From a word choice question:

Researchers have not found the exact cause of hypnic jerks yet. Some claim that the nerves in the limbs send incorrect signals. Others refute it by suggesting that the brain misinterprets the relaxing muscles as encountering some danger, so it signals the muscles to twitch. Despite different hypotheses, they agree that sleep deprivation, fatigue, stress and anxiety, intense exercise, and brain stimulants may trigger a sleep start.

Is "refute" an appropriate word choice in the passage above? Or is it too strong since it suggests actively trying to prove the first hypothesis wrong?

  • 2
    (A) In this Case , that is just a claim without Proof. Hence Prove & refute may not be suitable. (B) Consider claim versus Counterclaim : "Others counter that claim by suggesting ...." (C) Alternatives are "oppose that claim" & "disagree with that claim".
    – Prem
    Oct 31, 2022 at 10:59
  • I have checked multiple dictionaries to ensure that my answer, below, is correct. They all agree that 'refute' can mean to simply dispute or deny something. It seems people are taking the first definition and assuming it is the only one.
    – PRL75
    Oct 31, 2022 at 11:19
  • 1
    Since there is clearly some dispute over whether it means deny I would suggest it is safer to avoid its use in favour of the suggestions by @Prem
    – mdewey
    Oct 31, 2022 at 11:44
  • 1
    @mdewey true. I was confused by the dictionaries too when I looked up the word before posting this question. I thought "refute" can only mean "disprove".
    – John
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:07

1 Answer 1


It's a reasonable word to use, it can simply mean 'disagree with'.

e.g. "I say that curry is the best food ever" : "I refute that, pasta is".

The sentence that forms your example is faulty, though, because what is being refuted is 'a claim', whereas in the sentence 'claim' is used as a verb, and you do not refute verbs.

  • That's not what 'refute' means. Oct 31, 2022 at 10:58
  • @MichaelHarvey from dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/refute, "to say or prove that a person, statement, opinion, etc. is wrong or false". You could hardly get a clearer agreement that my definition is one of those that are correct.
    – PRL75
    Oct 31, 2022 at 11:11
  • I am aware that "refute" can mean "to deny the truth or accuracy of" according to the dictionaries. In fact that's what confused me, since I've seen "refute" used as "disprove" in the past.
    – John
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:14
  • I think the question is how common is "refute" used simply as "disagree with". If that usage is rare and if to most people refute simply means "disprove", then "refute" will not be a appropriate word to use.
    – John
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:16
  • @PRL75 yeah it's now sort of a prescriptivist vs descriptivist thing
    – John
    Oct 31, 2022 at 12:17

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