Commonly Confused Words: Disperse vs. Disburse

Studying the English language often has us encountering pairs of words that sound alike but have different meanings. The newest battle among English’s commonly confused words is disperse vs. disburse.

The terms disburse and disperse share the same prefix and even sound similar when spoken. Despite this, their spelling, meanings and applications differ significantly. Understanding the definition of each makes it easier to ensure that you’re using the two words correctly.

Disperse vs. Disburse at a Glance

  • Disperse means to scatter or spread something out over a wide area or among a group.
  • Disburse is a verb that refers to the act of handing out funds or resources.

When To Use Disperse

To disperse refers to spreading out objects or people.

For example, a colony of ants might disperse across an individual’s backyard, or a crowd might disperse after attending a graduation ceremony. In both scenarios, something spreads out or scatters across a location. Dispersing separates the group into single entities or much smaller groups.

Disperse Examples:

  • After the thunderstorm, the wind began to disperse the dark clouds.
  • The cattle quickly dispersed when they heard the wolf howl.

When To Use Disburse

When a person or entity disburses something, they’re distributing money, products, or assistance. These resources can go to individuals, organizations, or causes.

For instance, a business may disburse paychecks to each of its employees at the end of every two-week period. A government agency might choose to disburse relief aid to a community in need after a natural disaster occurs. In both examples, the emphasis is on the deliberate act of passing resources from one entity to another.

If you’re a Hamilton fan, you may remember these lyrics:

I may have punched him
It’s a blur, sir
He handles the financials?
You punched the bursar?

If you consider how the bursar handles the financials, it could help you remember that you disburse funds when deciding between disburse and disperse.

Disburse Examples:

  • The company’s finance department will disburse quarterly bonuses by the end of this week.
  • This nonprofit organization disburses clothes and bedding to those in need.

You Can Disburse Your Newfound Wisdom

Now that you understand the distinction between disperse vs. disburse, you can disburse this information to your friends before they disperse. Don’t forget to explore other commonly confused words so you can communicate more clearly and confidently in both written and spoken language.


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