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There were two English teachers who told me different answers. I'm confused. When I want to talk about two persons having different opinions, I have to say that "they dispute with each other" or "they argue with each other." One of my teachers said we didn't use dispute with people, but we use this word for politics and law. Another teacher gave me the following examples while we are learning the S.A.T. word dispute:

  • They got into a dispute over the phone bill.
  • She will dispute any suggestion you make, because she doesn't like you.

Are the teachers right? Can I use dispute when I want to talk about people?

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4 Answers 4

Both the teachers are correct, in different situations. You cannot dispute with someone, but you can get into a dispute with them, or you can argue with them.

Bob disputed with Sally over the phone bill. (Incorrect)

Bob argued with Sally over the phone bill. (Correct)

Bob and Sally got into a dispute over the phone bill. (Correct)

You can use dispute as a verb when you're talking about inanimate objects (including but not limited to law or politics), but it doesn't make sense to use when the object is another person.

Bob disputed the false charges on his phone bill. (Correct)

Bob disputed Sally about the dinner plans. (Incorrect)

Last but not least, there are cases where it may look like the object is a person, but really it's a person's idea or position (ideas being inanimate objects).

Bob disputed Sally's belief that the Earth was flat. (Correct)

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    DISPUTE vs. ARGUE:

Interestingly, "dispute" can serve as a noun or verb, as in:

We settled the dispute in arbitration. Sir, I dispute your research.

"Argue"(a verb) means, in part, to dispute(!) another person's claims, logic, opinions, conclusions, and more. The verb's connotation indicates a heated exchange, while its cognate, "argument", is a noun which may or may not connote a heated exchange. Examples:

His argument was logical, concise, and quite persuasive. (not heated)

An argument broke out between the debaters. (heated--likely)

"Dispute"(as a noun), on the other hand, denotes a disagreement, which may or may not be heated. In a civil suit, for example, strong feelings may be involved, but its purpose is to resolve the dispute in a calm, reasonable way. The lawyer for the defendant marshals his arguments supporting his client's innocence, while the lawyer for the plaintiff disputes(as a verb) the opposing lawyer's arguments by objecting to them and/or by crafting her own arguments supporting her client's claims. A judge and/or jury decides who wins or loses the dispute.

In short, to argue is to disagree sharply with someone, whereas to dispute is to take exception to someone's point of view, conclusion, or rights. Examples :

Jim and I argued about the money I lent him.

Jim disputed my claim that the money I
lent him was a loan.

Fred argued against my claim that he owed me money.

Your disputing my claim is simply out of line and entirely unfair.

Her argument distilled her main points in a few well-chosen words.

I hope this helps.

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I've never taken money from you in my life. And even if I did you gave it to me on my birthday, how was I supposed to know it was only a loan? :-) –  Jim Dec 25 '12 at 22:40

All of the following are correct:

Bob disputed with Sally about/over the phone bill.
Bob argued with Sally over the phone bill.
Bob disputed the phone bill.
Bob argued with Sally about/over the phone bill.
Bob and Sally were at variance about the phone bill.
Bob and Sally had discrepant ideas about the phone bill.
Bob contested the phone bill.
Bob and Sally were at odds about/over the phone bill.
Bob and Sally disagreed about the phone bill.

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+1 for at variance. Note to the O.P.: that's not a common way of expressing it, but it's definitely a quaint way to say it. At variance might be especially useful if you wanted to emphasize that the dispute was trivial and light, as opposed to, say, an angry shouting match. –  J.R. Dec 25 '12 at 11:24

Perhaps the first, if rather obvious, thing to say is that dispute can function as a verb and a noun, but argue can only ever be a verb. The noun from argue is argument.

The answer to the basic question is that as an intransitive verb dispute can be used of people, with the sense, in the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of:

To contend with opposing arguments or assertions; to debate or discourse argumentatively; to discuss, argue, hold disputation; often, to debate in a vehement manner or with altercation about something.

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