Everyday-spoken English is usually considered less formal than written English, and this informality sometimes extends to word pronunciation. Even some words that originally had distinct pronunciations have become homophones, or words that sound alike, but mean different things. Disperse and disburse are two such words. While their pronunciations are different (only slightly), most speakers pronounce the words identically, and their closely related meanings have led to their misuse in written English. Professional and academic writing depend on careful word choice, so to use disperse instead of disburse, or vice versa, could damage your credibility. Continue reading to find out the differences between these words, as well as appropriate situations to use each.
The word disperse originated from late Middle English: from Latin dispers- ‘scattered’, from the verb dispergere, from dis- ‘widely’ + spargere ‘scatter, strew’. The word disburse originated in mid-16th century: from Old French desbourser, from des- (expressing removal) + bourse ‘purse’.
Disperse as verb:
Storms can disperse seeds via high altitudes.
The earlier mist had dispersed.
Disperse as adjective:
Disburse as verb:
Disburse is used as a verb which means to pay out (money from a fund).
Disperse or disburse:
The verbs disburse and disperse have very similar pronunciations, and, while they have similar meanings, they have clearly defined usage cases. Disburse refers to the distribution of money. Disperse refers to the distribution of anything else, or scattering, as of crowds and ashes. If you are referring to the distribution of money, you should choose disburse. This verb is only used in financial contexts. If you are referring to the distribution of anything else, like pamphlets, pollen on the wind, or a communicable disease, choose disperse. Disperse can also mean to scatter, like a crowd breaking up or throwing ashes to the wind. To remind yourself that disburse is primarily used in financial contexts, remember that it shares a B with the word bank, another financial word.