I wrote a prologue

"The Demons are returning to Earth," Anael said.

"Are you certain?” Sariel questioned.

“It has only been three millennia."

"The signs are there."

"Are the humans able to resist?"


The intended meaning is the "Demons" are headed to Earth to do bad things (not exactly your classic alien invasion, but something bad). The question is whether the humans are able to resist the bad things the "Demons" are up to.

Some beta readers interpreted "resist" in the context of "resist temptation" rather than "offer physical resistance".

I can clarify the meaning with extra words, but I want to keep the prologue concise. Is there a better word than "resist"? If not, suggestions for making the meaning unambiguous with minimal extra words?

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    Resist doesn't imply any actual success at defense. Perhaps withstand would be better. – Phil Sweet Aug 31 '16 at 16:52
  • I like your use of the ambiguous notion of resist here & maybe you could keep it by using, as suggested by Michael, resistance & rewording the last question to avoid words like possible/able to/can (to me the notion of “can/possible/able to resist” go too well with the “resist temptation” meaning to avoid the confusion) & flipping the final answer to "yes":..“Is resistance futile?”….“Yes.” .... Whatever you choose to go with, perhaps you could consider using the future tense:..“Will resistance be futile?”..“Yes” (cf: “Will the humans be able to resist/mount a resistance/endure?”..”No.”) – Papa Poule Aug 31 '16 at 18:29
  • Did you try a thesaurus? thesaurus.com has many suggestions, a lot of which have come through in answers below. – AndyT Sep 1 '16 at 9:25

You could use withstand as in "Are the humans able to withstand them?"

to stand or hold out against; resist or oppose, especially successfully:

Although it's not a single word, there is also stand up to as in "Are the humans able to stand up to them?"

To confront fearlessly; face up to.

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To mount a resistance is less ambiguous:

"Can the humans mount a resistance?"

"Can the humans mount an effective resistance?"

(The latter would imply that the humans may try to resist, but will ultimately fail.) It does have a strong military tone to it, which might not be appropriate depending on what these "Demons" are actually planning to do.

The first option is the same number of words; the second option adds one word but is less pithy.

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  • The problem with the word "resist" is that it can be used to describe the act of resisting in any way. You can mount a resistance to physical, emotional, psychological, or spiritual threats, among others, leaving the meaning of the sentence up to the reader's interpretation, which is what the asker wants to avoid. – R Mac Aug 31 '16 at 16:53
  • @RMac - "Mount a resistance to temptation" is not idiomatic, I would never interpret "mount a resistance" in that way. This is a useful answer in my opinion. – AndyT Sep 1 '16 at 9:23
  • @AndyT One of the definitions of "resist" offered by Merriam Webster is "to remain strong against the force or effect of (something) : to not be affected or harmed by (something)", a definition which is applicable in the way I described in my previous comment. This (resisting spiritual or psychological force) is a usage I have encountered myself, even with the word wrapped in the phrase "mount a resistance" (which, as far as I can tell, is a perfectly valid use). – R Mac Sep 1 '16 at 12:56

Consider "endure", which implies that the demons pose a physical threat to the humans.


: to continue to exist in the same state or condition
: to experience (pain or suffering) for a long time
: to deal with or accept (something unpleasant)

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  • That's a great thought. I did not mention that the Demons do not intend to destroy humanity, just cause serious harm. Do you think endure still works given that additional information? The speakers know that fact. – Eric J. Aug 31 '16 at 16:48
  • I assume angels are the speakers in this snippet, correct? Do the speakers know the demons' intent? – R Mac Aug 31 '16 at 17:22

Another option would be "defend," although the clearest phrasing would require a second word:

"Are the humans able to defend themselves?"

Resist an attack made on (someone or something); protect from harm or danger.

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An aggressive option:

are the humans able to fight?

A defensive option:

are the humans able to fortify their defenses?

A middle option:

is the human military able to oppose them?

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Hold off might also work.

According to M-W definition

hold off: to fight to a standoff, withstand.

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Consider the expressions wage war, to engage in warfare, or fight back, to resist or oppose, especially with a vehement intention for retaliation or revenge.

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