Let’s look at the differences between dispel and expel with Grammar Rules from the Writer’s Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

This week’s grammar rules post looks at two words that sound similar and, in a way, have similar meanings: Both terms refer to driving things out or away. However, one has to do more with feelings or thoughts, while the other has to do with physically ejecting people and/or things.

(I Hardly See Myself in Children’s Books.)

So let’s look at the differences between dispel and expel and when to use each.

Dispel vs. Expel

Dispel is a verb that means to push away by scattering in an attempt to minimize. For instance, people often said to dispel rumors or lies. In such cases, they’re trying to minimize or erase said rumors or potential lies (or truths) about themselves.

(Peer Reviews: Seek Quality in Your Beta Readers, Not Quantity.)

Expel, on the other hand, is a verb that refers to the action of forcing someone or something out of their/its current position. For instance, a student may be expelled from school, or a cassette tape may be expelled from a tape deck (totally showing my age at the moment).

Make sense?

Here are a few examples of dispel and expel:

Correct: She smiled in an attempt to dispel his sense of anxiety.
Incorrect: She smiled in an attempt to expel his sense of anxiety.

Correct: Mark laughed so hard he expelled milk out his nose.
Incorrect: Mark laughed so hard he dispelled milk out his nose.

People dispel thoughts or emotions they’d prefer not exist; people expel people or things from places they’d prefer they not exist. How I keep these terms separated in my head is to think of the “e” in “expel” as “ejecting” a physical person/thing (as in ejecting a pilot from a jet). Meanwhile the “d” in “dispel” reminds me of “dissuade” as in trying to “dissuade” me from thinking or feeling a certain way.

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No matter what type of writing you do, mastering the fundamentals of grammar and mechanics is an important first step to having a successful writing career.

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