I would like to know is the verb to arbitrate used only in very formal situations (related to law)?

If so, which word can we use for more casual situations like scenarios below.

Situation 1: In a semi-formal meeting with workers from the same company. In a case possible dispute between colleagues, does another colleague mediate or arbitrate?

Situation 2: A trivial dispute between neighbors because of dogs, or a quarrel between friends at a school

Situation 3: In a bar brawl. I think it would sound funny if somebody says "I tried to arbitrate the brawlers/fighters but they kept on."

  • Edited. Murat, please read this.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 10:30

1 Answer 1


Arbitrate and mediate mean two different things.

A mediator is a person who manages a dispute and attempts to bring the parties to an agreement. A mediator is thus a sort of diplomat. We speak either mediating a dispute or mediating in a dispute or mediating between the parties.

  • Mediate is a little formal, but not very. You might also speak less formally of 'acting as peacemaker' between the parties, or 'getting the parties to agree'.

An arbitrator is a person who is given the power to decide how the dispute shall be resolved. An arbitrator is thus a sort of judge; the precise terms of the arbitrator's powers are set by law or by prior contract between the parties. We speak of arbitrating a dispute.

  • Arbitrate is inherently formal, since arbitrators derive their judicial powers from some sort of formal agreement. You might speak less formally of judging the dispute or deciding between the parties.

It would not be improper to speak of 'mediating' between the opponents in a brawl (supposing you can separate them), but you cannot arbitrate such a quarrel unless you have some means of compelling the parties to accept your decision.

  • Thank you for your comprensive answer.How can I say properly " if somebody .........(separate ) them, they would have hurt each other badly."
    – Mrt
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 0:45
  • @Murat "If someone hadn't separated them they would have hurt each other badly." Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 0:55
  • Is there any word connote separate + talking with opponents on what to do next
    – Mrt
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 1:09
  • can we say " the old man reconcile the fighting men"
    – Mrt
    Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 1:15
  • @Murat Reconcile means 'made them friends again'. But if they're actually physically fighting he's gonna hafta get them separated and calmed down first! Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 1:22

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