The online OED defines to debrief as follows

to obtain information from


Leonov and Belyaev..will stay at the space station for several days to be debriefed (1965)

The online Merriam-Webster defines it as

a. to interrogate
b. to review carefully

However, it cites the following as "recent examples from the web" for the verb, and all seem to be using it as an intransitive verb.

So is it really used as an intransitive verb, despite that no dictionary says it can ? or is it just my misunderstanding (from the examples below) ?

  1. Putting a fun spin on staying hydrated will help kids enjoy the summer sun safely, and gathering for a refreshing drink every day will give the family a chance to debrief and plan out the next day. (2018)
  2. Trump sits down with Mike Pompeo to debrief at 2:30 p.m (2018)
  3. Days later, Kading is put in front of the LAPD chief of police to debrief on his task force’s concrete findings (2018)
  • Changes in usage happen in English. This is doubtless one in obvious transition. Perhaps it's 40% acceptable now and in ten years it will be 70% acceptable, with hidebound descriptivists and prescriptivists exchanging the usual blows. Jul 3, 2018 at 21:54
  • These are certainly intransitive usages listed by OED. You can contact them to query the inconsistency (assuming you haven't missed something). Jul 3, 2018 at 22:06

1 Answer 1


Debrief is the act questioning someone after the completion of a task or project. This review or interrogation is meant to glean information. It was originally used with spies, pilots, or soldiers. It is still used in that setting, but also in general situations for any time one might want to learn from an experience or project.

In short, one briefs before a task and debriefs afterward.

(The Grammariest)

In the sentence above "debrief" appears to be a misused with the meaning of “to report” as noted in the following extract:

Debrief” has leaked out of the military and national security realms into the business world, where people seem pretty confused about it.

When you send people out on missions, you brief them—give them information they’ll need. You give them a briefing. When they come back, you debrief them by asking them what they did and found out. Note that in both cases it’s not the person doing the actual work but the boss or audience that does the briefing and debriefing. But people commonly use “debrief” when they mean “report.”

The verb “brief” comes originally from law, where someone being given a legal brief (instructions on handling a case) can be said to have been briefed. Debriefing has nothing to do with underwear.

(Washington State University)

  • The question becomes, does Professor Paul Brians outrank the OED? Although if OP is quoting accurately, they seem to need to correct their entry. Jul 3, 2018 at 22:07
  • No, it doesn't mean report, exactly. It just means go finish the last bit of bureaucracy before calling it a day. During a sortie, say a maintenance team sent to fix something, the action is planned, the team briefed, employed, and debriefed. There is a briefing/debriefing office that handles this. Maintenance lines are listed in Job Control from the time of inbrief to outbrief. It is 99% administrivia. Debrief or outbrief refers to stopping by the office and telling them the truck's been turned in, the tools returned, and that the thing is or isn't fixed. This is the context of most usage.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jul 4, 2018 at 0:22

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