Debates and arguments are two types of discussions. And, you could debate or argue all day about how they are the same thing or entirely different. Let’s settle the debate once and for all with an in-depth look at what “debate” means and what “argument” means.
No Argument, There's a Difference Between Argue and Debate
Both Are Nouns
“Argument” and “debate” are both nouns. They are both things, but they are different kinds of things. That’s how you’ll be able to see the difference between them. Let’s explore further.
Definition of Debate
“Debate” can be a noun or a verb, but to compare it with “argument,” let’s stick with the noun form. It comes from the Old French word debatre, which means “to fight or contend.” It is defined as a:
Formal discussion of the opposing sides of a specific subject
Definition of Argument
The word “argument” is always a noun. It comes from the classical Latin argumentum, which means “evidence or proof.” It is defined as:
A reason or reasons why you are for or against something.
One Is Part of the Other
An argument is a part of a debate, which is the whole. In other words, a debate is made up of a bunch of arguments and counter arguments. Arguments are the proof needed to have the debate, or to discuss the opposing points of view.
A Difference in Formality
In their common use, a debate is considered more formal than an argument. However, a debate can be informal and an argument can be formal. Looking at examples of these two words can help you better understand what makes them different.
Informal Use With Examples
Most people think of an argument as a yelling match or negative discussion. Any two or more people can engage in an argument any place, any time. There are really no rules for an informal argument. Informal arguments are often negative and involve a disagreement.
- The couple got into an argument about how much money to spend on their vacation.
- Talking about religion at Thanksgiving always leads to a family argument.
A debate can also be informal, although this is the less common use of the noun. An informal debate can take place anytime, anywhere, like an argument, but an informal debate is usually more civil than an informal argument.
- My dad and I had a debate about the death penalty at dinner last week.
- Can this abortion debate wait for another time, not at this birthday party?
Formal Use With Examples
A formal debate is a scheduled event that involves specific debate rules and enforcement of those rules.
- The presidential debate will be on Channel 2 tonight.
- Our high school team won the national debate.
- The Senate is having a debate about whether to pass the new bill.
A formal argument is part of a debate and it needs to include supporting details so it is more than just one person’s opinion.
- Please present your argument for closing migrant detention centers.
- What evidence do you have to support your argument?
- The argument you make in this essay is very compelling.
How They Differ From Other Similar Words
“Debate” and “argument” have many other synonyms since each is another word for “discuss.” It can be confusing trying to figure out which word to use. Check out some simple explanations of what other discussion words mean to help you decide.
Argument vs. Persuasion
Argument includes evidence to back up your point. Persuasion is your belief or opinion, or it can be the act of convincing someone to agree with you.
Argument vs. Disagreement
Arguments can be heated, but they make a point that isn’t necessarily contested. Disagreements are often heated and imply a difference of opinion.
Debate vs. Forum
A debate is a discussion. A forum is a place to have a discussion.
Discussion vs. Debate vs. Argument
Debates and arguments are types of discussions that exchange opposing views.
Conversation vs. Debate vs. Argument
Debates and arguments are types of conversations if they are spoken.
Fight vs. Debate vs. Argument
A fight is a conflict, whereas debates and arguments are exchanges of views that can be civil.
Settle the Debate
Now that you’ve seen the arguments about how “debate” and “argument” differ, the debate on how to use them is settled. But, are you guilty of misusing other words? Do you know the difference between “stationary” and “stationery,” for example?