"Benefit of the doubt" is a standard phrase in English and is a very useful one in formal discussions. Is there an equivalent expression to denote the opposite of it, formal or informal?

For example:

Sara: What do you think of our new neighbour?
Sam: I do not know them, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. [they must be good people]

How about an opposite case (I will try to convey it below):

Sara: Will you marry me?
Sam: I do not know you, so I have to __ (I wont risk it, you could be terrible...)

One thing I can think of is possible risk. Is that how the English speaking world go about this?

  • 3
    a milder form could be to 'err on the side of caution' – jonno Jan 20 '16 at 6:40
  • It's simple. What's the opposite of benefit? Damage. Damage of the doubt. Even has a nice little wordplay. I'm sold. – Phillip Mitchell Feb 3 '19 at 0:15
  • 1
    @jonno I would re-open your answer on this, if I were you, perhaps with a few words of elaboration. I think it is a good one, and you should not be put off by the rather unhelpful comments you received. – WS2 Mar 9 '20 at 14:31

"Assume the worst" is the best idiom I can come up with that conveys the opposite of "benefit of the doubt".

Sam: I cannot marry you because since I don't know you, I have to assume the worst."

  • 3
    Or 'assume a worst-case scenario'. Mind you, if I were Sara, I wouldn't necessarily appreciate these answers! – Edwin Ashworth Jul 4 '13 at 16:40
  • @EdwinAshworth haha, funny.. :) – nawfal Jul 18 '13 at 7:50
  • Sam could always say "apply the precautionary principle', that would really put Sara off! – BoldBen Sep 18 '16 at 22:19
  • can presume be used here? – jungle_mole Jan 30 '17 at 14:16
  • @jungle_mole, do you mean use "presume" in place of "assume" in the expression? – Kristina Lopez Jan 30 '17 at 14:59

"Assume the worst" sounds perfect to me, but in that specific situation, I would say something more like "I don't know you, I'd rather be safe than sorry." Being rejected will hurt either way, atleast this has an "I want to be safe" sound, rather then "you might be bad."

  • As jonno says in comments, 'err on the side of caution' is also an equivalent – nawfal Mar 9 '20 at 5:39

The idiom "prevention is better than cure" could also be an opposite for "benefit of the doubt".

From dictionary.cambridge.org, prevention is better than cure UK saying (US an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure)

It is better to stop something bad from happening than it is to deal with it after it has happened.


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