Despite or In Spite of?

By Maeve Maddox

More than one reader has asked for a post on despite vs in spite of.

Joanna Gryglicki wants to know if there’s any difference.

or is it a matter of personal preference?”

T.J. Burkett says

I try not to use “in spite” because it sounds too harsh in most cases, but I’m unsure of the proper usage. Here’s an example: Despite the lack of clues, Connor said that the horse had probably spooked when he saw the rabbit. Should it be “despite” or “in spite of?” I always use “despite” because it simply uses fewer words.

The OED defines the preposition “despite” this way:

despite: prep. in spite of

The AP Style Guide prefers “despite” to “in spite of”:

in spite of Despite means the same thing and is shorter.

The Chicago Manual of Style likewise prefers one-word prepositions to phrasal prepositions like “in spite of.”

Many […] phrasal prepositions are symptoms of officialese, bureaucratese, or other types of verbose style. If a one-word preposition will do in context, use it. For example, if about will serve as well as with regard to or in connection with, a judicious editor will inevitably prefer to use the simpler expression.

So, the short answer is: for prepositional use, despite and in spite of are interchangeable. Here are examples of acceptable usage:

Obama Is Pro-Business, In Spite Of What Conservatives Say

The Tea Party: Winning in spite of itself

Phil Sheridan: Despite what Reid says, Kolb doesn’t look like The Guy

Despite What You May Have Heard, Statins Don’t Cause Diabetes

Despite the fact that they’ve written some of the most famous songs of all time, Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles NEVER learned how to read music.

Despite celebration, Iraq war continues

That being said, it’s still possible to commit errors with despite and in spite of.

Misspelling:

Reason for Two People Having Different Weights Inspite of Eating Same Diet

Mercedes -Benz Sales Move Forward Inspite Of The Economy Up 10% In August

Despite is spelled as one word, but in spite is spelled as two words.

Unnecessary “of”

Wall-Mart [sic] has seen profits despite of fall in sales in the US market

Qantas airlines optimistic despite of fall in profits

The phrasal preposition in spite of includes the word “of,” but the preposition despite does its job without “of.”

NOTE: There is the phrase in despite of. It means “in defiance of.” It’s a bit old-fashioned, but one comes across it:

a play that stubbornly refused to evolve as a tragedy and which became in fact one of O’Neill’s two comedies, almost in despite of its author’s wishes.

The Dutch [made peace with Spain] in despite of the 1644 treaty of alliance between themselves and the French, under which they had pledged to make no separate peace with Spain.

I suppose that the feeling that “in spite…sounds too harsh” may arise from associating the unemotional prepositional use of “in spite of” with the noun spite: “action arising from, or displaying, hostile or malignant feeling.” For example: He said he loved long hair, so she cut hers short in spite.

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18 Responses to “Despite or In Spite of?”

  • Ron

    There seems to be a context difference between “despite” and “in spite of” of going against authority versus circumstances.

    In spite of his father’s warning, …

    Despite the gun, the blood, …

  • Chris

    Is a political reference really necessary to talk about grammar?

  • Cecily

    Ron, what would be the context difference between

    In spite of his father’s warning, …
    Despite his father’s warning, …

  • Frank Elliott

    I tend to agree with Ron. I’ve always thought that “in spite of” carries a nuance of defiance, perhaps because of the meaning of “spite” when it stands alone.

    As for this example in the post: “a play that stubbornly refused to evolve as a tragedy and which became in fact one of O’Neill’s two comedies, almost in despite of its author’s wishes,” I should think that a clearer construction would be “….almost to spite its author’s wishes.”

  • Myles Merante

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  • Bai Padua

    I have been an English Teacher for quite some time now and as far as experience is concerned, i can say that there is a slight difference between “despite” and “In spite of”.

    It has something to do with the phrase after the preposition.

    For “despite”, it is better to use a negative phrase after it followed by a positive clause.

    E.g. Despite the bad weather, we still went to the beach.

    For “In spite of”, it is better to use a positive phrase after it followed by a negative clause.

    E.g. In spite of the sunny weather, we didn’t go to the beach. (we just stayed home)

    Just sharing what I know through careful analysis. THanks!

  • Molly Badgett

    I always learned it — and I teach it to my college students — that “in spite of” is a conscious decision to act in opposition to something: “In spite of her father’s pleas, Sally stayed out past midnight.” “Despite” is acting, usually passively, in a way that is contrary to a situation: “Despite the cold weather, Sally didn’t wear a coat.” In these cases, Sally is mad at her father but not angry about the weather.

  • Muhammad Ejaz Alam

    I think we should start the senence with ” inspilte of”, e.g,

    In spite of his father’s warning,………….,

    When we need to use these same meaning words in the mid of sentence then we should use “despite of”, e.g

    “Wall-Mart [sic] has seen profits despite of fall in sales in the US market”

    But I would prefer to use the word “Inspite of” instead of the word “Despite of”, because it keeps less harshness than “Despite of”.

    Some time one have to convey s strong message to some one,
    to show some angerness we may use the word “despite of”.

  • Frank

    “Is a political reference really necessary to talk about grammar?”

    I agree, very unprofessional.

  • Tristina Mitchel

    Thank you very much for this article. Your explanation is clear and direct.

    I hope Frank is understood without inclination of validity . It’s understandable that his insecurity (or HA consideration) would prompt that defensive insult. We must admit human instinct proves that one’s illustration proffered solely to educate would be taken with criticism over gratitude.
    Frank, I agree that politics are unnecessary in the transference of knowledge regarding grammar. I’m aware that politics, religion, and sex are predominantly captious topics.

    Please set your emotions aside to consider the logic:

    1.) The subject matter is language.

