I asked a food truck operator if a certain menu item was spicy. He told me that no, it was not. It turns out it was.

When speaking with my friends, I said that "there were lots of other things on the menu he could’ve deterred me to."

My friends argue that "deterred" is this sentence is wrong, that it should be "deferred".

Which is the correct word to use, and why?

  • 10
    I'll defer from answering, deterred by my impression that this might be a trick question, but I will suggest that the preferred word might be "referred."
    – Papa Poule
    Nov 20, 2014 at 18:28
  • 1
    @PapaPoule Nicely done, but it is not a trick question :) Nov 20, 2014 at 18:31
  • 1
    I think you could use "deterred" for humorous effect in this context, although it is not "proper" English. I think your friends (and some others) are falling into the trap of assuming you were looking for a word that sounds like "deterred." The best word choices sound rather different.
    – David K
    Nov 21, 2014 at 4:20
  • 1
    I agree with David K, I like what you did there with "deterred"; the usage works in a humorous context, despite the fact that it may not be completely correct. It is one word that completely describes what you wish would have occurred in your situation. Also, "deferred" really doesn't feel right. "Redirected" might have been one of the best choices but, it definitely doesn't confer the same humor. Nov 21, 2014 at 14:29
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    Other answers are correct, but I'd add that "defer" can also refer to a situation where you delegate to another -- most often used when choosing another's choice/opinion over your own. In this case, you may have had a suspicion that the food would be spicy, but you deferred to the truck driver [whose opinion was that it was not spicy]. Not the answer to your question, but an interesting side note.
    – Wayne
    Nov 21, 2014 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


I believe you mean to say, "...he could have referred me to."

To deter you would mean he would stop or prevent you from eating the hot/spicy item.

To defer you would mean he would prevent you from eating the hot/spicy food item, with the implication of postponement until a later time.

You may have said "there were a lot of other things on the menu he could've referred me to."

So your friends were incorrect.

  • 4
    The friends are only half incorrect. Deterred is still plainly the wrong word to use in the sentence. Nov 20, 2014 at 21:44

pro sale... an outcome is assumed that is of benefit to the vendor

  • he could have recommended....
  • he could have encouraged me to try...
  • he could have suggested as an alternative...
  • he could have highlighted (or pointed out) as being less spicy...
  • he could have served me... (not strictly same gist or meaning as involves mis-delivery or forward looking conjecture) as in .. I could have ordered...
  • he could have directed me to...
  • he could have drawn to my attention...

A deterrent is generally a "barrier" or an argument against (dissuasion rather than persuasion)

  • I like the list of different options, and would pick 'directed' myself, but it's incomplete without 'referred'.
    – DCShannon
    Nov 20, 2014 at 23:18
  • 1
    "Referred to another dish" sounds to me like the vendor told you to ask the other dish for advice. I prefer the alternatives in this answer.
    – David K
    Nov 21, 2014 at 4:15

Edit (more friendly)

According to Google

define: deter


Discourage (someone) from doing something by instilling doubt or fear of the consequences.

define: defer


Put off (an action or event) to a later time; postpone.

Thus, neither "deter" nor "defer" seem to fit in this context.

  • 2
    I appreciate the answer, but I don't believe that telling me Google is something is appropriate for StackExchange. See this Meta conversation: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/15650/… Nov 20, 2014 at 21:06
  • @John Yes, you have a point. I can rephrase my answer to be more friendly. Nov 20, 2014 at 21:19

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