'Disperse' vs 'Disburse': What's the Difference?

By Katie Moore, updated on August 6, 2023

‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’: What’s the difference? Words that sound almost identical but turn out to be totally unrelated can be the hardest to master, especially when you don’t have the spelling in front of you. This is why learning every aspect of a word is key and what we plan to help you with.

In a rush? Here’s a quick overview of what’s to come: 

  • ‘Disperse’ is a word that means to distribute or spread out. 
  • ‘Disburse’ is a monetary term that means to pay out money. 

What’s the Difference Between ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’?

Since these words appear so similar yet mean totally separate things — and since they belong to the same part of speech — a good place to start is looking at the differences in their origins.

The word ‘Disperse’ comes from the Latin roots ‘dis-,’ which means “widely,” and ‘spargere’ which means “scatter” or “strew.”

  • In essence, the word means to scatter or spread widely, an action that typically describes a large whole splitting into many smaller pieces. 

Meanwhile, the word ‘Disburse’ comes from the French roots ‘des-’ which means “removal,” and ‘bourse’ which means “purse.”

  • So literally, removing something from your purse which is pretty easy to connect to the definition of taking out money. 

You can also use the money aspect of ‘Disburse’ as a hint because you don’t want your money to be ‘Disperse’ meaning spread thin, so you can think of that scenario when matching the word to its meaning. 

Since these words appear in such distinct contexts, it will be easier to identify when to use which. But first, we need to learn more about each individual word to learn how to properly use them individually as well. So, let’s dive in and learn more about ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse.’

Definition of ‘Disperse’: What Does it Mean? 

According to Oxford Languages, ‘Disperse’ is a verb that means:

  • Distribute or spread over a wide area
    • “Winds can disperse seeds via high altitude.”
  • To go or cause to go in different directions or to different destinations
    • “The crowd dispersed.”
  • (with reference to gas, smoke, cloud, or mist) thin out or cause to thin out and disappear
    • “The earlier mist had dispersed.”
  • Divide light into constituents of different wavelengths
    • “The ability of materials to disperse light by refraction.”
  • Distribute small particles uniformly in a medium

As an adjective, ‘Disperse’ can also mean: 

  • Denoting a phase dispersed in another phase, as in a colloid
    • “Emulsions should be examined after storage for droplet size of the dispersion phase.”

Synonyms of ‘Disperse’

  • Scatter
  • Distribute
  • Diffuse
  • Circulate
  • Disband
  • Dispel
  • Dissipate
  • Dissolve
  • Separate
  • Spread
  • Spray
  • Vanish
  • Break up 

Antonyms of ‘Disperse’ 

  • Accumulate
  • Gather
  • Collect
  • Appear
  • Unite
  • Welcome
  • Assemble
  • Arrange
  • Hold

Phrases with ‘Disperse’

  • The crowd dispersed
  • Disperse particles
  • Fog dispersed

Definition of ‘Disburse’: What Does it Mean?

According to Merriam-Webster, ‘Disburse’ is a verb which means: 

  • To pay out; expand especially from a fund
    • “1 million dollars of the aid money had already been disbursed.”
  • To pay out money from a fund that has been created for a special purpose
    • “She was ready to disburse the money from her college fund.”
  • To make payment in settlement of 
    • “She disbursed her bill.”

Synonyms of ‘Disburse’

  • Contribute
  • Dispense
  • Distribute
  • Expend
  • Pony up 
  • Spend money
  • Acquit
  • Partition

Antonyms of ‘Disburse’

  • Hold
  • Keep
  • Take
  • Attach
  • Collect
  • Combine
  • Gather
  • Join
  • Deposit

Phrases with ‘Disburse’

  • Disburse money
  • Disburse a fund

Pronunciations: How to Pronounce ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’

Linguistic Background

It is a natural human instinct to be as efficient as possible when speaking, which is what often leads to differently spelled words like ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’ sounding alike. Of course, these two words are very similar already, but the way we pronounce them makes them sound identical.

But why is this? 

  • For example, the ‘b’ sound is just the voiced version of the ‘p’ sound, meaning the mouth formations are identical. Especially when preceded by a silent ‘s’ and followed by a voiced vowel, this can cause us to blur the sounds. 

When we blur sounds together, we aren’t enunciating each letter exactly as it may be said in other words. Rather we use a linguistic shortcut to say the words more smoothly. It’s like saying “wanna” instead of “want to.”

While having a linguistic background is good, it doesn’t teach us how to pronounce these words. 

Pronouncing ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’

Writing isn’t the only time we use language, so knowing how to pronounce and speak words properly is just as important. Now that you have a better linguistic understanding of ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse,’ let’s make sure you can actually say them correctly. Do take note that while they look different written, they sound nearly the same. 

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Disperse’ as a guide: 

  • ‘Di-spur-ss’ (with the “u” sound as in ‘sure’)

Use this phonetic spelling of ‘Disburse’ as a guide:

  • ‘Dis-bur-ss’ (notice that in this case, the middle ‘s’ sound is attached to the first syllable, not the second — this helps distinguish the voice ‘b’)

How to Use ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’ in a Sentence

Given that these words sound so similar, without them written in front of us, we can only rely on one thing: context. Thankfully, these words differ so drastically in definition that identifying them in context is much easier. But it doesn’t mean that seeing them in real-world scenarios while learning them isn’t helpful.

Take a look at the sample sentences below to get familiar with the context, then try writing some of your own as practice. 

‘Disperse’ Example Sentences

  • After the concert ended, the crowd slowly dispersed from the venue and went home. 
  • She patted the sofa in the abandoned house, and a cloud of dust went up and dispersed into the air. 
  • The students sat anxiously as their teacher went around and dispersed their final exams. 
  • After orientation, the new interns dispersed and went to their newly assigned stations around the office. 

‘Disburse’ Example Sentences

  • The United States government has disbursed millions of dollars in global aid. 
  • The scholarship money will be disbursed on the basis of merit, but there are other funds that disburse on the basis of need. 
  • The non-profit was able to disburse lots of money after a record year of donations. 

‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’ Example Sentences

  • He almost went broke after mistakenly typing ‘disperse’ in an email to the bank instead of ‘disburse’ which would have spread all his funds out. 
  • The family disbursed their child’s college fund in order to disperse the money across a variety of tuition and enrollment payments. 

Final Advice on ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’

It can be frustrating to learn new words when their identical sound can cause confusion. But when we know words sound identical, we can focus on other key indicators like spelling or context to ensure we’re using words correctly. With words like ‘Disperse’ vs ‘Disburse’ and other similar pairs, we can rely more heavily on certain learning aspects that will help us get the information we need. In essence, we can use our own linguistic shortcuts. 

Want a recap? Here’s a short review of what was covered: 

  • ‘Disperse’ is a verb that means to spread out or scatter over a wide area/to different locations. 
  • Meanwhile, ‘Disburse’ is totally unrelated and is a verb that means to take out money. 

Mastering similar-sounding words is tricky but not impossible. Check out other confusing words to keep growing your vocabulary and building your confidence when it comes to identifying similar words.

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Written By:
Katie Moore
Katie is a recent graduate of Occidental College where she worked as a writer and editor for the school paper while studying linguistics and journalism. She loves helping others find their voice in writing and making their work the strongest it can be. Katie also loves learning and speaking other languages and wants to help make writing accessible for everyone.

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