Dispatch vs. Despatch

Is it dispatch or despatch? Which word should you use if you were in a spelling bee if this word is asked? Differentiating between the two terms is essential for your writing to be more understandable to your audience.

Find out the difference between dispatch and despatch, their origin, and their correct spelling. You’ll learn how to use the word in sentences.

There is no difference between dispatch and despatch. The latter is an alternative spelling common in the 19th century and earlier, but dispatch has gained undisputed dominance in modern English.

The meaning of dispatch and despatch is the act of sending someone or something to a location. Both spellings are correct, but dispatch is the American spelling, while despatch is the British variant of the term. Despatch is now a rare spelling considered an alternate form of dispatch.

Difference Between Despatch and Dispatch

Dispatch and dispatch are acceptable spelling methods for the transitive verb meaning to send off to a destination for a purpose. Both can also function as a noun that means the act of sending someone somewhere for a specific purpose.

Use the spelling despatch for British texts and speech. And use the other spelling form dispatch for American spelling.

Dispatch and Despatch as Verbs

According to the largest dictionary, Merriam-Webster, dispatch means: 

  • To send away with quick efficiency.
  • To defeat.
  • To kill quickly.
  • To dispose of.

For example:

  • They dispatched an ambulance to the fire scene. 
  • Miguel was too scared to dispatch the matter.

However, the dictionary entry for the verb despatch considers it as an alternate spelling to dispatch. That means the dictionary regards the British spelling of the word as secondary, although the definitions for despatch and dispatch are the same.

Dispatch and Despatch as Nouns

As a noun, dispatch, and despatch mean:

  • The sending of something to a location for a purpose.
  • An official report on military or state affairs.
  • The killing of someone or something.

For example:

  • I sent a dispatch to headquarters.
  • Every week, dispatches from the war zone arrive. 

British dictionaries like the Cambridge Dictionary use the noun despatch. But this British variant spelling has the same meaning as the spelling dispatch. 

Dispatch Origin

The noun and verb dis·​patch comes from the Spanish word despachar and the Italian word dispacciare. These origins mean to send off with speed.

The Spanish despachar and Italian dispacciare replaced the alternate reflex depeach. Its first known use was in 1517 by Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall.

Dispatch or Despatch, Which is the Correct English Spelling?

The main difference between the despatch vs. dispatch is that one is spelled with i, and the other uses e. Both terms are acceptable, and neither has an inaccurate spelling. But some dictionaries like Macquarie have a preference for dispatch.

According to Macquarie Dictionary, the dis- spelling was the standard spelling for people. The difference in spelling originated in Dr. Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary, which included the -des spelling. 

There’s a theory that despatch was just a typographical error since Dr. Johnson used dispatch in his writings. This situation sparked the debate on which version is the proper spelling. 

Some think that one is the noun form, while the other is a verb. But there is no such thing as despatch being the noun form of dispatch n grammar books. Even the Oxford English dictionary considers both words as a noun and verb.

Can We Use Dispatch for a Person?

Another noun that is a derivative of dispatch is dispatcher. Since the definition of dispatch as a verb is to send away, a dispatcher is someone who sends something to a destination. The American variation in spelling is more famous, but despatcher is just as accurate.

Some words related to dispatcher are:

  • Bearer.
  • Messenger. 
  • Courier.
  • Postman. 
  • Deliveryman.
  • Errand boy.
  • Sender.
  • Go-between.

Despatch Box

The phrase Despatch Box is a British term that refers to the UK and Australian Parliamentary, dating back to the 17th century. It’s a box for government business, such as sending sensitive documents securely. The red box was first used during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. 

Many believe that the British English’s preference for despatch over dispatch comes from this phrase. But, there’s not enough actual evidence to prove the theory.