    2.) Choice of topic is necessary to provide an example of language while the selection is irrelevant.

    3.) T.J. Burkett wrote his/her lesson using “definite, specific, concrete language” without “overwriting or overstating”.

    4.) If 1, 2, and 3 are true; it must be false that Burkett made any efforts to propagandize his/her lesson.

    5.) Cautionary action could have been taken to avoid politics. However, in all writing with concern to grammar, the main goal is to communicate in the most effective form. T.J. Burkett would have to add stipulations to his/her piece in addition to grammar.
    (A.) You, Frank, surely acknowledge the importance of effective writing if you visited the site out of personal interest.
    (B.) Burkett’s concern was with the lesson and philosophy of the article. Had Burkett’s focus strayed from his/her original explanation in its clearest form, it would detract from the philosophy of grammatical writing.
    (C.) The author did not use any invoking adjectives, nor did he/she maintain a topic of politics throughout the examples in the essay.
    (D.) Both you and I, Frank, appear to agree that it is common knowledge to avoid controversial subjects when unnecessary – ESPECIALLY in concrete lessons! Do you honestly believe the author lacks that common sense?

    I believe if more focus was placed on the subject at hand instead of frivolously attacks, you wouldn’t need to visit this site and look to Burkett for help with your grammar.

    Frank, if ignorance makes you insecure; admit it to yourself so that you can advance. Erroneously insulting your [[selected]] resources is an uncalled for distraction that hinders your aptitude to absorb the information, forces solid creators to re-examine their work, and causes doubt and/or emotional upset in others seeking the same resources.

    The only sentence posted by Frank without quotes isn’t even a full sentence; it lacks both a subject and verb because of its format. Had he said, “I agree”, he’d be correct. Had he typed, “I agree, that is very unprofessional”, he’d be fine. He could have even said, “I agree; very unprofessional” and he’d be golden. Frank, you need some help, man.! Worry about yourself first!

  • Bruce

    @ Muhammad Ejaz Alam:

    Your remarks demand some comment.

    Firstly, ‘inspite’ and ‘despite of’ are never correct.

    Secondly, you have made various other grammatical errors.

    To rephrase your examples:

    “Wall-Mart [sic] has seen profits despite of fall in sales in the US market”

    should be

    “Wall-Mart [sic] has seen profits despite a fall in sales in the US market.”

    and

    Some time one have to convey s strong message to some one,
    to show some angerness we may use the word “despite of”.

    should be:

    “Sometimes one has to convey a strong message to someone; to show anger we may use the word “despite”.

    I hope this helps to remove any confusion your post may have inadvertently caused.

  • Jacob

    Good article. But I also thought the moronic political references were crass and unnecessary. (You give English majors a bad name when you act like leftist fanatic idiots, no matter how eloquent you sound or think you sound in the process.)

  • Houston

    “Obama Is Pro-Business, In Spite Of What Conservatives Say”

    Maeve, outside the world of academia there is a television program called the news, you should watch it. With the level of grammatical errors in your article on a website giving writing tips I suspect you will be thrown into reality in short order. On second thought you will never leave academia because the likelihood of you being able to do anything else is slim to none. You will probably end up teaching our youth and indoctrinating them with your idiotic political beliefs because nobody else will give you the time of day.

  • Jennifer

    Jacob and Houston, I also thought that the political references were unnecessary and provocative. However, your crude replies didn’t help the situation in the least.

  • David

    Tristina…woah. What set you off about Frank’s comment? That you would write that much, put so much energy and time to write that. You’re so condescending. YOU are reacting to him WAY more than he reacted with his comment. His comment isn’t even reactive. I see a WHOLE lot of projection.

    “I believe if more focus was placed on the subject at hand instead of frivolously attacks, you wouldn’t need to visit this site and look to Burkett for help with your grammar.”

    Frivolous attacks huh? So what is it that you’re doing? You spend a whole paragraph talking about a grammar error he made? Why the fuck do you care? Haha I don’t care about grammar on the internet but its funny that you made a grammatical error in frivolously attacking his “frivolously attacks”. Seriously this is crazy how obvious it is that you are projecting. “Worry about yourself first!” I could say that to you, Tristina. WOW

    And Houston – “On second thought you will never leave academia because the likelihood of you being able to do anything else is slim to none.” WHY are you so hateful? You’re being a fucking asshole. People on the internet can be such BITCHES. What the fuck is everybody’s problem??

  • John

    And what is your problem, David? Your comments are undeniably hateful, DESPITE your stated objection that others have made hateful remarks!

    I agree with Molly Badgett’s perspective on the use of “despite” versus “in spite of.” I believe that the phrase “in spite of” connotes a conscious choice, whereas despite does not.

    Many thanks to Molly and to all others who have made constructive contributions to this discussion.

  • DJ Dackery

    I find that the object of the preposition matters somewhat. “In spite of” seems to work better with pronouns.

    1.) Fish can be smelly. In spite of this, I love the beach. (ok)

    2.) Fish can be smelly. Despite this, I love the beach. (err, kind of)

    3.) Despite the smell of fish, I love the beach. (ok)

    4.) Fish can be smelly, but I love the beach. (hmm, interesting)

    I believe this relates to what Molly had to say actually. Pronouns require a previous more independent statement. Also, “in spite of” seems to work best when almost used as a conjunction by balancing two seemingly opposing statements. Sentence 4 demonstrates this by substitution with “but”. “Despite” is more of a preposition that conditions the statement to follow.

  • Tristina

    David, using “frivolously” instead of ” frivolous” was clearly a typo.

    The problem I have with your post is that you are unnecessarily rude in the most contradictory way. This is an educational site and I’ve come to learn.

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