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.
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.
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.