Examples of Dispatch in a Sentence

Although dispatch is generally preferred, some British publications occasionally pull out despatch for use as the noun meaning the act of sending—for example:

The technical fault that delayed the despatch of a government charter flight to Tripoli last night echoed the Foreign Office’s somewhat sluggish response. [Telegraph]

But the despatch by Maurice Parker, the US ambassador to Swaziland, was more direct. [Guardian]

But most publications (including the same British ones, most of the time) use dispatch for this sense as well as all others—for example:

Campaign surrogates for each of the candidates have been dispatched to the Sunday shows this week. [New York Times]

Israel views the dispatch of two Iranian warships to the Mediterranean with “gravity,” PM Benjamin Netanyahu said. [News.com.au]

Instead, when he needs information from the dispatch office at the police station a few miles away, he flips open the laptop mounted next to his steering wheel. [Anniston Star]

The report also said Iran was dispatching trucks overland via Iraq to Syria. [Independent]

I intended to effect my interview with the senator with maximum dispatch and return to the pork chop. [Brisbane Dispatch]

Phrases Containing Dispatch

  • Dispatch officers.
  • Audio dispatch.
  • Dispatch of supplies. 
  • Dispatch case.
  • Double dispatch.
  • The French Dispatch.

Statistics for Dispatch

Statistics show that dispatch has been more famous than despatch from the 1890s. Despatch peaked in usage and became more common than despatch in the 1860s. 

dispatch vs despatch

Synonyms for Dispatch

If you’re a dictionary user looking for synonyms for dispatch and despatch, here are some recommendations

Verb:

  • Mail.
  • Ship. 
  • Send.
  • Send off. 
  • Freight.
  • Forward.
  • Transmit.
  • Consign. 
  • Remit. 
  • Finish.
  • Sort out. 
  • Discharge.
  • Execute.
  • Perform. 
  • Conclude.
  • Settle. 
  • Expedite. 
  • Push through.
  • Accelerate.
  • Hasten. 

Noun:

  • Sending.
  • Mailing.
  • Consignment.
  • Posting.
  • Transmittal. 
  • Speed.
  • Expedition.
  • Swiftness.
  • Rapidity.
  • Quickness. 
  • Communication.
  • Release.
  • Account.
  • Statement.
  • Missive.
  • Letter.
  • Communique. 
  • Bulletin. 
  • Killing.
  • Slaughter.
  • Massacre.
  • Destruction.

Dispatch and Despatch are the Same

It isn’t true that dispatch and despatch have different meanings. It’s also not true that one is a noun while the other is a verb. Both despatch and dispatch can be nouns and verbs with the same meanings. 

Use the des- spelling for your British English text. And use the dis-spelling if you’re writing to an American audience. Learn about more heteronyms like permit and graduate to improve your writing skills.

69 thoughts on “Dispatch vs. Despatch”

  1. So this is a grammar site explaining the rules and usage etc. It jarred as I read it, so I thought I would point it out: “British publications occasionally pull out despatch for use as the noun meaning the act of sending” – Isn’t a word describing the ‘act of doing something’ a verb?? I understand the point being made which is that the different spellings are used one as a verb and one as a noun.
    If I’m wrong please correct me. People (myself included) use this site as a reference to check thier writings and every effort should be made to ensure that the information given here is 100% accurate.

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    • No, it is indeed a noun because it is a name of an act. The following examples should clarify: in the sentence “I dispatched a letter yesterday”, “dispatched” would be a transitive verb. Conversely, in the sentence “I requested a dispatch of supplies” the word “dispatch” is actually a noun because it refers to the act of sending something off.

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      • Sorry but although you are right in your examples, the noun form does NOT name the act of sending, that would be a verb; it addresses the naming of the things themselves (supplies in your example) providing a connotation of how they were delivered. Nouns name things (places, animals, objects, parts, etc. NOT actions

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    • If you’re ever confused about whether something is a noun or a verb, a useful test is to see whether ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘an’ or a number can be placed in front (or maybe it’s already there), as context rules.

      So in ‘Go jump’ for example, ‘Go the jump’ would not make sense, so jump here is a verb.
      In ‘What a jump’, there is a determiner (‘a’) so it must be a noun.

