideas or concepts. However, in a broader sense, one could defer to an idea, principle, or protocol, meaning they adhere to or follow it.

  • Does "defer to" imply a hierarchical relationship?

While "defer to" is often used in situations where there's a hierarchy, it doesn't exclusively imply one. You can "defer to" anyone whose judgment, knowledge, or expertise you respect, regardless of their position relative to yours.

  • Can "defer to" be used in negative situations?

While usually used neutrally or positively to denote respect or trust, "defer to" can be used in negative situations as well. For instance, if someone always defers to others, never voicing their own opinions, this could be seen as a lack of confidence or assertiveness.

Final Thoughts About "Defer to"

The idiom "defer to" denotes the action of submitting or yielding to someone else's opinion, decision, or judgment, often out of respect for their expertise or authority. It's about acknowledging that someone else might have a better understanding or insight than you do in a particular situation.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It underlines the importance of humility and respect for others' knowledge or experience.
  • People often use "defer to" in various situations, from professional environments to personal relationships, when there's a need to acknowledge someone's superior understanding or expertise.
  • "Defer to" is not a sign of weakness or dependency but a demonstration of strength, maturity, and understanding. It indicates a willingness to learn and grow from others.

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