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Is it the same to say the following?

He was discharged from the police force for bad conduct.

He was dismissed from the police force for bad conduct.

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Good question. And J.R.'s comment is very useful (+1), they are not always interchangeable. On the other hand I do believe that both the words here, in this context are okay to interchange. That's because I referred dictionaries and found that discharge and dismiss both can mean terminate the employment of a person.

However, if I apply my logic, a subtle difference comes in my mind. When you discharge someone, you emphasize more on their duty or work/task they do. Think this way - if a commissioner comes, he takes charge of the ex-commissioner's duties. This way, if he's discharge, we emphasize more on his duties (of course, he won't remain on his seat).

Now, dismissal. Dismissal I think emphasizes more on the position than his duties.

[Can we think of (I'm asking this) this - Alex was discharged (emphasizing on his performance, duty, job, capability) from that crucial project as he wasn't doing good on the field and allotted with clerical work now in the office. On the other hand, Alex was dismissed (emphasizing on the position/designation) from the company as he was good at nothing.]

Again, mind it, it's a subtle difference and after dismissal or discharge, the person is terminated from the employment.

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In this context, the two have very similar if not identical meanings.

From the definitions of both words, you can see that to 'discharge' is an official demand for someone to leave, while a 'dismissal' can mean both 'letting someone go' and 'sending them away', or even 'allowing someone to leave'.

The reason they are identical is simply because 'discharging' someone from a police force or armed forces unit etc, is defined as a dismissal. The two words have become interchangeable here.

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  • So here it's just a kind of euphemism for an important post? I choose this example in OALD because it is the only one in which the meaning of the two words intersect. – Kinzle B Mar 30 '14 at 15:34
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    @Zhan - You need to be careful when you pull sentences out of a dictionary. Those are meant to be example usages, not prescriptive usages. As a matter of fact, you should not ask about them here on ELL without at least saying, "I found these sentences in a dictionary" – that would be relevant information for anyone researching and answering your question. Moreover, the two words are not always interchangeable: you get dismissed from school early during bad weather; you get discharged from the hospital after you are well enough to go home. As this answer says, the context is key. – J.R. Mar 30 '14 at 18:23
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    I wouldn't say 'euphemism' as such; one phrase is not 'milder in tone' than another. – MMJZ Mar 30 '14 at 18:24
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    Additional information on military "dismissal": en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_discharge. Dismissal: Officers charged with offences under the Military Discipline Legislation. In exceptional cases, officers may be "dismissed with disgrace". – Damkerng T. Mar 31 '14 at 0:25
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The two words are close in meaning. When talking about someone leaving a job, being dismissed has a negative connotation. (Let's ignore other usages of the two words. Your comment suggests that you already know them.) We can boil the difference down to this:

discharge - allow someone to leave their job
dismiss - make someone to leave their job

Essentially, it's about "allow" vs. "make". You can find lengthier definitions in dictionaries for learners. For example, Macmillan Dictionary defines

discharge (sense 1) as "to be officially allowed or forced to leave an institution such as a hospital, a prison, or the army"

(so discharge can mean either "allow to leave" or "force to leave"), and

dismiss (sense 2) as "to force someone to leave their job".

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  • This seems to contradict MMJZ's answer. Can a soldier "request a discharge"? I'm not sure. – neubau Apr 5 '14 at 3:11
  • A solder can make such a request (for example, on the ground of conscientious objection), I believe, but that must be quite rare. Searching Google Books yields some results, for example, "soldier requested discharge". You can also get a better picture of the tendency of the usages by googling for "honorable discharge" vs. "honorable dismissal" and "dismissed with disgrace" vs. "discharged with disgrace". – Damkerng T. Apr 5 '14 at 3:38

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