Despite vs. in spite of

The prepositions in spite of and despite are exactly the same in all their definitions, and they are usually interchangeable. For writers who value brevity, despite is better. There’s nothing wrong with in spite of, though, and sometimes the three-syllable term sounds better than the two-syllable one.

Although despite generally appears about five times as often as in spite of, despite is even more heavily favored in edited writing. For example, the despitein spite of ratio in large news publications like the New York Times and the Guardian is greater than 20 to one. One major exception is the British Financial Times, which uses despite only about twice as often as in spite of. We can’t explain this.


Again, there’s nothing wrong with in spite of in the following examples, but the shorter despite would work just as well:

In spite of this apparent failure of medical leadership, I believe there is yet time for an appropriate response. [Irish Times]

The fall in prices should accelerate in spite of the fact that the Memorial Day weekend is usually one of the biggest periods of the year for fuel demand. [LA Times]

In spite of that, Hydro said it managed to restore power to 43,000 customers within 24 hours. [CBC]

8 thoughts on “Despite vs. in spite of”

    • In life, we have many positive goals but also problems in achieving them. The object of “in spite of” or “despite” is something negative – a problem or an obstacle. In the main clause, the writer explains that this problem did not stop something positive happening.

      “In spite of the bad weather, I went running this morning”.

      Main clause “I went running this morning” – “running” is a good thing

      Subordinate clause “in spite of the bad weather” – “bad weather” is a bad thing.

      Was the bad weather a problem? Yes
      Did the bad weather stop you “running”? No

      • What is your source for this information? I am pretty sure that the most widely held conclusion as to the difference between in spite of and despite of is that the two words are actually synonyms and can be used interchangeably. I would be interested to see your source that would support what you said despite of, and therefore in spite of, the fact that academia would disagree.

  1. I don’t know if this is correct, but I feel the two have slightly different connotations. “Despite” is simpler, meaning “even though.” “In spite of” indicates more defiance to me. For instance, “Despite warnings to evacuate, I just couldn’t leave my home,” as opposed to “In spite of the warnings to evacuate, I refused to leave my home.”

  2. hmm… I’ve been using in spite and despite a different way… not saying it’s correct. I use in spite when the previous scenario is a positive one… and despite when the previous scenario is negative…example…He managed to get home despite being so drunk… and… He failed the test in spite of the fact he really reviewed well.

  3. Personally, I’ve always seen ‘In spite of’ as more of a statement of defiance or betrayal.
    I.E “I went out with John in spite of my mother’s disapproval”.
    There are two ways to see this sentence and I believe the choice of either using ‘in spite of’ or ‘despite’ is a large difference between those interpritations.
    The use of ‘in spite of’ indicates an intention to anger her mother as a metaphorical middle finger more effectively than ‘despite’ would.
    ‘Despite’ could just mean that she wasn’t going to allow her mother to tell her that she can’t be in love with John but this doesn’t have to mean she intends to hurt or anger her mother.
    That’s the difference in feeling I get from the two.


Leave a Comment