1 of 2

verb (1)

de·​fer di-ˈfər How to pronounce defer (audio)
deferred; deferring

transitive verb

: to postpone induction of (a person) into military service
deferrer noun


2 of 2

verb (2)

deferred; deferring

transitive verb

: to delegate to another
he could defer his job to no oneJ. A. Michener

intransitive verb

: to submit to another's wishes, opinion, or governance usually through deference or respect
deferred to her father's wishes

Did you know?

There are two distinct words spelled defer in English, each with its own history and meaning. The defer having to do with allowing someone else to decide or choose something, or with agreeing to follow someone else’s decision, tradition, etc., (as in “He deferred to his parents’ wishes”) comes from the Latin verb dēferre, meaning “to bring down, convey, transfer, submit.” The defer synonymous with delay comes from Latin differre, which itself has several meanings, including two that resound in its English descendant: “to postpone” and “to delay.” Another meaning of differre is “to be unlike or distinct,” which makes apparent another of its descendants: differ, meaning “to be different.”

Choose the Right Synonym for defer

Verb (1)

defer, postpone, suspend, stay mean to delay an action or proceeding.

defer implies a deliberate putting off to a later time.

deferred buying a car until spring

postpone implies an intentional deferring usually to a definite time.

the game is postponed until Saturday

suspend implies temporary stoppage with an added suggestion of waiting until some condition is satisfied.

business will be suspended while repairs are underway

stay often suggests the stopping or checking by an intervening agency or authority.

the governor stayed the execution

Verb (2)

yield, submit, capitulate, succumb, relent, defer mean to give way to someone or something that one can no longer resist.

yield may apply to any sort or degree of giving way before force, argument, persuasion, or entreaty.

yields too easily in any argument

submit suggests full surrendering after resistance or conflict to the will or control of another.

a repentant sinner vowing to submit to the will of God

capitulate stresses the fact of ending all resistance and may imply either a coming to terms (as with an adversary) or hopelessness in the face of an irresistible opposing force.

officials capitulated to the protesters' demands

succumb implies weakness and helplessness to the one that gives way or an overwhelming power to the opposing force.

a stage actor succumbing to the lure of Hollywood

relent implies a yielding through pity or mercy by one who holds the upper hand.

finally relented and let the children stay up late

defer implies a voluntary yielding or submitting out of respect or reverence for or deference and affection toward another.

I defer to your expertise in these matters

Examples of defer in a Sentence

Verb (1) Backers say the arrangement will make patients more cost-conscious and judicious in their use of medical service, thus restraining health-cost increases; critics say it will cause patients to defer needed treatment and will be attractive only to younger, healthier workers. Wall Street Journal, 9 Jan. 2006
A far stronger signal came when the draft was revived, shortly before the United States entered World War II. Although married men with families were eligible for induction, in many cases up to the age of forty, high school students were automatically deferred. Thomas Hine, American Heritage, September 1999
The decision was deferred for a time. John didn't want to do anything drastic until after October … Joe Klein, Payback, 1984
Verb (2) But in 1775, when William chose loyalty to empire over deference to his father, Franklin abruptly, angrily, and permanently broke with his son. Despite having defied his own father (in leaving Boston), Franklin pulled patriarchal rank to demand that his son defer to his politics: "there are natural duties which precede political ones, and cannot be extinguished by them." Alan Taylor, New Republic, 13 Jan. 2003
Israelis can be harsh with each other, but they defer to the security guards who check their backpacks at the mall entrances. They put their faith in the Army. David Brooks, Newsweek, 22 Oct. 2001
Recent Examples on the Web
Most of the payout, strangely, was deferred, ostensibly so that the Dodgers could shell out for even more talent. Emily Witt, The New Yorker, 29 Mar. 2024 Pet adoptions and fosters rose as people sought stay-at-home companions, but new owners deferred spaying or neutering their pets. John Tuohy, The Indianapolis Star, 28 Mar. 2024 See all Example Sentences for defer 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'defer.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Verb (1)

Middle English differren, deferren, borrowed from Anglo-French differer, borrowed (with conjugational change) from Latin differre "to carry away in varying directions, spread abroad, postpone, delay, be unlike or distinct" — more at differ

Note: The verb defer is not distinct etymologically from differ—see note at etymology of that entry. The spelling of the initial unstressed syllable as -e- was perhaps by association with delay entry 2.

Verb (2)

Middle English differen, deferen "to submit (a matter) for decision, submit to another's judgment," borrowed from Middle French deferer, deferrer "to bring (a defendant) before a court, submit to another's will," borrowed (with conjugation change) from Medieval Latin dēferre "to convey, show respect, submit to a decision" (Late Latin, "to pay respect to"), going back to Latin, "to bring down, convey, transfer, submit," from dē- de- + ferre "to carry, convey" — more at bear entry 2

First Known Use

Verb (1)

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Verb (2)

15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense

Time Traveler
The first known use of defer was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near defer

Cite this Entry

“Defer.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 12 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 verb
de·​fer di-ˈfər How to pronounce defer (audio)
deferred; deferring
: postpone, put off
defer payment
deferrer noun


2 of 2 verb
deferred; deferring
: to give in or yield to another's wish or opinion
deferred to their guest's choice of TV shows


Middle English deferren, differren "to put off, delay," from early French differer (same meaning), from Latin differre "to postpone, be different," from dif-, dis- "apart" and ferre "to bear, carry, yield" — related to defer entry 2, fertile, offer, refer, transfer


Middle English deferren, differren "to entrust to another person," from early French deferer, defferer (same meaning), derived from Latin deferre "to bring down," from de- "down, from, away" and ferre "to bear, carry" — related to defer entry 1

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