Defuse or Diffuse?

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Difference between "Defuse" and "Diffuse"?

"Defuse" and "diffuse" are easy to confuse because their spellings are similar and English is so inconsistent with pronunciation.
  • Defuse. "Defuse" (which rhymes with news) means to remove the fuse.
    • Defuse the grenade before storing it.
    • Defuse the situation by talking calmly.
    • (In this example, defuse is being used figuratively.)
  • Diffuse. "Diffuse" (which rhymes with juice) means spread out. As a verb, it means to dissipate.
    • It is a diffuse campus but there are lots of electric scooters you can use.
    • (Here, "diffuse" is an adjective meaning spread out.)
    • The sprayer diffuses the liquid evenly.
    • (In this example, "diffuse" is a verb meaning to spread out.)
defuse or diffuse?

More about "Defuse" and "Diffuse"


The verb "to defuse" refers to the act of deactivating a bomb. (Defuse literally means "to remove the fuse.") It is often used figuratively to mean "to disarm" or "to pacify."

Example sentences with "defuse":
  • How long did it take you to defuse the bomb?
  • (Here, "defuse" is being used literally.)
  • Paul, go back in the meeting and defuse all the arguing.
  • (Here, "defuse" is being used figuratively.)


The adjective "diffuse means" "spread out" or "not concentrated in one place." "Diffuse" can also be a verb meaning "to circulate" or "to spread."

Example sentences with "diffuse":
  • She is the CEO of a large diffuse company.
  • (Here, "diffuse" is an adjective meaning spread out.)
  • I need speakers that will diffuse my music around the whole arena.
  • (Here, "diffuse" is a verb meaning to spread.)

"Defuse Tension" or "Diffuse Tension"?

Writers' confusion over "defuse" and "diffuse" is understandable because both "defuse" and "diffuse" work when used figuratively in a term like "to defuse/diffuse tension." For example:
  • The aim of the strategy is to defuse the tension between India and Pakistan.
  • (This means ending the tension by removing or reducing the cause.)
  • The aim of the strategy is to diffuse the tension between India and Pakistan.
  • (This means reducing the tension by lessening the focus by spreading the cause into its constituent parts.)
If you're unsure which to use, go for "defuse tension." It is far more common, and it's likely that some of your readers will think "diffuse tension" is an error.

"Defuse the Situation" or "Diffuse the Situation"?

Logically, both "defuse the situation" and "diffuse the situation" could work, but the common saying is "defuse the situation." (It means to fix the situation by removing or reducing the cause.)


Do not use "diffused" as an adjective. "Diffused" is the past tense or the past participle of the verb "diffuse." For example:
  • It is a diffused facility.
  • ("Diffused" is not used an adjective.)
  • It is a diffuse facility.
  • (Use "diffuse" for the adjective.)
"Diffused" is always a verb or a participle.
  • I diffused the message widely.
  • (Here, "diffused" is a verb in the simple past tense.)
  • By tomorrow, the message will have been diffused widely.
  • (In this example, "diffused" is a past participle.)

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See Also

adverse or averse? affect or effect? appraise or apprise? avenge or revenge? bare or bear? complement or compliment? dependant or dependent? discreet or discrete? disinterested or uninterested? e.g. or i.e.? envy or jealousy? imply or infer? its or it's? material or materiel? poisonous or venomous? practice or practise? principal or principle? tenant or tenet? who's or whose? What are adjectives? List of easily confused words

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