def·​er·​ence ˈde-fə-rən(t)s How to pronounce deference (audio)
: respect and esteem due a superior or an elder
also : affected or ingratiating regard for another's wishes
in deference to
: in consideration of
returned early in deference to her parents' wishes

Did you know?

We need to be specific when we tell you that deference and defer both derive from the Medieval Latin dēferre, which means "to convey, show respect, submit to a decision," because there are two defers in the English language. The defer related to deference is typically used with to in contexts having to do either with allowing someone else to decide or choose something, as in "I'll defer to the experts," or with agreeing to follow someone else's decision, wish, etc., as when a court defers to precedent. The other defer traces to the Latin differre, meaning "to carry away in varying directions, spread abroad, postpone, delay, be unlike or distinct." That defer is typically used in contexts having to do with delaying or postponing something, as in "a willingness to defer the decision until next month."

Choose the Right Synonym for deference

honor, homage, reverence, deference mean respect and esteem shown to another.

honor may apply to the recognition of one's right to great respect or to any expression of such recognition.

the nomination is an honor

homage adds the implication of accompanying praise.

paying homage to Shakespeare

reverence implies profound respect mingled with love, devotion, or awe.

great reverence for my father

deference implies a yielding or submitting to another's judgment or preference out of respect or reverence.

showed no deference to their elders

Examples of deference in a Sentence

Deference to leaders and intolerance toward outsiders (and toward "enemies within") are hallmarks of tribalism … Benjamin R. Barber, Atlantic, March 1992
In the 1980s, in deference to the neighborhoods, City Hall would attempt a counter-reformation of downtown, forbidding "Manhattanization." Richard Rodriguez, Harper's, October 1990
She could have subtly appealed to the deference … she knew was still in there, encoded in their middle-aged hearts; she never did. Peggy Noonan, New York Times Magazine, 16 Dec. 1990
A sense of deference to the upper class among whites made it possible, in Sproat's estimation, for white leaders to contain the white supremacists. Robert L. Harris, Jr., American Historical Review, December 1987
Her relatives treat one another with deference. He is shown much deference by his colleagues. See More
Recent Examples on the Web It was billed as a Valentine’s date night, but scheduled for the 13th out of deference to Ash Wednesday. Ruth Graham, New York Times, 14 Feb. 2024 Such a victory is no sure thing, given that Whatley lost out to the current RNC co-chair, Drew McKissick, when the two ran for that role last year -- but now, Whatley could be supported by the party's presumptive nominee, who is given a particularly large amount of deference in a presidential year. Tal Axelrod, ABC News, 7 Feb. 2024 That trial has nominally been set for March 25, but the court in that case has signaled deference to Trump's federal election subversion case. Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner The Washington Post,, 3 Feb. 2024 Groh learned at Belichick’s knee, came up in his front office and has happily shown deference during his time at the top. Andrew Callahan, Hartford Courant, 8 Jan. 2024 Republican and Democratic leaders alike have historically shown deference to the appeals of the intelligence community for sustaining and enhancing its authority. Dell Cameron, WIRED, 4 Dec. 2023 If the Court can determine what a statute means, there should likewise be no need for Chevron or similar doctrines of deference to the agency to figure it out. Dan McLaughlin, National Review, 1 Feb. 2024 But Associate Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, focused on how the safety and health regulations protecting broad swaths of the American public could be upended if the idea of agency deference is overturned. Eric Berger, Ars Technica, 18 Jan. 2024 Jackson raised concerns that ending Chevron deference would give the courts too much power and lead judges to engage in policy-making. Melissa Quinn, CBS News, 17 Jan. 2024 See More

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

Word History


borrowed from French déférence, going back to Middle French deference "act of submitting," from deferer "to submit to another, defer entry 2" + -ence -ence

First Known Use

1660, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of deference was in 1660


Dictionary Entries Near deference

Cite this Entry

“Deference.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


def·​er·​ence ˈdef-(ə-)rən(t)s How to pronounce deference (audio)
: courteous, respectful, or flattering regard for another's wishes

More from Merriam-Webster on deference

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