Human nature can be inspiring — how we can face immense hardships and still come out stronger. The phrase we’ll examine sums that up so well, and we use it most often to describe how people carry on through their struggles — or, to put it another way, despite them.
“Despite of” is not considered grammatically correct in modern English. It is often confused with “in spite of”. Where “in spite of” requires the “of” to show the connection between the two contrasts, “despite” stands on its own and, therefore, “despite of” should not be used.
“Despite” and “in spite of” are two prepositional expressions with similar meanings used to show the contrast between two things.
To better understand the word “despite,” we’ll look deeper into its meaning and explore similar terms for a broader understanding of prepositional expressions.
The Formal Definition of Despite
Following that definition, the Merriam-Webster dictionary uses “despite” in a sentence, saying “played despite an injury.” This usage exemplifies how the phrase “despite” gets used to contrast two things.
Notably, it does not use “despite of.” We’ll explore the evolution of the use of “despite” in the section about its function, but the main takeaway is that Modern English uses “despite” on its own to contrast two sets of circumstances.
What is the Function of Despite?
A prepositional expression describes temporal or spatial relations (source). What that means is when using the term “despite,” you’re showing the relationship between two concepts or circumstances.
“Despite” as a Hinge between Two Circumstances
Going back to the first example where someone “played despite injury,” the word “despite” acts as a hinge between two concepts.
Firstly, an injury typically means the inability to function normally, so it’s reasonable to expect an injured person to be unable to play.
Secondly, and here is where our fantastic human nature kicks in, there are degrees to which the player can be injured and yet push to continue regardless. Assuming, in our example, that the injury was not severe, the player was still able to continue playing.
Therefore, the phrase “despite” is the seesaw between two pieces of information that could have conflicted with one another. Instead, it brings them together and shows how the two are interlinked — though the player is injured, they are still playing.
“Despite” vs. “Despite of”
You may be thinking that English, in all its complexities, may require more wording to show the relationship between the two circumstances, but this is not the case with “despite.” A common unnecessary addition to “despite” is “of,” making it “despite of.”
Between “despite” and “in spite of,” the latter is considered the more formal or wordier, where “despite” is deemed to be the more modern contraction of a similar phrase.
It’s important to point out that “despite of” — or the even more long-winded “in despite of” — was acceptable in Early Modern English, back in Shakespeare’s days. For example, one line from the villain Edmund from William Shakespeare’s King Lear reads:
I pant for life: some good I mean to do,Act 5, Scene III
Despite of mine own nature.
As Modern English has grown and simplified itself, we use “despite” to be concise, and “despite of” is now archaic.
The Various Uses of “Despite”
“Despite” can go at the beginning of a sentence too, if required, as in “Despite being overcast, it’s still very warm today.” Here, the comment is on the relationship between cloud cover and temperature.
It doesn’t always put a positive spin on a comparison either; it can go the other way, as in “He still lost the race despite being in the lead for most of it.”
Here is an excellent demonstration of how the expectations for the relationship between leading and winning did not coincide.
“Despite” is one of several contrasting prepositional expressions, so let’s take a closer look at other ways of contrasting two circumstances.
Root Words Used in “Despite”
For the real word nerds that want to get a comprehensive understanding of a word, it’s helpful and fun exercise to break the word down into parts and look at its roots.
The main part of “despite” is the word “spite,” which explains why “despite” is inseparably linked to the phrase “in spite of.”
The Prefix “De-”
The prefix “de-” means to “do the opposite of” (source). We can see this in words such as dehumidify and demystify, meaning the action this word refers to is moving towards the opposite of the original state.
“Spite” is defined as “petty ill will or hatred with the disposition to irritate, annoy, or thwart,” although when used in both “in spite of” and “despite,” it only borrows part of that meaning.
To “thwart” means to “oppose successfully,” which, as we discovered right at the beginning, is at the heart of both “despite” and “in spite of.”
The original circumstances would lead you to believe a certain outcome was inevitable, so “despite” and “in spite of” are used to highlight that juxtaposition between what we thought to be inevitable and the actual, contradictory outcome.
When we add the “de-” prefix to the word “spite,” we have a word that emphasizes how the unlikely has triumphed over what seemed most likely.
We’ve spent much of this article looking at both “despite” and “in spite of” together simply because of how similar their meanings are — to the point where they share the same root word.
However, it is important to note that it is only correct to use “of” when saying “in spite of” — there is no other correct way of contrasting the two related words. The phrase only works when we explain circumstance A in spite of circumstance B.
“Despite” is correct and less wordy as in circumstance A happened despite circumstance B.
The Similarities to Other Associated Phrases
English can sometimes be a frustrating language in that it often has multiple words that mean the same thing, and there is no clear way to know which is correct to use in which circumstance.
What can be said, however, is that using despite is often purely a matter of preference — perhaps even artistic freedom, if you will — meaning there is no right or wrong choice!
When looking at “despite” and “in spite of,” two words that share a common root, they have the same meanings, and we can use them interchangeably.
A very minor difference, as noted by the Cambridge Dictionary, is that “despite” is slightly more formal than “in spite of” (source).
We can also use three other words, namely, “though,” “although,” and “but.” We’ll illustrate their slightly different meanings using a few examples.
“Though” is defined as: “despite the fact that.” It’s interesting to see that “despite” is used to define this word. Let’s look at some examples of “though” being used in a sentence:
- “He had studied very hard for the test, though he didn’t get the mark he was hoping for.”
Here we see “though” being used as a conjunction, joining two sentences. Though it does include a contrast, its main purpose is joining the two sentences.
- “I was hunting for work. Jobs were scarce, though.”
When used as an adverb, as seen here, it performs a more similar function to “despite.”
“Although” is also defined as: “despite the fact that,” and here are some examples of how you would use “although”:
- “She says she works out, although I haven’t seen her at the gym before.”
Like the first example for “though,” “although” is a conjunction that joins two sentences.
There are two ways to use “but” to show similar contrasts. Here are examples to show these uses:
- “He stumbled but did not fall.”
Here we see “but” used as a conjunction similar to “though” and “although,” connecting the two related events.
- “After standing in the rain for an hour, I was anything but dry.”
Here is an interesting use of “but,” where it is a traditional preposition. Its usage in this sense is almost comedic, in a sense that the one circumstance was so overpowering there was no chance for the other to be true.
“Though,” “although,” and “but” are similar to each other, but less so to “despite” and “in spite of,” which are closely related to each other.
Their dissimilarity is because they do not carry the same expected contradiction that “despite” and “in spite of” have.
One may try to emphasize the contrast between two relations by using more than one of these prepositions but, as we covered in a separate article looking at whether you should be using “but” after saying “although,” this doesn’t always make for correct English.
Instead, having a deeper appreciation for the meaning of the word, even breaking it down into parts, will help us better understand how to correctly use “despite.”
While you might feel the urge to attach “of” to “despite” due to your love of Shakespeare, we don’t use it in Modern English.
There is a collection of other conjunction words, but none of them quite emphasize the contrast quite like “despite” and “in spite of” do. Knowing which to use and when isn’t an exact science, and we can often use them interchangeably based on the situation.