'Plaintiff' vs 'Defendant': What's the Difference Between the Two?

By Shanea Patterson, updated on January 31, 2023

Wondering what the difference is between ‘plaintiff’ and ‘defendant’? And which one should you use in your writing? We’ll answer both in detail below, plus teach you how to use them in a sentence correctly.

In short, the difference between the two is:

  • A ‘plaintiff’ is a person or people who have alleged that someone has done something wrong to them. They’re the person or people who bring the court case to the courts.
  • A ‘defendant’ is a person or people who are being accused of committing a crime or a wrongful act.

As you can see, they mean different things and should not be used interchangeably.

‘Defendant’ vs. ‘Plaintiff’ – What’s the Difference?

You might have heard the terms ‘defendant’ and ‘plaintiff’ when reading about legal matters.

The ‘defendant’ in a case is the one who must ‘defend’ their actions and show the courts that they haven’t committed a crime or wrongful act.

The ‘plaintiff’ has to prove that the ‘defendant’ has actually committed a crime or wrongful act and that it has harmed them in some way.

As you can see, these words are opposites, so they shouldn't be used interchangeably.

Civil vs. Criminal Case Guide – The Plaintiff, Defendant, and Burden of Proof

In civil case law, the ‘plaintiff’ has the burden of proof, which means it’s their job to prove that the ‘defendant’ is responsible or at fault with evidence.

In criminal case law, the state has the burden of proof. That means the state has to provide evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed certain acts.

Definition and Meaning of ‘Plaintiff’ and ‘Defendant’

The Merriam-Webster definition of a ‘plaintiff’ is a person who brings legal action.

The same dictionary defines ‘defendant’ as a person or group against whom a criminal or civil action is brought. In other words, it’s someone who’s being sued or accused of committing a crime.

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce ‘Plaintiff’ and ‘Defendant’

Wondering how to pronounce these words? Here’s a short guide.

  • To pronounce ‘plaintiff,’ here’s the phonetic spelling: PLAYN-tif
  • To pronounce ‘defendant,’ here’s the phonetic spelling: DI-FEN-DUHNT

How to Use ‘Plaintiff’ and ‘Defendant’ in a Sentence

Now that you know what the words mean and how to pronounce them, let’s see some examples of how to use them in a sentence. Let’s start with ‘plaintiff.’

  • The plaintiff could have provided more evidence in the case, but the judge wouldn’t allow it.
  • The plaintiff couldn’t even keep her story straight. She no doubt committed perjury.
  • The plaintiff is en route. She was stuck in traffic.
  • Are you a plaintiff in that class action lawsuit against the local factory?

Now let’s see some examples of how to use ‘defendant.’

  • I can’t believe I’m the defendant in a stupid fender bender case. I barely tapped that guy’s bumper.
  • The defendant smelled. He stunk up the whole courtroom.
  • The jury was pretty sure that the defendant was guilty.
  • It’ll be a while till the defendant takes the stand.

Concluding Thoughts on ‘Plaintiff’ and ‘Defendant’

To recap, we learned that the ‘plaintiff’ is someone who’s suing someone, and the ‘defendant’ is someone who’s being sued. We know that they’re opposites rather than synonyms, so they shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

If you ever get stuck on spelling or usage, don’t be afraid to pop back over to refresh your memory. We’ve got a ton of other content on confusing words and phrases you might see while learning the language. Feel free to check it out anytime.

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Written By:
Shanea Patterson
Shanea Patterson is a writer based in New York and loves writing for brands big and small. She has a master's degree in professional writing from New York University and a bachelor's degree in English from Mercy College.

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