Defuse vs. Diffuse – How to Use Each Correctly

enhancedwriting/ August 17, 2017/ Uncategorized

defuse versus diffuse

What’s the Difference Between Defuse and Diffuse?

Both defuse and diffuse function as verbs in English, and both have similar pronunciation. The two words are near homophones, which means that they sound almost exactly alike, but not quite.

Despite similar pronunciations, their meanings are completely different. Therefore, context is important in identifying the differences between these two words.

Defuse is a verb that means to make a dangerous situation less dangerous or tense.

  • The tension between the two sisters was rising, so the mother tried to defuse the situation by reminding them that they loved each other.

Diffuse can be either a verb or an adjective. It relates to dissemination or spreading out.

  • The information was supposed to be top-secret, but it somehow diffused throughout the entire organization by the end of the week.

Many people confuse these two words and use them interchangeably. However, they have very different meanings so it is important not to mix them up.

Now, let’s go over a few ways to use these words in English.

Using Defuse in a Sentence

When to use defuse: Use defuse literally to mean removing the fuse from a bomb. You can also use it to describe making any situation calmer or less dangerous.

For example,

  • When the two girls realized they were wearing the same dress, they decided to defuse the awkward situation by joking about it rather than becoming angry and fighting about it.
  • The mayor told the police not to put on their riot gear, because he thought he could defuse the crowd’s anger through a speech.

Defuse is commonly used in social situations where, for whatever reason, tensions are high. Two common collocations are defuse an awkward situation and defuse a tense situation.

Using Diffuse in a Sentence

When to use diffuse: Diffuse can act as a verb or as an adjective. Either way, it refers to something spreading out.

For example,

  • The protesters diffused their pamphlets throughout the crowds of people. (verb)
  • Although use of this slang word was originally concentrated in Philadelphia, its use is now quite diffuse. (adjective)

Diffuse is common in physics, botany, optics, public relations, and communications.

Remembering Defuse vs. Diffuse

There are two ways to remember which word to use and when.

The first way involves the fact that de is a prefix that indicates removal. Defuse means to remove the danger or tension. Additionally, if you defuse a bomb, you remove the fuse from the bomb, which thus reduces the danger.

Another way is to think about the first two letters in diffuse, di. Diffuse means to spread out. Diverge also starts with di, and if two paths diverge they spread away from one another.

The spelling of each word can act as a helpful mnemonic device.

Outside Examples

  • But while United was crafting another bid to defuse the situation, the flood of angry comments and memes on social media was replaced by tough questions from local and federal authorities and a mention of the incident by the White House. –Chicago Tribune
  • “It’s unfortunate that there might have been people there that didn’t try to defuse the situation,” he said. –Chicago Sun Times
  • Al Qaeda has become more diffuse—much of its core structure has been weakened, but it has expanded through a number of regional affiliate groups, according to a threat assessment from the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Homeland. –The Wall Street Journal
  • The attorney for the Lafayette Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board said Wednesday a comment she made that is being called racist was an attempt at humor meant to diffuse escalating tension at a board meeting. –USA Today (This example shows a major publication mistaking diffuse for defuse.)

Quiz: Diffuse vs. Defuse

Instructions: Fill in the blank with the correct word, either defuse or diffuse.

  • The explosive device could blow up at any moment! Someone has to ________ it quickly!
  • Sometimes older patients have trouble locating the source of their bodily aches and pains because the pain is so _______________.
  • They called him a peace keeper because he could _____________ many situations that could have led to a fight.

See answers below.

Article Summary

Should I use defuse or diffuse? These words sound very similar, but their meanings have no overlap. Therefore, be aware of the different definitions for each so you don’t confuse one with the other.

  • Defuse is a verb which means to make a situation less tense, awkward, or dangerous.
  • Diffuse can be either a verb or an adjective and is related to something that is spread out or scattered over a wide area.

Defuse is more common with social situations, and diffuse is more common when discussing science.


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