In Whom Do We Trust?

By Maeve Maddox

A reader asks,

Could you please explain the difference between “I trust in him” and “I trust him”. 

The grammatical difference between “I trust in him” and “I trust him” is the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb:

I trust him. The verb is transitive because it has a direct object, “him.”

I trust in him. The verb is intransitive; it has no object. The prepositional phrase “in him” tells where the trust is placed.

The transitive form of the verb comes up most often in a Google search:

You just can’t trust Google Maps
You can’t always trust your eyes
You Can Trust a Skinny Cook
Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.

The intransitive use of trust followed by in implies a belief in the goodness and reliability of the person or thing being trusted:

In God We Trust (slogan on U.S. coinage)

We must trust in basic British decency to beat the racist BNP

Don’t make the mistake of trusting in technology to solve all educational problems.

Intransitive trust can also be followed by the preposition to:

The sailors trusted to the winds and the current to bring them to shore.
We must trust to our own wits to survive.
Only a fool would trust to him to save the day.

With to the sense seems to be “rely upon” rather than “believe in.”

As a noun, trust is frequently followed by an in phrase. Here too, the in implies an expectation of goodness:

Restoring trust in the European parliament
How much trust and confidence do you have in our federal government?
Trust in the Internet is crumbling

To get back to the reader’s question about “I trust in him” and “I trust him, ” I’d have to say that for some speakers there’s probably no difference, but for others, trusting in someone or something may suggest more of an emotional investment.

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5 Responses to “In Whom Do We Trust?”

  • Dale A. Wood

    I say that the addition of the “in” is merely idiomatic.

    “I trust Allah” means the same as “I trust in Allah”.
    “I trust Jesus” means the same as “I trust in Jesus”.
    “I trust Confucius” means the same as “I trust in Confucius”.
    (even though Confucious was not a deity, but a wise man)
    “I trust the Constitution” means the same as “I trust in the Constitution”.
    How about these:
    “I like Ike”, “I trust Ike”, and “I trust in Ike”.
    These all mean about the same to me.
    The phrase “trust in” also seems to be rather antiquated to me,
    but people still use antiquated phrases now and then, such as for special effect.
    D.A.W.

  • Stephanie

    To me, “trust him” means more “believe he is honest,” whereas “trust in him” means “rely on him.”

  • thebluebird11

    Stephanie, I agree with you.

  • John F

    I’m not sure I completely agree with Stephanie here.

    If I say, “I trust him to complete the job,” that carries the sense of “to rely on him” rather than to believe he is merely honest.

    At the same time, I don’t agree with Maeve either. To me, to “trust in” means something more than a belief that the person or thing being trusted is merely good or honest.

  • Nana

    I think the difference is trust implies a close relationship, while trust in implies a more aloof relationship. And to me, the latter is less secure.

    I trust my husband.
    I have trust in the justice system, although it is known to fail.

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