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Disperse vs. Disburse

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  Angbeen Chaudhary  —  Grammar Tips

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:

Disperse refers to the action of distributing or spreading over a wide area.

Storms can disperse seeds via high altitudes.

Disperse is also used in terms of gas, smoke, mist, or cloud to thin out or cause to thin out and disappear.

The earlier mist had dispersed.

Disperse as adjective:

Disperse is also used as an adjective which means denoting a phase dispersed in another phase, as in a colloid.

Emulsions should be examined after storage for droplet size of the disperse phase.

Disburse as verb:

Disburse is used as a verb which means to pay out (money from a fund).

$67 million of the pledged aid had already been disbursed.


As Greece waits for its euro-region partners to disperse funds, the European Union has announced no concrete plans to help other nations should aid be needed. [BusinessWeek]

Cleanup crews are spraying something similar to dish-washing soap on the oil slick, trying to disburse it. [News 4 Jacksonville (article now offline)]

Following an application process, the local boards decide how to disperse the money to local agencies. [Washington Post]

Instead of a dark slick on the surface, it becomes tiny droplets that disperse into the water below. [McClatchy]

The Education Department will handle loan applications and disburse money to the school’s financial aid office. [Chicago Tribune]

Biles said guardsmen used rifles fixed with bayonets to disperse the protesters. [Marcos Island Florida (article now offline)]

The fund expects to start lending money in the next couple of months and disburse most of the $200 million in 12 months. [BusinessWeek]

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.


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