English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My teacher insists that rescind and undo are related but I need to prove her wrong because I looked it up and I don't feel that way.

Undo is the reverse of action that has been done. A synonym of rescind is cancel, but cancel is preventing something from happening, thus it never gets to where you can undo it.

So this is where I think that rescind and undo are not the same.

share|improve this question

closed as general reference by Jasper Loy, Marthaª, yoozer8, kiamlaluno, MrHen Nov 23 '11 at 4:14

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

The "re" in rescind is a clue that it, too, means taking back something that has occurred, just like undo. Also, you may want to look up the meaning of the word "synonym". – Marthaª Nov 23 '11 at 0:35
ALSO you may wish to look up the meaning of the word "cancel". IMHO preventing something from happening is not the primary sense of "cancelling", which I think really is more "rescinding" or "undoing". – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 0:51

While rescinding something can be interpreted as undoing something, I think the key difference between the two words is whether or not the person/entity that is committing this action has the authority to do so.

For example, a government can rescind a law because it was the government that implemented the law in the first place. In other words, the government has the right to pass and abolish legislation. You or I cannot rescind laws since we lack the authority to do so.

In the above example the government effectively undoes one of its own laws. To continue on this train of thought, one can undo something without having the right or authority to do so. Let's say you're a fervent gardener and had spent the day on building a flower bed. I could simply come by at night and ruin it, i.e. undo your flower bed, even though I would have no right to do so.

So while your teacher does have a point saying that the two words are related, I would not go so far as to say they are synonyms.

share|improve this answer
Excellent point about rescinding requiring that you have the authority to do so, but undoing simply requires that you (or indeed, something inanimate such as a force of nature) have the ability. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 0:54
Great insight, FumbleFingers! Completely agree with the link between "undo" and "ability". – Bjorn Nov 23 '11 at 10:03
You did the groundwork. I just happened to think of a hurricane or some other inanimate force "undoing" your example flower bed. I think the other answers are overly influenced by "undo" buttons in software UIs. To "undo" something you don't have to exactly retrace/reverse all steps in the original "doing" - you just need to nullify its primary effects or intentions. – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 15:09

This is arguable, but I think there are subtle differences.

Let's say you accidentally turn in an essay with a typographical error. You might try to rescind the essay in order to undo the mistake. In short, to rescind is to undo specifically by taking something back.

For all intents and purposes, though, they can be considered synonyms.

share|improve this answer
"For all intents and purposes" really? – tenfour Nov 22 '11 at 23:44
@tenfour Uh, yes? – Maxpm Nov 22 '11 at 23:45
My first thought (and perhaps tenfour's) was that the standard idiom is to all intents and purposes. But it's always worth checking, and apparently your version is gaining currency, while mine declines – FumbleFingers Nov 23 '11 at 1:42

The are similar, and in some situations they can fit interchangeably, but I wouldn't call them synonyms. I'll highlight the key bits (from my point of view) from the M-W Definitions:


to make of no effect or as if not done : make null : reverse


to take away : remove : take back, cancel : to make void (as an act) ...

One of the key differences to me is the first part of the 'undo' definition. When you undo something, you make it as if it never happened. There is no such implication to 'rescind' in most usages.

That is why you see uses like:

The government rescinded the new tax law. They canceled it, but probably didn't go back and undo all the taxes that were collected.

Press Control-Z to undo the typing. You are exactly reversing the action, making it as if you'd never done it.

share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.