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An exercise asks that whether this sentence should be corrected?

  • As an expert, John was used to people referring to his decisions.

Personally, I think that this sentence is completely fine, for the fact that "referring to", besides its meaning of "bringing up", also means "consulting sb". However, it turned out that the answer was that "referring to" must be changed to "deferring to".

I surely know that "defer to" means "to comply", which is pretty fit to the sentence; nevertheless, I think the original one is still suitable for the sentence. Therefore, could sb explain what is the difference between "refer to" and "defer to"? Thanks for any help!

Best regards.

  • They mean entirely different things. Either could be valid. – Hot Licks Jul 26 '16 at 11:21
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    There are many many sentences in which you could use two similar sounding words that have different meanings. We can't say which one is correct just by looking at them. We'd need to know what was intended to be said. You might as well ask "Which of these is correct - 'There's a cat in the garage' or 'There's a car in the garage'?". – Max Williams Jul 26 '16 at 11:21
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Let's start out by listing out the meanings in the current context.

Refer-to: Turn to, for aid or information.
Defer-to: To yield respectfully in judgement or opinion.

Now let's examine the meanings in the statement.

  • People referring to John's decisions: People take John's decision as one of the factors in making their own decision on a specific subject.
  • People deferring to John's decisions: People take John's decision as the final word.

The statement establishes the context by saying 'As an expert...'. In this case, John is probably the best person to make a good decision on the subject of discussion. Therefore, John's decision on the subject is accepted by other people without question. Hence, the proper usage is:

As an expert, John was used to people deferring to his decisions.

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