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?

As you might have guessed, deference is related to the verb defer, meaning "to delegate" or "to submit to another's wishes." But we need to be specific when we tell you that both these words come from the Medieval Latin verb dēferre, which means "to convey, show respect, or 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 dictionary," 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 verb 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.
Recent Examples on the Web Most of them, however, rely to some extent on the deference historically given to federal agencies like the Education Department to implement laws passed by Congress. Zachary Schermele, USA TODAY, 10 July 2024 Trump has derisively dismissed the importance of NATO while showing deference toward and admiration of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, 9 July 2024 The Supreme Court itself had not enforced Chevron deference since 2016. Henry Gass, The Christian Science Monitor, 8 July 2024 The June 28 decision overturns a 1984 precedent that said courts should give deference to federal agencies in legal challenges over their regulatory or scientific decisions. Stephanie Armour | Kff Health News, ABC News, 1 July 2024 See all Example Sentences for deference 

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 Jul. 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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