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Despite vs. In Spite of: Is There a Difference? (Audio Reading Included)


Thinking about how to use despite and in spite of
"How do you use despite and in spite of?"

Recommended level: Advanced


"Is it 'in spite of' or 'despite of'?"


Quick Reference

  • Despite and in spite of are most commonly used in professional and academic writing.

  • There is no meaningful difference between despite and in spite of.

  • Despite and in spite of are similar in meaning to regardless of and even though.

  • They can be used at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. (Ex: "Despite his weak interview, he got the job." / "He got the job, despite his weak interview.")

  • Despite and in spite of can be followed by nouns, pronouns, noun phrases, wh- noun clauses, gerunds, and gerund phrases.

  • Despite and in spite of are prepositions, NOT coordinating conjunctions. They do not function in the same way as even though. (Ex: "Even though it's hot, he's wearing a sweater." (correct) / "Despite it's hot, he's wearing a sweater." (incorrect)

  • You can add the phrase "the fact that" after despite and in spite of if you want to use complete sentences after them. (Ex: "Despite the fact that it's hot, he's wearing a sweater.")

  • Do not use despite of. It is incorrect. Use despite or in spite of.


What's the difference between despite and in spite of? The truth is there really isn't one. If we want to get a little technical, the Cambridge Dictionary states that despite is a little more formal than in spite of. Otherwise, they serve the exact same functions in a sentence and they are followed by the same grammatical forms.


So, what do these words mean and how do we use them?


To begin, despite and in spite of are both prepositions which are used to show contrast in a sentence. They are close in meaning to regardless of or even though. When you use despite or in spite of, you are saying that what comes after them has no significant impact on the outcome of the situation, or that the outcome happens regardless. For instance, "Despite their differences, Jake and Maggie get along well." This means that even though Jake and Maggie have differences, they still have a friendly relationship.


So, where are despite and in spite of used in a sentence?

You can use despite and in spite of at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. Let's take a look at a few examples:


"In spite of her best efforts, she didn't win the race."

OR

"She didn't win the race in spite of her best efforts."


"Despite taking medication for his condition, he still isn't able to fall asleep."

OR

"He still isn't able to fall asleep despite taking medication for his condition."


If you're wondering about punctuation, when despite and in spite of are used at the beginning of a sentence--and are therefore part of a dependent clause--there is typically a comma before the beginning of the second half of the sentence. However, when they're used in the middle of a sentence, commas are often omitted. This is not always the case, however, as you may wish to create a slightly dramatic pause before using despite or in spite of. For instance, "He disobeyed the instructions, despite constantly being warned not to."


So, what types of words and phrases can you use after despite and in spite of?

This is an important question. First, let's look at the correct forms. You can follow despite and in spite of with:

a noun or pronoun

"In spite of everything, they couldn't come to an agreement."

a noun phrase

"They decided to buy the house despite the high prices in the neighbourhood."

a gerund (verb+ing)

"Despite losing, the team felt proud."

a gerund phrase

"He passed the test, in spite of not studying at all."

a wh- (question word) noun clause

"In spite of where she grew up, she still managed to be incredibly successful."

In short, you follow despite and in spite of with some form of a noun, noun phrase, or wh- noun clause, or a gerund or gerund phrase.


Can you follow them with a complete thought? The first of two common mistakes...

Some English learners get confused with despite and in spite of because they hear that it means the same thing as even though. I have even mentioned this meaning on this page! However, just because despite and in spite of have a similar meaning to even though doesn't mean they use the same structure.


What do I mean?


Well, you can say "Even though the weather was awful, he walked to work." However, you can't say "Despite the weather was awful, he walked to work." This is because even though is a subordinating conjunction, which means it is followed by a complete thought. In the case above, it is followed by "the weather was awful," which is a complete thought.


So, how can we fix this problem? Well, there is a way! If you really want to use despite or in spite of with a sentence like "the weather was awful," one thing you can do is add "the fact that" to the end of despite or in spite of. Let's take a look at a few examples:


"Despite the fact that the weather was awful, he walked to work."


"He's going to the event in spite of the fact that his ex-wife is going too."


Another way to use "the weather was awful" with despite or in spite of, is by changing the verb into a gerund. Take a look:


"Despite the weather being awful, he walked to work."


Now, let's change the second sentence, where we eliminate the auxiliary verb "is" and leave the main verb, "going"--which now becomes a gerund:


"He's going to the event in spite of his ex-wife going too."


Did you get all that? If not, don't worry. To help you become comfortable with these words, here are several more example sentences, as spoken or written by famous people:


"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart."

-Anne Frank


"The brave man is not the one without fear, but the one who does what he must despite being afraid."

-Raymond E. Feist


"You cannot make yourself feel something you do not feel, but you can make yourself do right in spite of your feelings."

-Pearl S. Buck


"Despite all philosophical differences, all major world religions have the same potential to create good human beings."

-Dalai Lama


"Despite having seen a fair amount of the world, I still love traveling."

-Michael Palin


"You don't love someone because they're perfect. You love them in spite of the fact that they're not."

-Jodi Picoult


"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."

-Christopher Reeve


And now, the second of two common mistakes...

To finish, I want to point out one more mistake that is sometimes made with these two fancy words. Check it out:


Incorrect: "Despite of what you think, you're not correct."


Correct: "Despite what you think, you're not correct." OR "In spite of what you think, you're not correct."


Remember, the phrase is in spite of, not despite of. If you use despite, use it by itself.


Finally, while you can use despite and in spite of in everyday speech, they are most commonly used in professional and academic writing. With that in mind, I hope your next email or essay will sound much more professional or academic!


So, despite what you might think, and despite any other questions you may have, this is all you really need to know about how to use despite and in spite of. I hope you feel more confident using them in the future.


If you enjoyed learning with me, please consider supporting my work and improving your English with one of my books. They are available in PDF, e-Book, and physical formats. Thank you for learning with me, and I wish you luck and success with your continued English practice.

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