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

Example Sentences

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 Noah always seemed eager to get above the fray and treated guests with deference and awe. Jason Zinoman, New York Times, 9 Dec. 2022 The best thing that can be said is that Piano, who worked briefly for Kahn at the beginning of his career, treated his mentor’s masterwork with extreme deference. Dallas News, 5 Oct. 2022 In office at the time, President James Polk refused to provide detailed information to Congress out of deference to the prior administrations. Trish Turner, ABC News, 13 Oct. 2022 For that reason, and out of deference to the author and his readers, the denouement cannot be revealed here. Jonathan Kirsch, Washington Post, 3 June 2022 The court cited arguments by prosecutors who said the appeals court should have given deference to Ruehlman, who oversaw the trial and could view Bailey’s demeanor. Kevin Grasha, The Enquirer, 14 Dec. 2022 At times, however, Streeter also leaned toward deference to the power of voters and appeared skeptical of the idea that allowing voters to make changes to workers’ compensation infringes on the state Legislature’s authority. Suhauna Hussainstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 13 Dec. 2022 But in plain sight all along was the environment that allowed the abuse: an unhealthy deference to power and an unwillingness to interrogate what people were doing with that power behind closed doors. Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 5 Dec. 2022 Any organization requires some deference to authority and loyalty, but in excess these lead to turning a blind eye at best and active support of wrongdoing at worst. Julian Baggini, WSJ, 16 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'deference.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 7 Feb. 2023.

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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