Detract vs. distract

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To detract is to diminish, take away from, or reduce the value of (something). The word is mainly used intransitively (i.e., not requiring a direct object), and it’s usually followed by from. For instance, a pile of unfinished work might detract from your enjoyment of a football game. Distract, which is always used transitively (meaning that it must have a direct object), means to divert attention or interest. The verb almost always acts directly on the person or thing being distracted. For instance, your unfinished work might distract you from a football game.


Gonzalez said Chavez was merely trying to use sexual orientation to detract from her own shortcomings. [Kris TV (article now offline)]

Operating a cell phone can distract the driver and cause an accident, but we shouldn’t penalize drivers who are otherwise driving safely. [News 9]

I don’t want to detract from the enormity of this loss to Poland’s citizens, many of whom are still grieving. [True/Slant]

Newspapers are easy to handle, easy to read, and they don’t festoon stories with links that are designed to distract an already distracted brain. [Washington Post]