For quite a long time I have been using these two words interchangeably without thinking of their difference, even if it is slight. So can someone differentiate the former from the latter, please?

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In "discrepancy" the stress is, IMO, on showing a "discordant" difference.


Synonyms: clashing, conflicting, disagreeing, discordant, inconsistent, incompatible, incongruous, inconsonant, inharmonious, mutually exclusive, repugnant

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

  • I would have simplified a bit, since it's basically just implying that something is wrong with the difference, but this works out OK. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 23 '15 at 16:17
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    My first impulse was to say that a discrepancy was an unexpected difference, or even an unwanted difference. But this expresses the idea better. – Matt Gutting Apr 23 '15 at 16:19
  • There is an ELL exchange for simple questions with simple answers. I like this answer because it illustrates and emphasizes the root of one of the words, which might give the asker better insight into a small piece of the English language rather than just a quick and dirty answer. I'd actually like to see the answer expanded to give similar information about the word "different", since @Abecedarian could possibly be misunderstanding proper use of the word "difference". "Discrepant" really has nothing at all to do with "difference", and that distinction is both important and relevant. – R Mac Apr 23 '15 at 16:20
  • I had always regarded "discrepancy" as the same meaning to "difference" since several dictionaries define them in the same way. That is to say, "discrepancy" has little to do with "difference". You really opened my eyes. Thanks. – Abecedarian Apr 24 '15 at 10:38

I should be startled to see "discrepancy" used in any context other than some distressing mismatch, e.g. in accounting or between somebody's story and other evidence of the reality. Of course you could use "difference" there as well, but the substitution the other way does not generally work. I should never, never use "discrepancy" for many other differences, e.g. "there is a discrepancy between British and American English".

  • Oh, that's about the size of it. So the better word should be "difference" instead of "discrepancy", which is mainly used in confirming somebody's account. – Abecedarian Apr 24 '15 at 10:45

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