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Should I always use 'despite' instead of 'despite of'?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 72 down vote accepted
+50

As JSBangs and Kosmonaut have pointed out already, despite is the way to go in contemporary English.

However, despite of is not incorrect per se; it's just a bit dated. Look no further than at the works of William Shakespeare:

  • "Grace is grace, despite of all controversy: as, for example, thou thyself art a wicked villain, despite of all grace." (Measure for Measure).
  • "The scar that will, despite of cure, remain" (Rape of Lucrece).
  • "Some good I mean to do, / Despite of mine own nature" (King Lear)
  • "but my fair name, / Despite of death that lives upon my grave, / To dark dishonour's use thou shalt not have." (Richard II).
  • "So thou through windows of thine age shall see / Despite of wrinkles this thy golden time." (Sonnet III).
  • "Therefore, despite of fruitless chastity, / Love-lacking vestals and self-loving nuns, / That on the earth would breed a scarcity / And barren dearth of daughters and of sons, / Be prodigal" (Venus and Adonis).
  • "For then despite of space I would be brought, / From limits far remote where thou dost stay." (Sonnet XLIV)
  • ...

What's more, that quirky fella didn't stop at that. Just look at this horrible English:

  • "O, a good wish upon you! You will try in time, in despite of a fall." (As You Like It)
  • "But 'tis my heart that loves what they despise, / Who in despite of view is pleased to dote;" (Sonnet CXLI)
  • "No, in despite of sense and secrecy, / Unpeg the basket on the house's top, / Let the birds fly" (Hamlet)
  • "How France and Frenchmen might be kept in awe, / And had his highness in his infancy / Crowned in Paris in despite of foes?" (Henry VI, Part II)
  • "Deposed he shall be, in despite of all." (Henry VI, Part III)
  • "Yet, Warwick, in despite of all mischance, / Of thee thyself and all thy complices, / Edward will always bear himself as king" (Henry VI, Part III)
  • "Then, in despite of brooded watchful day, / I would into thy bosom pour my thoughts" (King John)

I (well, he) could go on, but you get the idea.

Now let's head over to the States and look at what the Corpus of Historical American English has to offer:

DESPITE OF        272
IN DESPITE OF     169

That's not much, but not exactly nothing, either. The most interesting part is the distribution by year. A picture is worth a thousand words:

Stats

(X axis: year, Y axis: incidences per million words)

Now, before you forget where I started, I will add that the Corpus also has a whopping 24305 cites for just "despite", and 20802 cites for "in spite of". So a more accurate picture would be this:

Stats

Note how this also tells an interesting story about despite vs. in spite of.

Back to the UK, the British National Corpus has 2695 cites for "in spite of", 14356 cites for "despite", but only 3 cites for "(in) despite of".

So the bottom line is this: by all means do use despite (or in spite of). However, if you accidentally use despite of or even in despite of and someone corrects you, you can now at least pretend that you were emulating Shakespeare.


Edit: Interestingly enough, Merriam-Webster simply says that in despite of is a synonym for in spite of and leaves it at that. I also totally forgot to look it up in the most obvious place: Etymonline. Here's what it has to say:

despite [...] The preposition (early 15c.) is short for in despite of (late 13c.), a loan-translation of Old French en despit de "in contempt of."

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“However, if you accidentally use despite of or even in despite of and someone corrects you, you can now at least pretend that you were emulating Shakespeare.” Good to know! –  Tsuyoshi Ito Nov 26 '10 at 13:49
9  
Wonderfully detailed answer! +10, if I could. –  user1784 Nov 26 '10 at 14:38
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+1 And I bow in your general direction. I would suggest to the moderators of English & Usage meta to link to this answer in the FAQ as a paragon of how to write a great response. –  Robusto Nov 26 '10 at 19:41
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@Robusto: I must give credit to Antony Quinn for pointing me to the BNC site, and to nohat for introducing me to COHA and Google Spreadsheets. Most importantly, I was nodding in complete agreement when I read the other answers here. Heaven knows why I checked Shakespeare's works (truth is, I haven't even read that many of them in English), and even after that, all I was going to post was a half-assed comment, but then I ran out of space. Not exactly an approach you'd want to recommend. –  RegDwigнt Nov 27 '10 at 0:04
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+1 for pretending to emulate Shakespeare, and if I could, another few for wanting to post a half-assed comment but running out of space. :D –  Marthaª Dec 3 '10 at 17:48
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Yes, you should use despite. The word despite is a preposition which takes a noun as its object, and doesn't require of. Despite of is incorrect, and sounds distinctly non-native.

(You're probably getting confused by the similar phrase in spite of. In spite of means basically the same thing as despite.)

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When you say "despite of", it sounds like you are conflating "despite" and "in spite of". "Despite of" is not a phrase, but these other two are. Their meanings are basically the same.

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