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      • Good thought, what happens when both can be used however.

        For instance, “Go police” where police can be both a noun and a verb and inserting “the” would simply change the entire meaning of the phrase.

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    • I thought this was the case as well. But retead the article. “Dis-” and “des-” are equivalent and used as both noun and verb.

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  2. Really, it is a lack of education and being lazy over the last 50 years. Simples – ”mentioned in dispatches” (hence ‘dispatch rider who carried these written messages) and ”let’s despatch troops to the front line”.
    So if your send something in writing, dispatch and if you send anything else it’s despatch.

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    • Thank you, that morsel of information is now stored forever in my memory.
      My only hope is that it will be useful one day.

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    • Sorry to burst your bubble but it’s always been mentioned in despatches. Dispatch is the language of vulgar American philistines.

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  3. To Dispatch and despatch are two different things. Dispatch is to finish, assign or complete a task. To Despatch is to send or deliver. A Despatch Department in a company sends out mail, both internally and internally. How much easier could it be? Shame on you grammarist!

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    • Thank you – it took a while to arrive at the right answer, and the Grammarist definition is not correct. If the Americans want to further degrade their language by using the same word for two completely different things, that is up to them.

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      • You’re welcome guys!
        @chasser_b:disqus The two Americanisms that show the bastardisation of the language best to me are: Burglarized and Math. What was wrong with the proper word “Burgled”? Why create a new, longer, word, when the original works so well? And Maths is the abbreviation of Mathematics, it is not “Math”, this is just a tiny one, but it shows how insidious and slow moving the ever-growing rift between English and the Americanised pidgin English actually is, just like an unstoppable glacier.
        BTW, I find it exciting and fascinating, a new language in the making, the say way Old English was forged from the original Old Germanic languages, but it’s interesting to see how instant global communication has done nothing to slow it down, as one might have imagined.
        So who’s going to give out to me for starting a sentence with the word “And”? :)

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        • Im with you there! I hate it when I hear someone say “burglarized” on TV. I even heard a stupid reporter on the news the other night state that such and such has been burglarized! Damn fools!

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          • The consequences of using burglarized, would mean the act of burglary should be burglarisation? and that locks and alarms could be classified as antiburglarisation devices?

        • I think I love you. My thoughts in words; a beautiful sight.
          Do not forget to mention “gotten” (AAAGGGHHH!!!). My pet hate.
          However, I cannot forgive the sentence beginning with “And”. Sorry.

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          • The Act of burglary is to burgle. To be a victim of burglary is to be burgled. Use of the word “gotten” is correct, but seldom used them days, “begotten” is also correct. It’s from Old English which isn’t too far removed from Old Germanic. And sometimes I deliberately start a sentence with an “and” for dramatic effect, to accentuate the fact that it’s a separate and important sentence, but connected with the previous sentence, like a dramatic pause. It’s not 100% correct, but it’s not a grammatical error either.

            Good one Tiffiny, you just reminded me that I should check to see if I set my antiburglarisation device before I went to bed. These comments are putting a big smile on my face, thanks!

    • Thank you.. I really didn’t understand the Grammarist definition and read through all the comments until yours just shoots it at the point… but.. my whole life is a lie! D: I always thought dispatch is to send or deliver…

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  4. Webster did indeed”simplify” a great deal of English for early US settlers, many of whom were illiterate. He used this ruse to differentiate the “revolutionaries” from their oppressive overlords (laugh!), so US English and British English started their long drawn out divorce.

    but now being brought back together by the internet. There’s nothing wrong with olde spellings

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    • Thank you. I always assumed that might the case, to simplify to ease the burden of the Illiterates, but the Americans to their credit have retained at least one word proper…. ‘period’ instead of full stop which bemuses the English! Unless of course full stop is too long being as it we’re; two words to remember instead of one…

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      • two words better than three syllables.

        its just that period is used in English English for measurable time, i.e., the Jurassic period; as well as a byword for the menstrual cycle.

