Allegation vs accusation

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Allegation and accusation are two words that are often confused, but there is a subtle difference. We will examine the definitions of allegation and accusation, where these words came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

An allegation is a claim that someone has committed a crime or perpetrated a wrong, though the claimant has not submitted any proof of the assertion. For instance, a person may make an allegation that his neighbor is a murderer, based on rumor and antipathy toward the neighbor. If the person can not point to a body in the neighbor’s backyard, or at least an eyewitness account of the neighbor burying a body in the backyard, then it is a claim without any proof to back it up. The neighbor may indeed be a murderer, but without any proof it is simply a suspicion voiced in the form of an allegation. The word allegation is derived from the Old French word alegacion, meaning affirmation or allegation. The verb form is allege, related words are alleges, alleged, alleging, allegedly. The term allegedly is often used when newsmen report on people who are suspected of or charged with a crime, as everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

An accusation is a claim that someone has committed a crime or perpetrated a wrong. In this case, the claimant usually has what he considers to be proof of his assertion. For instance, someone may make an accusation that his neighbor is a murderer because he saw the neighbor burying a large box in the backyard. This is a reasonable assumption that should be investigated. In the end, the neighbor may have buried a body or he may have buried his life’s savings in a box in the backyard. An accusation does not prove guilt, but usually involves some type of proof that bears further investigation or a trial. The word accusation is derived from the Old French word acusacion, which means indictment. The verb form is accuse, related words are accuses, accused, accusing.


HBO host John Oliver hammered Dustin Hoffman on an allegation of sexual harassment and the actor fired back with a ferocious defense as a seemingly benign screening became an explosive conversation about Hollywood sexual misconduct on Monday night. (The Chicago Tribune)

John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who is battling sexual harassment allegations from former female staffers, resigned from Congress on Tuesday, after telling a Detroit radio host: “I am retiring today.” (The Guardian)

Met officials acknowledged they had been aware of the police report since last year, but said that Mr. Levine had denied the accusation and that they had heard nothing further from the police. (The New York Times)

That accusation was partially corroborated in 1992 when Sliwa, whose group by then had expanded internationally, admitted to faking multiple crimes for publicity—a decision he’s since said he regrets. (The Atlantic)