Differential vs deferential

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Differential and deferential are two words that are close in spelling and pronunciation and may be considered confusables. We will examine the different meanings of the confusables differential and deferential, the word origins of the terms, and some examples of their English usage in sentences.

Differential is an adjective that describes something that constitutes a distinction or shows a difference or variance. In mathematics, differential is used as a noun to mean the derivative or partial derivative of a function. Differential is also used as a noun to mean a drivetrain that allows wheels to revolve at different rates. The word differential is derived from the Latin word, differentia, which means different.

Deferential is an adjective that means being respectful or showing a high regard for someone by acquiescing to his or her opinion, ideas, or needs. For instance, one may be deferential to a respected, elderly relative, or one may deferential to the president of one’s company. The word deferential is derived from the French word, déférer, which means to comply.


Dr. James McCaffrey of Microsoft Research explains stochastic gradient descent (SGD) neural network training, specifically implementing a bio-inspired optimization technique called differential evolution optimization (DEO). (Visual Studio Magazine)

An electronically locking rear differential is standard no matter which of these trucks you choose, yet the ZR2 is the only one to offer a front locker as well. (Car and Driver Magazine)

It neatly reflected a genre stuck in time, one too skittish to evolve yet too deferential to its one-time importance to ever just throw in the towel. (Independent)

The Captain was consciously warm, the cricketer-turned-politician purposely deferential. (Hindustan Times)