        Full stop indicates the absolute end of the sentence, since a sentence can be broken by commas; incidentally a second tangent can be added with the semi-colon (or in a lot of British writing, a side thought tucked away with parentheses, rather than the em dash).

        Technically there are three sentences in there. The full stop is a full stop to the thought…not the length of time taken to hold the pen there to make said dot.

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      • Since I posted my original comment I have taken a closer look at some of the other differences between US English and “correct” English, especially the units used in measurements in both countries. Imperial gallon Vs. US Gallon. Fahrenheit Vs. Celsius. Automobile Vs. Motorcar, etc. It all seems quite random, but I’m sure there are very good reasons for these changes that I’m looking into. Some words in common usage in the US come from French or German influences instead of from the English. Automobile is French, Motorcar is just short for motorised carriage. I have noticed some rapid common word changes in the US recently. One small change that stands out in my mind is “Taxi”. Ten years ago every taxi used the word “Cab”, not taxi. I’m just back from Florida and almost every taxi now has the word “Taxi”. This rapid change really surprised me.
        The US Gallon comes from an early British measurement system, whereas the Imperial Gallon comes from a later British measurement system. It’s seems crazy to me that there are three different gallon sizes used. I was bemused that the Americans use the US Galloon and across the border in Canada the Imperial Gallon with its much greater volume is king.
        Using degrees Celsius makes sense to me, water freezes at zero degrees Celsius, water turns to steam at 100 Celsius, simple, (at roughly one atmosphere). Every single country in the world uses the Celsius systems, except for the United States, although the scientific community in the US use Celsius too.
        Don’t forget Zed Vs. Zee either. Both are valid, but teaching alphabet nursery rhymes from American TV shows to non-US children can be quite amusing when it comes to pronunciation of the last letter and vise versa with non-US English speaking TV shows for American children.
        Finally, both the US and the UK still use the archaic and awkward inches, feet, yards and miles for measuring distances, while the rest of the World uses the superior and simpler metric system of millimetres, centimetres, metres and kilometres, (although my children tell me they are taught a few extra units, such as the decametre). I believe that the British still use the Imperial measurement System as a hangover of their colonial past and a smug sense of superiority that is still entranced in the upper echelons of the wonderful British People. In their mind they invented the Imperial measurements system and bedamned if they are going to change it to the French Republican metric system, even if it is a far better system. The British already use a lot of metric units in their daily lives and it is slowly creeping into more and more areas. It’s no longer a pound of butter in many British supermarkets, it’s now 454G, (half a pound). An 800G loaf of sliced bread seems to be the norm, petrol and diesel are measured in litres.
        Oops, I didn’t mean to begin an essay, I should have keep this post short. My grammar isn’t perfect, please feel free to gently correct my errors, (except my usage of “And” and “but” and an over-reliance on closed brackets). :)

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      • It should read, “Separated by the Atlantic Ocean.”

        Amazing how the conversation has moved from despatch/dispatch to the Atlantic. “Send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.”

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  5. My wife was right about this, I was wrong (I thought “des-” was used as the noun e.g. “Mentioned in despatches”). How I could possibly have imagined that my wife could be wrong, I’m currently unable to explain. Excuse me while I go wash the dishes and start a load of laundry…

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  6. I can’t agree with the definitions given and unwarranted assumption that people who speak English (rather than American) pick one or other, willy-nilly. My understanding has always been that despatch is a noun and dispatch a verb. So in the British examples above the two words have been used correctly. To dispatch, being to send something, normally with speed implied and a despatch being a missive of some kind. It is therefore entirely correct to dispatch a despatch.
    See also affect and effect.

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  7. Thucydides’ “A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War,” 1.32 the Corcyraens’ speech: “… and they have therefore despatched us hither.”

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  8. Which spelling of ‘dispatch’/’despatch’ would you use for killing – my distinction would be ‘dispatch’ in almost all cases but if I was an assassin I would be despatching someone…

    Reply

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