I am looking for the equivalent of the Italian contestare; in particular, I am looking for a verb to use for a proof, which for me is not a proof at all, and that I would use in a sentence similar to the following one:

She told me something I could not […].

Google Translate gave me the following possible translations:

  • Challenge (sfidare, contestare, provocare)
  • Dispute (contestare, disputare, discutere)
  • Contest (contestare, impugnare, contendere, disputare)
  • Deny (negare, rifiutare, rinnegare, smentire, contestare, licenziare)

Contest seems to the right word when it is used to mean "to formally oppose a decision or statement because you think it is wrong." Contestare is generally a word used in formal context, even if it could be used outside the court.
Dispute seems the right word when it is used to mean "to question whether something is true and valid."
Challenge could be the right word ("to question whether something is true and valid"), but looking at the example given from the OALD, I doubt it applies to my case.

The story was completely untrue and was successfully challenged in court.

Deny (when it means "to say that something is not true") doesn't seem to be the right word, as it is more a matter of questioning that what said is true, rather than saying it is not true.

Which verb should I use?

  • kiam, when you have seen the answers, have you asked yourself why there is this difference between Italian and English? We use contestare where Anglophones use believe. I think this difference is a cultural difference and explains why our country is dangerously declining whereas Anglophone countries can still believe for a better future. Please, comment something, I'm interested in your opinion, +1.
    – user114
    May 19, 2013 at 18:45
  • I think I confused the users who answered by asking for a verb meaning something, and then showing a sentence where the verb is used with not. English has the equivalent of contestare, and it's a used verb. (It's one of the verbs Google Translate suggested me.) Believe means credere; I don't think in English not believe means contestare.
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 18:53
  • kiam, I'm perplexed. Whatever your question was, Wendi's & jwpat's answers show that where we use contestare they use believe, though.
    – user114
    May 19, 2013 at 19:01
  • Nope: Believe (credere) doesn't mean contestare. Both the answers say I am asking something that is different from what said in the title. In fact, I am asking for the equivalent of contestare I could use in Mi ha detto qualcosa che non potevo contestare.
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 20:40
  • 2
    The error here arises, I think, in your title and first sentence, where you ask for words denoting your opponent and her proof rather than what you mean: "What verb should I use to signify my action in rejecting a 'proof' which I think is invalid?" I'd edit it, or ask you to do so; but that would have the unhappy effect of making Wendi and jwpat's answers look foolish. May 19, 2013 at 21:15

3 Answers 3


Practically, you may spare yourself the trouble of distinguishing these four words. All four are commonly used as synonyms of each other, and very few readers or writers trouble to deploy them with any precision.

But if you are so eccentric as to want to use English with a nicety which will be imperceptible to most of your audience, here are some guidelines:

  • Challenge is most properly used of initiating a dispute by calling a proposition or conclusion into question. It is an announcement to the proponent that you intend to argue an opposing proposition.

    Although I felt her argument was unsound, I was unwilling to antagonize her, so I did not challenge her finding.

  • Contest denotes active opposition. It may be used of argument without impropriety, but is more often used of opposition to an action or decision.

    Tonio however was bolder than I: he not only challenged the finding, he announced his intention of contesting it in a higher court.

  • Deny means to contradict a proposition, to assert that it is not true.

    Tonio started by denying many of the key facts she cited, which he demonstrated were contrary to the testimony of the most credible witnesses.

  • Dispute, again, denotes active opposition, but is typically used of prosecuting a logical argument.

    He disputed her rationale vigorously, calling many expert witnesses and discriminating very subtly between the legal precedents.

So which verb you should use will depend on precisely what you mean: what action you are describing and what action you are opposing.

(And for the record: the meanings I offer for these four words are their meanings in this particular context; all four have other meanings in other contexts.)

  • I find interesting that most people would not see much difference between those words. In Italian, contestare, negare, and disputare are still perceived as words with different meanings, although disputare has a meaning that is reported to be, "literary and rare."
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 21:34
  • @kiamlaluno As I said, they are synonymous only in matters like "I deny what you say, I dispute what you say, I contest what you say, I challenge what you say". In other contexts they may not overlap at all. May 19, 2013 at 22:09

The idea you ask for in your title and the construction you're looking to fill a word into don't match up; they're opposites. Dispute, contest, and deny could all fit into that sentence, but to say "She told me something I could not contest/dispute/deny" means "She said something which was absolutely true, and I could offer no proof to the contrary." This is the opposite of what you want to say, which is that you do contest/dispute/deny what she's saying.

If you're looking for a word you can fit into that blank, you'll want one with the opposite meaning; believe, or accept perhaps. She told you something and you could not accept that it was true.

She told me something I could not believe.
She told me something I could not accept.

If you want to use the words you suggested in your question, you'll need to modify the construction. For example:

I contested her findings when she claimed that the sky was actually green.
I had to dispute her claim that squares are round.

I know the examples are a bit ridiculous, but I trust they made their point :)

Interestingly enough, when we flip the construction, challenge works better than deny does:

I challenged her assertion that UFOs were real.

This has similar meaning to the contest/dispute sentences. But to use deny in this way doesn't really make sense; you can say "She told me something I couldn't deny" but you don't really say "I denied what she told me." I can't think of a rule to explain why, it just doesn't sound right. You might say "I refused to believe what she told me."

  • I should have been clearer: I am looking for the equivalent of contestare (which doesn't mean believe) to use, preceded by not, in a sentence. The only word I could think was object, as in "She told me something I could not object." but that is not a word Google Translate suggests.
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 18:36
  • To make clear why I am using not before the verb: I would not use non contestare ("not [equivalent of contestare]") to mean that I believe what she said, or I think she said the truth; I would use it to mean that I found what she said credible, and I didn't find anything to object.
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 19:09

The four words you mention (challenge, dispute, contest, deny) are opposite in meaning to what you want. They all indicate that the argument is correct, or cannot be argued against.

Consider instead words or phrases like the following:
credit, “To believe”
fathom, “To get to the bottom of; to manage to comprehend”
comprehend, “To understand or grasp fully and thoroughly”
believe, “To accept as true” or “To consider likely”

  • It's my fault: I was not clear enough in the question. I am looking for the word I described in the title, but to use it in a sentence where it is preceded by not. Probably object is acceptable, but Google Translate didn't suggest that word.
    – apaderno
    May 19, 2013 at 18:41

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