Online Merriam-Webster provides some information of the subtle differences between STOP and DISCONTINUE.

STOP applies to action or progress or to what is operating or progressing and may imply suddenness or definiteness

DISCONTINUE applies to the stopping of an accustomed activity or practice

It appears that the subtlety lies in

(a) Stop being a generic, all inclusive term used for actions to cease to exist, while

(b) discontinue applied (only) to an ongoing/accustomed "event"

However, I recently came across an announcement from a pharmaceutical company that reads

"We are stopping the study, not discontinuing it"

It is not clear to me what this announcement tried to emphasize. The following two seem identical to me

(a) we are stopping the study

(b) we are discontinuing the study

while (c) we are stopping the study, not discontinuing it

feels slightly different, although I don't know exactly how to verbalize the feeling.

Also, does the following sentence make "sense" - (d) we are stopping the study and discontinuing it

  • Do you have a link to the announcement? I can't find an example of that sentence anywhere.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 13 '20 at 19:43
  • Unfortunately no. It was NOT an online announcement.
    – B Chen
    Aug 13 '20 at 19:46
  • You'll need to provide more context then. Was that the entire sentence? What was the sentence prior to it?
    – ColleenV
    Aug 13 '20 at 19:49
  • The distinction may be a field-specific one. This press release describes a Novartis decision to "stop and discontinue its sponsored HCQ clinical trial for COVID-19". This leads me to speculate that in the context of clinical trials, "stop" may sometimes be used to mean "pause" or "stop temporarily" and "discontinue" to mean "stop permanently" or "stop 'with prejudice'". Aug 13 '20 at 20:06
  • stopping the study would mean cancelling it while it is going on. Discontinuing it would mean: not to continue it after some phase of it is finished.
    – Lambie
    Aug 13 '20 at 20:33

Something that is stopped can usually be restarted. They are saying they paused the study.

Discontinuing tends to be more final. They are saying they haven’t ended the study.

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