Benefit of the Doubt – Meaning, Origin & Examples

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

We use “benefit of the doubt” as a common phrase in the English language for a wide range of situations. It could be used for anything from everyday conversation to even legal settings. But I bet most people are using it incorrectly because it’s one of those phrases that are muddy in origin. So, let’s strip it down and take a look!

Benefit of the Doubt Meaning

Benefit of the Doubt Meaning Origin Examples

When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, it means we’re choosing to show trust even with a lack of information or proof. It’s like assuming they’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s a phrase we use to show we’re willing to trust others if they’re willing to earn it.

It helps us create and maintain healthy relationships and put a positive spin on simply not having enough to go on or not knowing enough information to make the right choice. Hence, you choose to go ahead anyway.

Imagine you’re driving along the highway at night, and you see a hitchhiker. Now, most of us would just pass on by. But what if the person was a young girl without a jacket on a rainy night? You might be more inclined to pull over and offer a ride, right? That’s giving her the benefit of the doubt. You’re not entirely sure she’s trustworthy, but she seems to be, so you’re choosing to trust her.

Is It “Benefit of the Doubt” or “Benefit of a Doubt”?

If you wish to be grammatically correct, you should use “benefit of the doubt.” But I will say that I’ve heard both versions used in my life, and I never blinked twice at it. I understand the meaning, and it’s not that big of a difference. But, yes, to be correct, use the version with “the” instead of “a” if you’re dealing with a more formal situation like a speech, interview, or essay.

Origin of the Phrase Benefit of the Doubt

It’s actually a legal term that dates back as far as the late 1700s. First, it was used in the Irish treason trials and stemmed from the philosophy of reasonable doubt.

Because when there is the presence of doubt, a defendant is given the benefit. It means the judge must be sure that the person is guilty, not just suspect that he’s guilty, aka he’s reaping the benefit of the doubt. So, if in doubt…not guilty.

What Is Another Word for the Benefit of the Doubt?

There are several synonyms you can use in place of the benefit of the doubt.

  • Presumption of innocence
  • Good faith
  • Trust
  • Benefit of the assumption
  • Assumed innocence
  • Positive interpretation
  • Favorable judgment
  • Benefit of the reservation
  • Benefit of the hesitation

Benefit of the Doubt Examples in a Sentence

Benefit of the Doubt Meaning Origin Examples 1
  • I’m not sure if John is telling me the truth, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt until we have more evidence about this whole situation.
  • Even though the company has proven to lie in the past, they’re getting the benefit of the doubt from consumers over this new toy. 
  • The teacher gave me the benefit of the doubt and assumed that I did indeed complete the assignment, even though I told her it was lost.
  • Despite the lack of evidence, the jury decided to give the guy the benefit of the doubt and found him not guilty. There just wasn’t enough evidence to go on.
  • I think the store actually made a mistake with my order, but I’m not entirely sure, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and just assume it was an honest mistake.
  • My son told me he cleaned his room, but I’m not there to check, so I’ll have to suck it up and give him the benefit of the doubt.

School boards are urging teachers to give primary school children the benefit of the doubt when deciding what sort of secondary school they should go to because of the additional disadvantages generated by coronavirus and the lockdown. (Dutch News)

Final Words

It’s really that simple. The benefit of the doubt is a common noun phrase you’d use if you’re not sure someone is telling the truth, but you decide to believe them anyway. You can also use it in situations like crossing a rickety bridge. It looks sketchy, but you’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and cross it anyway in hopes you’re wrong.